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Cloud Computing - Myth or Magic?

Cloud Computing - Myth or Magic?

Since becoming the Cloud Capability Lead for CTO Group I have had the opportunity to talk with a range of individuals, both inside and outside the ICT industry, about cloud computing.

They have been fascinating conversations and what has struck me is just how wide the range of views are on what cloud computing is. I’ve heard it all from, “it is a myth, we have been doing it for years, it is just marketing” to “I’m not sure how they do it but it is amazing that they can get all that up there”.

So what better way to start our series of blogs exploring cloud computing than a definition of what I will call true cloud and, with this definition in place, put the myth or magic debate to rest.

I refer to it as true cloud because, as with many terms in our industry, cloud computing has a range of definitions that are accepted to varying degrees. A number of these I feel don’t really capture the spirit and in turn the value of the cloud. Cloud service offerings that aren’t true cloud will hamper an organisations cloud adoption and prevent it from reaping all the rewards cloud computing has to offer.

So what is true cloud? I like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) definition. I feel it captures the essence of cloud and it has significant traction in the industry.

NIST defines cloud computing as,

“Cloud computing is 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.”

This cloud model is composed of five essential characteristics:

  • On-demand self-service
  • Broad network access
  • Resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured service

NIST goes onto describe the widely accepted service models: Software as a Service (SaaS); Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and the deployment models: Private; Community; Public and Hybrid clouds.

Using this definition we see that dismissing cloud computing as using someone else’s computer and software will fail the true cloud test if it doesn’t offer the NIST characteristics, for example on-demand self-service. Using a cloud service provider that requires extensive manual interaction will complicate cloud adoption and hamper reaping benefits such as dynamic workloads.

Now that we have a definition in place lets settle the debate. It is true that cloud computing is built on a set of enabling technologies and a number of these have been around for some time. These include converged infrastructure, virtualisation, automation and metering technologies. But it can be argued that cloud computing has integrated and evolved these technologies to create a new delivery model. So, in my opinion the truth sits in the middle, cloud computing is neither a myth nor magic but instead an evolution. It is a continuation of the ICT industry’s tradition of building on top of existing technologies and evolving these technologies to create new capabilities and delivery models that respond to the changing demands of society, in this case agility.

Cloud computing in time will form the foundation of new advances in the industry, in fact this is already taking place with the next wave of transformation to the age of the digital business.

Using our definition you can see that true cloud doesn’t have to be restricted to a Software as a Service or public cloud implementations. It is the delivery model that it enables that is important. For certain use cases an on premise ICT service that offers true cloud characteristics can provide tremendous benefits. For this, and other, reasons I don’t accept the current thinking of some analysts that we are seeing the end of the enterprise datacentre. It is this topic that I will explore in our next blog including use cases that are suited to the cloud and the benefits of a hybrid model.

And for those outside the ICT industry grappling with where their photos have gone, the name cloud computing originates from the cloud icon used to hide the complexity of network diagrams and has nothing to do with those fluffy things in the sky. Your photos are still in a datacentre but you can now access them from anywhere at any time.

Something to ponder, if you stopped to audit all the cloud computing use you have, would you be surprised? As always, let me know what you think.

Tony Staples
Cloud Capability Lead