Overcoming Challenges in Public Sector Cloud Computing: Part 1 – Fixing the Vernacular

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Dan Smith

Dan Smith

Cloud Computing is one of the most overused terms in modern enterprise IT planning circles.  Everywhere I turn, clients are talking about needing a “cloud” environment from both their internal and external IT Services providers.  In some cases, cloud computing is absolutely the right strategy.  In others, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.  The only way to effectively harness the benefits of cloud computing (lower costs, more modularity and portability, and greater application flexibility being some) is to have clear communication and understanding of IT services between the organization’s business and their IT management components.

This multi-part series will attempt to help organizations understand the components and strategies buzzing around cloud computing, and how to best design and implement cloud services to augment their existing IT service offerings in order to make both IT and the business functions IT supports more efficient.

Part 1 – Fixing the Vernacular

One of the most common misconceptions I hear around Cloud Computing is the terminology used to describe it.   Over the past few years, I’ve heard Cloud Computing confused with Utility Computing, Infrastructure as a Service, ITIL, outsourcing, and collocation.  Obviously, if none of us are actually talking about the same destination, we’re all going to take rather divergent routes, and probably won’t get there together.

According to NIST, “Cloud computing is a pay-per-use model for enabling available, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is comprised of five key characteristics, three delivery models, and four deployment models.” These will be discussed as future parts in this series.   Govplace approaches the NIST definition with a few key guardrails:

  • We believe Cloud Computing doesn’t have to be pay-per use, it can be based on a subscription model, which charges (like a magazine subscription) for a specific level of service and product ahead of when it is used).
  • Pools of resources can be shared or discrete, depending on the business and end-user’s requirements
  • Provisioning and management must be done in a manner similar to the IT organization’s current physical infrastructure
  • IT MUST collaborate with their business users to understand requirements and bridge gaps between expectations and their capacity to deliver

Now that we understand the definition of Cloud Computing, let’s explore how some of the commonly confused alternatives get in the mix:

  • Collocation – Collocation environments are typically enterprise-class Tier 3 or 4 data centers that provide, at a minimum, floor space, rack space, power, and carrier-grade network connectivity.  Most collocation providers have offerings that go a bit deeper than that basic level of service by offering to manage IT infrastructure as a service for their customers, which typically ranges from having the provider manage the customer’s equipment and/or applications to having the provider manage the availability of an infrastructure or application service residing on their own dedicated or shared infrastructure.
  • Managed Services – In Managed Services environments, customers typically pay for the availability of specific IT services, such as desktop, email, or other network services.  These services are typically performed by a 3rd party, and can be performed in environments where the customer owns the infrastructure, or the provider owns the infrastructure.  Most often, the provider owns the infrastructure in this model, and the customer has a right-to-use the infrastructure.  Providers in this model usually operate against performance metrics such as resource provisioning, and availability metrics such as service uptime and time to restoration.
  • Infrastructure as a Service – Infrastructure as a Service models are typically Managed Service models where the Managed Service Provider owns the infrastructure providing the service, and pools the resources in the infrastructure to lower overall costs to customers, while improving performance and reliability.  IaaS environments typically provide services focused around hardware, such as virtual server and storage services, network access, and basic operating systems.  Many IaaS providers also offer enhanced services on top of their infrastructure stacks such as development and application platforms (Platform as a Service) and full application functionality (Software as a Service).  These will be discussed in greater detail in Part 2 of this series.
  • Utility Computing – Utility computing is typically IaaS delivered as a pure utility.  Some public cloud providers like Amazon’s Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2) leverage this model as a way of providing on-demand IT services such as server, storage, and application resources to developers and application owners while only billing them for their actual use.  A key characteristic of utility computing is that it typically requires a large up-front infrastructure investment, and is “utilitized” by sharing resources among many diverse customers to achieve the best utilization rates of the technology, thereby keeping costs low and the utilization of the infrastructure very high.  Utility environments typically charge customers by various metrics such as compute cycles (CPU & Memory utilization), data throughput (GB per day), and network throughput.

