Cloud Definitions and Service Providers – Part 2

Continuing with our series of cloud computing, here we give some basic definitions of cloud computing concepts and describe some of the cloud vendors.

What is not a Cloud?

For purposes of our discussion here, we can consider Microsoft Office 365 and Google Documents cloud products, but Gmail and Hotmail not. What is the difference? Our focus here are business applications; companies can switch their corporate mail domain over to Google and use Gmail, but the vast majority of Gmail users are individuals. Given that definition, Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr are not cloud applications. Some of the social media companies use the word “cloud” where cloud means storing data someplace other than your own smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

Now let’s look at some definitions and then discuss some of the vendors.

Key Questions to ask the Vendor

Here are some key questions you should ask before selecting a cloud vendor.

1. Do you have to move all your apps to the cloud?
2. Will you have to rewrite your applications to the cloud?

Question number (1) is fairly easy to size up. An entire application running in the cloud is exactly that: there is no mix of servers at in your data center and theirs. Examples of this is the highly-popular Salesforce.com. Users are called subscribers. People also call this Software as a Service (SaaS). The opposite of SaaS is outsourcing an infrastructure for rent; this is known as Platform as a Service. The users here pay based on a meter that measures traffic and transaction volume.

Question number (2) is more difficult to measure. Without looking at the technical details of each vendor, asking to see a sample application, and writing a trial application, it is difficult to know. Some will tell you use switch your JNDI lookups to their address and voilà. Maybe. Maybe not.

What about Networking?

You already have your network in place. The cloud vendor lets you extend your network to include the cloud data center. They call that a virtual network. Applications that run entirely in the cloud, like Salesforce.com, would not need a connection from your network to their network other than HTTP and HTTPS, since you access their service through web pages and mobile apps. Amazon Route 53, for example, lets you configure your own DNS settings and create zones. Amazon also lets you create a dedicated pipe to their cloud for uploading large amounts of data.

What is a Private Versus Public Cloud?

Some organizations might be leery about put their company secrets under the control of another company’s data center. In that case, you can take their platform software and install it either: (a) in your own dedicated rack space in their data center or (b) in your own data center. Options (a) and (b) are called a private cloud. A public cloud is when you run your application, web, database, and other servers entirely in the cloud service provider’s data center together with other companies’ data on the same machines (albeit kept apart). You can elect to keep parts of your application in-house and then use, say, the database layer in the public cloud. That is called a hybrid cloud.

Nine Providers

Talking Cloud lists the top 100 cloud service providers. They do not define the word “top,” so we assume that means top in terms of sales. We list 10 of them below and highlight what is their focus. Besides each we indicate whether they offer software as a service (SaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS).

1. Salesforce.com (SaaS and PaaS): Salespeople can use this software to track sales and sales prospects. Salesforce also has a programing framework that other companies write apps, some so simple that a single non-IT user can do that. You can see apps developed by third-party companies at appexchange.salesforce.com.

2. Amazon (PaaS): the first and biggest cloud provider. They have a large mix of offerings. Sample customer: Netflix.

3. Microsoft (PaaS): lets you use Windows or Linux servers (so no Windows vendor lock). They have various offerings like, for example, remote access to a SQL Server database.

4. Google (PaaS): Example user: Khan Academy. The Google toolkit includes dashboard templates for developers.

5. SAP (SaaS): Example customer: TMobile uses SAP Social Media Analytics for customer relations (like service tickets).

6. SoftLayer (PaaS) (purchased by IBM)

7. Terremark: (owned by Verizon)

8. RackSpace (PaaS): uses open stack

9. NetSuite (SaaS): Focuses on ERP

Next Time

Next week we will look at how a couple of companies are using the cloud and drill into some of the details of how Windows Azure works. After that we will explore Amazon AWS.