Cloud essentials: part one

A two-part series on what to know before deploying analytics in the cloud

By Anne Buff

Call it a transformation, a paradigm shift, an evolution or a revolution – no matter what you call it, cloud services are changing the reality of technology in businesses today. The ability and now subsequent necessity to access information anywhere, anytime, from nearly any device has challenged our IT belief systems.

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Anne Buff is a SAS Best Practices Thought Leader specializing in cloud, data integration, master data management and team building.

But what is “the cloud”? What are the benefits and risks of moving our data, our applications and our processing functions “there”? For which projects are cloud services the correct choice, and for which projects are cloud services the WRONG choice? How can we approach this strategically?

This two-part series will offer a fresh take on cloud definition. We’ll discuss the benefits and considerations for delivering value using the cloud, and establish an assessment model for determining the type of cloud services that best fit your company’s requirements.

In part one, we’ll establish standard terminology for cloud computing and services. Check back in the next issue of sascom for part two. That’s where you’ll learn more about the cloud environment and deployment options, and we’ll offer guidelines for choosing the appropriate cloud model.

So, what is ‘cloud computing’?

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (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.”

What does this really mean? Cloud computing offers companies access to configurable hardware, software and data solutions over networks that may be private, shared or public. Reduced administrative efforts, system oversight and deployment times are some of the oft-cited benefits of cloud adoption.

Five characteristics of cloud computing

As defined by NIST, there are five essential characteristics of cloud computing. Vendors of cloud services will demonstrate some or all of these characteristics in their solutions. The extent of the value they provide will depend on the consumer need, the vendor and the solution. It is important to note that cloud services is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The customizable and flexible options of cloud computing allow consumers to find options tailor-made for their needs. As those needs change, so can the cloud solution, but here are the five essential characteristics you need to know:

1 On-Demand Self Service

Services can be used and accessed by the consumer on an as-needed basis. This affords consumers the ability to scale resources up or down as their business needs change. For some organizations, on demand may be defined by end-of-quarter or end-of-year pushes that need additional resources for specific projects. Other organizations may define on demand as the ability to rapidly change the scale of deployment as the business need arises.

2 Broad Network Access

A key characteristic of cloud computing is that services are available over a network – private, shared or public. This ensures that resources are globally available and can be accessed from various client platforms such as smartphones, tablets, and client and server operating systems. Network capabilities will vary based on vendor options and specific consumer requirements, including security, reliability and availability.

3 Resource Pooling

This feature is most often referring to hardware resources such as processing capability, memory allocation or storage. These virtual resources can be shared among multiple consumers and assigned as needed. By pooling resources, organizations share the costs of the resources and the associated maintenance. The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multitenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand. There is a sense of location independence in that the customer generally has no control or knowledge over the exact location of the provided resources, but may be able to specify location at a higher level of abstraction (e.g., country, state or data center). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory and network bandwidth.

4 Elasticity

Scalability in traditional deployment methods requires planning for both physical and financial resources. The ability to grow (or reduce) capabilities is significantly slowed by this need to plan and certainly cannot change with demand. With resource pooling, high network availability and on-demand capabilities, services and resources can be made available in virtually any quantity at any time. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward, commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.

5 Measured Service

Monitoring and reporting of service usage supports control and optimization of resources by cloud service providers. This monitoring and reporting allows consumers to plan for resource utilization with high accuracy and allows for more effective budgeting. Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use with a metering capability at some level of abstraction appropriate to the type of service (e.g., storage, processing, bandwidth and active user accounts). Resource usage can be monitored, controlled and reported, providing transparency for both the provider and consumer of the utilized service.

Three types of cloud services

Cloud services, those computing services offered over the Internet, can be broken into three general types of offerings: infrastructure services, platform services and software services.

  • Infrastructure services are comprised of the hardware and operating systems that support the environment. In “cloud terms” this is referred to as “infrastructure as a service,” or IaaS.
  • Platform services encompass the programming and design tools used in creating and deploying applications in the cloud environment, as well as the run-time environment to support running user-created or acquired applications. In cloud terms this is referred to as “platform as a service,” or PaaS.
  • Software services include the programmed applications accessed by consumers through the cloud environment. This is referred to as “software as a service,” or SaaS. As we dive down deeper, we will use these key words – infrastructure services, platform services and software services – when discussing cloud services. 

There are three typical cloud deployment models available in cloud computing: private cloud, community cloud or public cloud. In part two in the next issue of sascom, we’ll take a look at these deployment models and share guidelines to help you determine which deployment model is right for you. Stay tuned!

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