The cloud is not a location

30.04.2020 17:14 Comment(s)

The cloud is not a location

We live in a curious era in which quite some machine learning models are named after muppets. Follow the links to ELMo, BERT, Grover, Big BIRD or KERMIT (I could go on for a while), if you don’t believe me. It started with a researcher naming an algorithm ELMo in 2017, because he had a 3-year old son. Colleagues jumped the bandwagon and "Muppetware" was born.

We also use a meteorogical phenomenon — clouds — to describe data centers nowadays. According to Wikipedia:

In meteorology, a cloud is an aerosol consisting of a visible mass of minute liquid droplets, frozen crystals or other particles suspended in the atmosphere of a planetary body or similar space.

— Cloud, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Now, where does that come from? Fortunately, it has a more logical origin than muppets. In the nineties, it became common for ICT professionals to use a cloud symbol to depict WANs (Wide Area Networks) and the Internet (which is a special kind of WAN). They would typically make drawings like the following:

This drawing depicts a web client at site A accessing a web server located at site B.

You cannot control the Internet; its network topology and configuration is not your responsibility, so you would draw it as a cloud. Pretty soon, people started moving their servers to data centers, because it was difficult and expensive to operate your own server infrastructure, caused by the fact that you are not only responsible for the server and network hardware and operating systems, but also for no break power supply, lightning protection and fire extinguishing equipment amongst others.

So, the web and database servers were moved to that cloud symbol. In a nutshell, that is where the terminology cloud comes from.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing (NIST Special Publication 800-145) in 2011. It took them more than 2 years and 15 drafts to come to that definition, due to the large amount of feedback they received mainly dealing with interpretations.

Cloud computing is a relatively new business model in the computing world. According to the official NIST definition, "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."

— NIST, Final Version of NIST Cloud Computing Definition Published, Released October 25, 2011, Updated January 8, 2018

The NIST definition lists five essential characteristics of cloud computing:

  • on-demand self-service: a consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities
  • broad network access: capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms
  • resource pooling: the provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant model
  • rapid elasticity or expansion: Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand
  • measured service: resource usage can be monitored, controlled, and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service

It also lists three "service models":

  • software (SaaS): the capability provided to the consumer is to use the provider’s applications running on a cloud infrastructure

  • platform (Paas): the capability provided to the consumer is to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications

  • infrastructure (IaaS): the capability provided to the consumer is to provision processing, storage, networks, and other fundamental computing resources where the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software

and four "deployment models":

  • private: the cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization comprising multiple consumers (e.g., business units)

  • community: the cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a specific community of consumers from organizations that have shared concerns (e.g., mission, security requirements, policy, and compliance considerations)

  • public: the cloud infrastructure is provisioned for open use by the general public

  • hybrid: the cloud infrastructure is a composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, or public)

The NIST definition needs an update, because other service models arose, like serverless, Mobile Backend as a Service (MBaaS) and Functions as a Service (FaaS).

It should be clear now, that cloud is NOT a location. The five essential characteristics of cloud computing defined by the NIST are correct, but remember they are essential, they are condiciones sine quibus non.

Cloud is not a place; it’s a way of doing IT.

— Michael Dell

I will not try to summarize it better than Michael Dell. Cloud is a way of doing IT. It is not a location: you can have cloud computing technology on premise.

Cloud computing has become a culture embracing a way of working through best practices with a collection of technologies and tools resulting in software releases that are rapid, secure and reliable, allowing businesses to move a lot faster.

At Cumundi we have a vision of a world where less code is written and run. The cloud and Cumundi cloud infrastructure blueprints are our way of getting there. 

This general article on the cloud paves the way for numerous other topics, both technical and about principles, so keep an eye on our next blog articles.