Cloud Basics

Cloud computing is really not such a new thing.

I got out of college in 1977 with a degree in Electronics and a 7% loan for my four years of tuition. I didn’t have a clue how to make a living at this, so I went to Radio Shack and asked for a minimum wage job ($2.20 per hour).  Meanwhile, my college placement counselor called and asked if I knew where “Greenville, SC” was.  I said “yes” and drove to Greenville for a job interview with Memorex.  I got the job and began my career as a Field Engineer servicing disk drives and other peripherals on IBM Mainframes.  In the ‘70s, IBM was King of the Computing Hill. In the mainframe world, users had a simple terminal that allowed access to programs that ran on a central computer in a far away room, or even in a far away city.  Your terminals and printers were local, but all the software and the data and the archives and the main computer that ran it all were someplace else.

Sound familiar?

You have to be an Old Geek like me to relate to the fact that Cloud Computing is just some old ideas trying to get some new attention.

Cloud Computing is provided as a service to its users, the same way that electricity is provided as a service.  Cloud Computing companies like Amazon, RackSpace, Joyent, Salesforce, Google, Microsoft and a few hundred others, all provide their various cloud-based products “as a service.”  In Part 3 of our series, let’s take a look at the three most common “as a service” models available today.

Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS

The infrastructure of any Information Technology system is simply the basic machines and wiring that make up the system. Generally speaking, the infrastructure starts at its core with servers that run the software and storage units that store the data created by the software.  At the outside of this computer network are the personal computers that give Users access to these servers and storage units and printers that consume forests of paper. What sits in between the outside and the core are Ethernet switches that connect everything together. Finally, out at the very edge of this computer network are routers that connect the whole thing to the outside world.

Now, obviously you could never outsource your entire I.T. infrastructure to a Cloud Computing Company.  You would be left with just a bunch of Users sitting around with nothing to Use.  So, what parts of the infrastructure can you outsource?  Servers, software and storage.  Oh, and the services needed to keep them running. (I like alliteration.)

When you purchase Infrastructure as a Service, you are simply paying for the use of servers, software, storage and services outside your building, out in the Cloud. Everything else stays right where it was before.  That router out at the edge of your local area network now connects to another router at the Cloud Data Center, which connects to a switch which connects the servers, software and storage that used to sit (theoretically) on-premises in your building. This part of your Infrastructure is now provided to you “as a service.” (Note: You didn’t actually move your servers to the Cloud Data Center. You are now using their servers and you got rid of yours.)

There’s one more thing you are buying with IaaS that you may not be aware of. Servers and storage units require lots of electricity to run. Servers and storage units produce lots of heat that requires lots of cool air.  Servers and storage units transfer lots of information back and forth to the Users.  So, when you move these parts of your I.T. infrastructure to an outsourced data center, you transfer the costs of power, cooling and data to these centers, as well.  Included in the costs to use their servers and storage, you are also paying for the power, cooling and data transfer. The good news is that your power bill back home should go down.

Here are some examples of IaaS offerings:

  • Amazon Web Services and Elastic Cloud Compute
  • RackSpace Cloud Servers

Platform as a Service – PaaS

A platform is a working surface that sits on top of the infrastructure that holds it up.  Think of a table or a stage. The platform is where you eat, dance or do your taxes. Application developers need a “platform” on which to do their work of creating software.  Today, many applications are being developed specifically to be delivered from the Cloud.  Developers need various tools to create software that never really get seen by a User. This tool kit is called a Solution Stack.  It includes things like: operating system (Linux,Windows), web server (Apache, IIS); database management (MySQL, Oracle), Programming environment (Perl, .NET), and Middleware (EAI, messaging).  The “Platform” is this toolkit, provided to developers by Cloud/Hosting Companies, as a service.  These Platform Services may also include facilities for application design, team collaboration, testing, User Interface simulation, security, scalability and version management.  Also, after the application is ready to deploy, the same Platform can provide the storage and servers necessary (IaaS) and the hosting services, management and load-balancing needed to deliver the application to its intended audience of Users. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Examples of PaaS:

  • Microsoft’s Azure
  • Salesforce.com’s Force.com
  • Google’s App Engine
  • Rackspace’s OpenStack

Software as a Service – SaaS

Software is what makes a computer happy.  It gives it something pleasant and useful to think about.  Software, after all, is just a bunch of ones and zeros strung together in a meaningful fashion.  But, how do you deliver software to a buyer?

I remember when software was delivered on floppy disks that were the size of a dinner plate and stored 180 kilobytes of ones and zeros each.  Again, I am an Old Geek. Stacks of these floppy disks were fed, one at a time, into floppy disk drives and the programs were extracted at painstakingly slow speeds.  But, alas, 180kb became 360kb became 1.2 MB. And Floppy Disks became CDs. And CDs became DVDs. And Steve said, “Let there be App Store.” And it was good.

The delivery of software from Developer to User has evolved dramatically since I serviced the Big Iron. Today, software vendors deliver their product as a licensed product, copy protected and sold to a single company or person for use only by them. This is called a “Perpetual License.” You pay a flat fee for the product and you also will likely pay an annual maintenance fee of 10 to 20% of the purchase price for “upgrades and bug fixes”.  Bug fixes?  That’s the reason it’s called a Perpetual License.

You continue to pay for it forever.

Software companies and Resellers love perpetual licenses.  End Users hate them.

Enter “The Cloud.”  Suddenly the End User is empowered with choices.  He/she can still purchase his/her software and own it outright. It goes on the books as a capital expense.  Or, they can choose to acquire the exact same software “as a service”. They only pay for exactly what they use, month-by-month, and it is an operational expense, like the power bill.  It is always the latest version, and the only “bugs” you worry about are in Internet Explorer.  Choice is power!

Software as a Service is not really a new thing. Salesforce.com pioneered it on a big scale more than a decade ago. They had to give it away to start with, but today it has 87,000+ paying customers with more that 2 million Users, generating 3 billion page hits per day!

I remember saying to myself in 1995, “That inter-nets thing’ll never amount to anything!”

Some SaaS examples are:

  • Gmail
  • Google Apps
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Salesforce.com
  • Broadsoft Voice

Note: There is actually one other service model called Business Process as a Service. It is a smaller part relative to the other three.  Example of BPaaS:  PayPal

This post was written by

Greg Dixon joined ScanSource in 1992, where he serves as Chief Technology Officer. In this role, Greg oversees the technical support services provided by the company, as well as develops and manages strategic technological initiatives for ScanSource customers. Greg has more than 34 years of experience in the technology arena. He is seen as an industry expert and has been a featured speaker at many industry events over the years.

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