5 Essential Characteristics of the Cloud
My inbox receives daily articles on an array of cloud related topics such as “Cloud Migration Strategies,” “10 Ways the Cloud is Changing the World,” “Choose the Best Cloud for Your Enterprise,” and so on. This daily barrage makes my head spin. What do we actually mean when we say “the cloud” and what are the essential characteristics that make up cloud technology?
The cloud is convenient, on-demand, and available for many resources, including networks, servers, storage, applications, and services. There is minimal management effort and plenty of self-service aspects to the cloud.
Cloud technologies are all about separating the physical IT resources from the actual underlying infrastructure. This is virtualization technology at its finest, and applies to the many resources available to us in this service-oriented model. For example, when we think about our cloud-based e-mail accounts, we no longer think about Microsoft Exchange as an e-mail service. We now think about Google, Yahoo, and other such cloud-based e-mail applications. When we use a hosted storage service, we are not referring to rack upon rack of storage in our data centers. We are referring to services such as Dropbox Inc.’s Dropbox and Microsoft’s OneDrive.
Cloud technologies are on-demand, contain self-service features, are highly available, and present users with all kinds of interaction interfaces or APIs (application programming interface). Cloud technology providers are attractive because they help their customers reduce costs, better utilize equipment, provide end users an engaging experience, and build a fail-in-place environment.
All these technologies have been around for quite some time. Virtualization, for example, has been around since the 1970s. The growing trends toward consolidation, automation, and standardization are what make today’s cloud computing so interesting. Computing and application power are being consolidated into central data centers. Automation provides timesaving and self-service technologies. Standardization enables all vendors to work together. These trends bring us the robust solutions we’ve come to know as cloud computing.
The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) states the cloud is composed of these five essential characteristics:
- On-demand self-service
- Broad network access
- Resource pooling
- Rapid elasticity
- Measured service
These five characteristics are an important part of today’s fundamental cloud technology blueprint.
On-Demand Self Service
When one thinks of on-demand self-service, they think of self-services such as Dropbox and OneDrive. Before the cloud, when we needed additional storage, you had to contact your provider, get a quote, negotiate the contracts, and attend to other time-consuming details. Eventually, you were able to order and have the hardware installed. With the cloud, adding additional storage is now accomplished quickly through a self-service cloud portal. Gone are the red-tape and the administrative headaches. Although, let’s be clear, there are still contracts and legal agreements with ample fine print to read before signing up.
Broad Network Access
This leads into the next characteristic, which is broad network access. Additional storage is not useful if it’s unable to be accessed by a variety of devices. It’s important to have access to these resources at any time and any place, assuming this is appropriate for your business. After all, you might be running a private cloud to which access is limited by design. Otherwise, it is important to allow access from multiple devices including smartphones, tablets computers, desktop computers, and even game consoles such as an Xbox. Using OneDrive as an example again, you can access shared storage resource from all of these devices and then pretty much access the storage from anywhere it’s needed.
One way to look at resource pooling is to think about the massive data centers built or being built around the country such as AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft, and Google. Inside each of these data centers lives equipment from Cisco, VMware, NetApp, and Red Hat, to name a few. All this technology works together to provide a multi-tenant environment for many different customers with many different needs.
Resources, both physical and virtual, are pooled within these data centers and are assigned dynamically to customers. In fact, customers often don’t know exactly where their resources exist, nor do resources of one customer interact with those of another customer. While a customer can usually pick a general location for their resources, say the U.S. Northeast, even within this area one doesn’t really know exactly where everything is located.
The best way to visualize rapid elasticity is to imagine a small start-up business that needs a website. The website is up, customers begin to arrive, and the business starts to grow. As news travels fast, the business grows more rapidly. Additional computing power is needed to meet these growing needs. A slump occurs, fewer resources are required, then growth returns, and so on. This everchanging atmosphere helps us illustrate the elastic needs of many organizations. Cloud technologies satisfy these dynamic raw resource needs by easily adjusting both physically and financially to the ever-changing needs of the growing business.
Elasticity goes hand-in-hand with the final characteristic, measured service. Cloud providers can automatically control and optimize resources based on the type of service or resource. As an example, when it comes to OneDrive, Microsoft will meter storage usage, provide reports, and maintain a consistent and optimized solution. This keeps everyone honest by providing transparency for both the user and the provider.
-Kevin Mahoney is a hospital and healthcare-related account advocate and sales engineer at Amtelco.