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Is there any sort of standard to define what truly constitutes cloud computing other than just the fact that you access over the internet?

This question was asked by an attendee at a recent Proformative Cloud Computing event: Everyone (including payroll services) claim to have "cloud computing" services. Is there any sort of standard to define what truly constitutes cloud computing other than just the fact that you access over the internet?


Paul Turner
Title: Senior Director
Company: NetSuite
(Senior Director, NetSuite) |

1) Web based - completely accessible through a web browser, no Windows clients or Citrix required
2) Multi-tenant - i.e. the vendor can quickly provision new accounts for you, automatically migrate you to the latest version. Multi-tenancy ensures the vendor achieves economies of scale and can invest more in the solution as more customers are on-boarded.
3) Web integration - completely web services oriented architecture enable easy cloud to cloud or cloud to on-premise integrations
5) Self service - the application is designed to be maintained without the need for a full time IT department to customize etc. Also, you do not need to rely on the vendor to make certain customizations for you.
6) Upgrade - the application is running a single code-base and all customizations migrate automatically.

Karen Roehr
Title: Lead Financial Analyst
Company: BP
(Lead Financial Analyst, BP) |

Can I get an example of cloud computing?

Glen Seimetz
Title: Solution Expert
Company: SunGard
(Solution Expert, SunGard) |

My favorite government organization is NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology)for answering the type of question you posed. The "NIST Definition of Cloud Computing Draft - Special Publication 800-145" by Peter Mell and Timothy Grance would be a great place to start for a standards based definition of Cloud computing.

Key Cloud characteristics defined in the NIST standard:

- On-demand self-service
- Broad network access
- Resource pooling
- Rapid elasticity
- Measured service

The NIST standard also defines Cloud Service Models and Deployment Models.

There are additional NIST publications on subjects such as Cloud Privacy and Security that you may find helpful.

Glen Seimetz

Topic Expert
Tom Sheppard
Title: President
Company: The Sheppard Group
(President, The Sheppard Group) |

The simple answer to your question is "No." The Cloud is a broad term that includes a wide range of hardware, software and services that are delivered over the Internet. The term is maybe 5 yrs old and first used at a user conference, I believe by Larry Ellison of Oracle. At the tail end of the boom it would have been called web services. While it was not over the web, if you used time sharing 30 or more years ago it met most definitions of the Cloud, including the 5 points in the NIST definition provided by Glen, above.

The Cloud is a marketing term. Unlike the Web or the Internet it is not a specific technology. If someone started to talk to me about Cloud Computing I may be inclined to think of the shared computing infrastructure services being provided, also called IaaS, Infrastructure as a Service to differentiate it from SaaS. Don't get wrapped up in the term. As you said, everyone says they are in the Cloud these days.

Topic Expert
Len Green
Title: Performance Improvement Consultant and E..
Company: Haygarth Consulting LLC
LinkedIn Profile
(Performance Improvement Consultant and ERP Strategist, Haygarth Consulting LLC) |

...are you "lost in the Clouds?"

I like this one I saw recently: SaaS is a specific software application accessed via the Internet for use by multiple, simultaneous users. Cloud Computing is a complete IT as a Service model (ITaaS), where all computing (application development and delivery) is accessed via the Internet by multiple, simultaneous users.

I like the comments above regarding Cloud as a marketing term. Some traditional software vendors (i.e. on-premise systems) have now started to offer "cloud services." This really means you can access the software via the web, you may even "rent" it, but it remains your software/data. SaaS vendors differ in that their software is multi-tenant - i.e. many different clients sharing the same software.

David Dobrin
Title: President
Company: B2B Analysts, Inc.
(President, B2B Analysts, Inc.) |

It is almost impossible, now, to get any reliable definition of a term like Cloud Computing, or even SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, etc., because companies like NetSuite (above), Oracle,, Amazon, Cisco, and hundreds of others all want you to have an idea about what "cloud" is that favors their particular set of product offerings. All are trying to coopt the term; all have very smart people and good marketing departments; and while they're fighting it out, all we can do is stand on the sidelines, in Bob Dylan's words, "only a pawn in their game."

So is their anything you can do to understand what people are "really" saying when they say they're doing "cloud computing." There is, but it takes some savvy. The basic advantage of cloud computing, in all its avatars, is that cloud computing providers can offer you computing at a lower cost, because it is managing some of the computing resources that you used to have to manage, and that allows you to share the cost of managing these resources with other users.

This is an old and familiar value proposition. For years, what are now often called cloud computing services were provided by hosting companies, who would give you some leverage because they let you share the costs of running data centers with other users. A newer version of this is provided by companies like Rackspace, who are letting you get access to low-cost electricity, real-estate, physical security, and network connections.

So the question is not, "What is cloud?" It's "What are the shared services?" And perhaps even more important, "What is their cost?"

Now, there have been an enormous number of advances in shared services, and some of these lead to breathtaking efficiencies. Companies like Salesforce, NetSuite, and Workday are at the vanguard here; they can give you a full installation that keeps itself up-to-date for roughly the cost of maintenance on old on-premise products. They do this using a number of shared service strategies, including 'true' multi-tenancy, as described above, careful management of code bases, etc., etc. Because they get an enormous cost and performance edge via these techniques, these companies are (I think) justly annoyed with all the companies that claim they are cloud companies, but don't provide anywhere near the efficiencies that Salesforce, NetSuite, or Workday do. They will often argue (correctly) that they are the true cloud companies, and all those other guys are just coopting the term.

So how are you to tell which companies are the true cloud companies? Well, you actually have to understand what they're doing in order to get efficiencies. I am an industry analyst, and even though I do it for a living, I find it to be very tricky. Still, that's what you have to do.

Hall Mark
Title: Owner
Company: Small business
(Owner, Small business) |

The cloud computing model is composed of five essential characteristics which are as follows -
On-demand self-service - A consumer can unilaterally provision computing capabilities, such as server time and network storage, as needed automatically without requiring human interaction with each service provider.
Broad network access - Capabilities are available over the network and accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin or thick client platforms (e.g., mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations).
Resource pooling - The provider’s computing resources are pooled to serve multiple consumers using a multi-tenant 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 datacenter). Examples of resources include storage, processing, memory, and network bandwidth.
Rapid elasticity - 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.
Measured service - Cloud systems automatically control and optimize resource use by leveraging 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.

David Rader
Title: Director
Company: Grant Thornton LLP
(Director, Grant Thornton LLP) |

Here is a link to multiple resources on cloud computing including links to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) definitions and roadmap.

Bottom line: the distinction is between on-premise (we control and operate) versus off-premise (they control and operate). The different flavors of cloud computing refer to the "what" is controlled/operated by us versus by them.

The reasons for allowing "them" to control/operate include the advantages listed above: scalability, pay for use, etc. But, those do not define the essential difference in control/operations.


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