Remember those youthful late spring days when you lay down on the sports field with the smell of cut wet grass heavy in the air and looked up at the sky? At first, you squinted as your eyes adjusted. But after a time focus returned and you could concentrate on watching 747s streak into the great blue, guessing their destinations from the angle of the sun’s reflection. You strained to keep track as the planes were finally lost behind the clouds. Clouds then stole your attention; rolling, ambling, morphing into ever newer shapes. You realised clouds could never ever be just one thing and sometimes were what you wanted them to be. That is until they let loose with the rain and the fun of looking up was lost for the moment.
Whoever coined the term cloud computing either had brilliant prescience or was exceptionally lucky, because just like real clouds that take different shapes, cloud computing is difficult to definitively define. And just like those young girls and boys looking up in wonder at the sky, the IT industry and the general public at large are, it is fair to say, struck in wonderment.
Yet, unlike the real thing where categories and classifications have been worked out – the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website lists 10 main cloud types, which are then divided into another 27 sub-types with additional classification as to distance from the earth – agreement on what cloud computing means is still in embryonic stages.
Vendors and analysts are clamouring to associate themselves with the trend, proffering differing and at times conflicting opinions as to what cloud computing stands for, which confuse the market. Do we need to ‘define’ cloud computing? Are we trying to make something fit the description through clever articulation? Or should we be looking to provide classifications and categories as we do with those up there above us? Below are four views as to what cloud computing represents and how to look at it.
Altocumulus of a chaotic sky
For Ovum public sector research director, Steve Hodgkinson, there is no need for a hard and fast definition of cloud computing. “I favour a fairly broad view of what cloud computing is. It is something that is simply described as computer services sourced over the Internet and it is broad. Now that means that it encompasses the various layers,” Hodgkinson said. “Starting at the top, we have business process-as-a-service, software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service. Some people prefer a narrow definition down at the infrastructure-as-a-service [layer], but as soon as you try and box it in, it becomes a fairly non-constructive discussion because you are starting to argue more about the definitions, not the behaviour or the manifestations of it.”
It is more beneficial, the Ovum analyst claimed, to describe cloud computing in terms of examples. For most clients, Hodgkinson describes it by showing various examples as this process facilitates categorisation and keeps everyone from going insane.
“There is as much diversity in the cloud as there is in the IT industry generally and when we think about it, why should any other situation be true? It’s just the provision of the whole ICT ecosystem over the Internet to your computer through a Web browser or an API core. In that sense, it has as much diversity within that definition of cloud as in the normal definition of IT,” he said.
“As much ICT as you want, when you want it on a pay-as-you-go basis.”