The 5 key characteristics that define any of these offerings are:

  1. On-demand self-service – With self-service, consumers (such as application developers) unilaterally provision computing capabilities without requiring human interaction with each service’s provider.
  2. Ubiquitous network access – IT Capabilities and resources are available over the network in cloud computing models, and are accessed through standard mechanisms that promote use by heterogeneous thin client platforms such as web browsers or thick clients like VMware’s Virtual Infrastructure Client.
  3. Location independent resource pooling – Provider computing resources can be pooled using a multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to demand to single or multiple tenants of the data center.
  4. Rapid elasticity – IT Capabilities and resources can be rapidly and elastically provisioned to quickly scale up and scale down. To the consumer, these appear to be infinite and can be purchased in any quantity at any time.  The focus of IT Management in this environment is to manage the pool of resources, not spend time managing individual resources.
  5. Pay per use (optional) – IT Capabilities and resources are charged using metered, fee-for-service, or using subscription-based billing models to promote optimization of resource use, and to provide transparency between service cost and service usage to customers.

Clearly differentiating between these terms will help your organization to better communicate your requirements and needs across all your stakeholder groups.  As we discussed earlier, the focus of this series is on Cloud Computing, which we place as a delivery model for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).  As you’ll see in Part 2 of this series, IaaS is the key supporting layer in being able to deliver development and application platforms as well as full software packages and business systems through the cloud.  In this sense, Cloud Computing is simply a business model used to deliver infrastructure, platforms, and software leveraging the 5 key characteristics we discussed.  Other similar delivery models are available, and it’s critical that organizations really understand the differences.

Over the next several weeks, I will discuss the remaining 6 parts in this series on cloud computing.

Part 2 – Introduction to Infrastructure as a Service (IAAS)

Part 3 – Introduction to Cloud Computing

Part 4 – Understanding (and limiting) your organization’s requirements

Part 5 – Building the Private Cloud

Part 6 – Managing Cloud Services

Part 7 – Adding Services to the Cloud

However, in the interim, I would like to hear from you on your thoughts regarding cloud computing.

Dan Smith

Govplace Director of Professional Services

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Mr. Smith has been designing and integrating enterprise IT solutions exclusively for the public sector for more than 10 years. He has experience with a broad range of enterprise IT applications, technologies, and integration approaches. Mr. Smith holds extensive expertise around data center server and storage architectures, enterprise IT consolidation, and application-specific IT infrastructures. He has supported numerous customers in consolidation efforts which have resulted in significant cost savings to the government and delivered increased operational efficiencies. Mr. Smith also holds a wide variety of architect-level IT certifications and qualifications with many leading IT developers and manufacturers. In his current role, Mr. Smith manages the Program Management and Systems Engineering functions of Govplace’s Federal Professional Services organization, which has a focus on Performance-Based Contracting, Enterprise Program Management, Security & Information Assurance, and COTS Infrastructure Integration.

6 Responses to “Overcoming Challenges in Public Sector Cloud Computing: Part 1 – Fixing the Vernacular”

  1. Cloud Tweaks says:

    I have been reading all your post and will surely look forward for the rest of the steps. kudos!

  2. susan ye says:

    For State Government agencies, I believe DR (Disaster Recovery) planning can use your cloud-computing paradigm instead of re-building a private copy of existing infrastructure/data/applications.

  3. Good Site on Cloud Computing and SaaS – We are periodically looking for good blog information
    related to SaaS. Will be back to review more information on your blog.

    Keep up the good work!


  4. […] Part 1 of this series, we discussed some of the semantics and high-level definitions around cloud […]

  5. Good summary of Cloud Computing. It seems you’re missing an important part. SaaS, iaaS, PaaS…what about Computing as a Service? We see CaaS as a combination of all the others. At the end of the day, that’s what customers really want to talk about. Curious to get your thoughts.

    Good stuff!

  6. Dan Smith says:

    Great question. All of these really fall under “Computing as a Service.” We just haven’t heard that particular term from our customers, and have been trying to focus on getting the terminology straight between everyone. The long and short is that, for many organizations, some combination of infrastructure, platform, and software as a service will be used based off their requirements, maturity in each of those ares, and the level of risk they’re willing to take to gain the benefits of one of those approaches.

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