The lack of confidence with the explanation is bothersome. But what’s more concerning is the universal confusion with the term and usage. Is the term 'cloud' being used too loosely in the industry? Is it a propaganda to get us comfortable with the cloud concept? Or has the term 'cloud' become synonymous like Q-tip is to cotton swab, Sharpie is to permanent marker, and Google is to search engine? If so, what is the cloud synonymous with?
If you search the web for cloud computing, results will return tons of associated IT products, software, services, and articles to further add to the muddle. The term has become a haze more than a cloud in my opinion. Maybe the ideology and inception of the cloud are the culprit.
The origin of the ‘cloud’ term is unclear. Some believe the term derived from the legacy network schematics where the diagrams of servers were drawn with circles and resembled a ‘cloud.’ Another theory indicates how telephony systems were drawn with cloud symbols to represent a network. Then in the 1970s and 80s, the cloud term began to be used more specifically to denote collection of computer networks by Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) which eventually evolved to the internet we know today.
Although the true derivative of the term ‘cloud’ is still debatable, ‘cloud computing’ was first coined in 1996 by Compaq Computers (yes, that Compaq computer) as referenced in an internal document outlining the usage of the internet for computer processing. However, the popularization of the term really took hold of the industry when Amazon introduced its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) in 2006. Without going into detail, Amazon brought virtualized computer service to the masses where consumers and businesses can run their applications on virtual environment or servers by simply connecting through the internet. Shortly thereafter, other major software giants jumped on the band wagon to offer their own cloud services such as Microsoft Azure, IBM SmartCloud, and Google Cloud.
Modern cloud service was initially offered for research facilities and the military where super computers were networked to furnish high computation process. The cost associated with these super computers service was probably more than anyone can imagine. The cloud model blossomed as it was utilized heavily for corporate data centers. This allowed large companies to access the data via internet in secured and scalable environment. The cost was still substantial, but the savings outweighed the expense of maintaining the data internally.
Then came along the real mass appeal by offering cloud services to SMB (Small and Medium size Businesses). The appeal (affordability-‘pay as you go’ model) is what may have been the viral catalyst for the cloud as we know (or still confused about). Cloud providers were attempting to educate and promote its virtual solutions to the mass business market. But as information overload took hold of the SMB; IT providers, administrators, directors, and businesses were freely and generically applying the term. The messy abuse of the word consequently caused vast confusion.
Finally, in late 2011, NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) set some order to the cloud chaos. NIST defines cloud computing as ‘a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.’ NIST further defines the cloud into characteristics, model, and deployment. But for the focus of this article, I’ll share the models to help better understand the core fundamentals of the cloud. There are 3 models as defined by NIST. Below is a concise description of each.
Software as a Service (SaaS) Software as a Service is probably the most common reference we know when referencing to the cloud. It is a software delivery method that allows access to software and its functions via the internet connection usually through a web browser. A simple example would be an email service such as Gmail. You are connecting to the email contents through your laptop/pc or even a mobile phone. But the software and data are all handled by Google. For businesses, an example would be CRM or a healthcare software that runs offsite on a server by a vendor/software provider.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) Platform as a Service is an environment where the business or consumer can install its own custom software or application that is located offsite and hosted by a cloud provider. However, the server is not maintained by the consumer including network, storage, operating system and so on. But the consumer still has full control of its deployed application or software. An example would be a business storing its database on the cloud server for access. This is cost effective for many businesses as investment in hardware, security, maintenance, and upgrades are not needed.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) Infrastructure as a Service is full blown virtualization environment. IaaS is popular in the data center where software and servers are purchased as a fully outsourced service and usually billed on usage and how much of the resource is used. IaaS gives the consumer ability to control the operating system, arbitrary software/applications, network and storage.
To complement the confusion, the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) added two additional models (Naas and DSaaS) – Network as a Service and Data Storage as a Service respectively. But it has not been formally adopted by NIST.
Amongst the confusion, however, one thing is clear - cloud service is rapidly becoming the 'go to’ IT solutions for businesses. This makes perfect sense as establishments are boot strapped and/or striving to balance their budget; the resources to purchase, deploy, and maintain the infrastructure of servers, software, and data storage can be dauntingly costly and prohibitive. The ‘pay as you go’ model of the cloud offers a significant financial incentive and savings. The upward trend in business cloud service is clearly visible. An article from Forbes noted that the cloud market was $180 Billion in 2015, $209 Billion in 2016 and expected to be $390 billion by 2020. I can only imagine the market exponentially amassing from here on out.
As cloud services continue to rise in demand (and out of necessity) for businesses, the cloud terminology will float ever more prominently across the industry and businesses alike. Many say that the cloud has become more of a metaphor to internet linked services rather than a single solution. I must agree. We will need to embrace the extended usage of the terminology, but more importantly we will need become part of the cloud integration in order to survive and thrive as businesses. Now where is my Kleenex?