Cloud Computing – or Whatever You Call It

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Faculty Member, Founder/CEO of Stratiza, Stratiza
George Barlow is currently Founder and CEO at Stratiza, a strategic and creative services company. Previous roles include Chief Sales Officer at Trisotech, a global leader in digital enterprise solutions, Vice President of BPM and Cloud Solutions for AgilePoint, Director of Sales at Bosch Software Innovations, CEO at Cloud Harbor, Inc. and seven years at Appian Corporation. Prior to joining Appian Mr. Barlow held posts as Senior VP, Technology and Operations at and as Sr. VP, Healthcare Information Technology at ProVantage Health Services, Inc. He has been part of many successful major projects at organizations such as Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Telus, Concur Technologies, Manulife Financial/John Hancock, Merck & Co., CVS Caremark and Walgreens. Mr. Barlow is a Faculty Member of and and holds the Certified Business Process Management Professional Certification as well as the Business and Technical Professional Advanced OMG Certified Expert in BPM certifications. Mr. Barlow is also a frequent speaker at industry events and has published numerous articles, white papers and blogs about BPM and Cloud Computing.

Organizations are moving applications and infrastructure to servers on the Internet at an increasingly rapid rate and Cloud Computing – or whatever you call it – is changing the way people access information as well as they way they work and play. That is making the term ”Cloud Computing” more ubiquitous. Yet, as often happens with emerging technology waves, it is also making the term more confusing and vague. The vocabulary describing nascent technologies usually morphs from all-encompassing and unclear generalities to more precise terms as the technology matures and the marketplace acknowledges and defines the technology via industry analysts, vendor marketing and consumer adoption.

Professionals who have been around the business process management (BPM) marketplace since its inception can recall a similar progression. Years ago the early intellectual property and products in this arena were mostly referred to as workflow. When a market in workflow products started to take off literally hundreds of companies claimed to be workflow companies. Even the slightest hind of ordered activities or rules-based processes in a product’s programming was deemed by marketing departments to constitute workflow. Then, as standards like BPMN and BPEL began to emerge and provide a recognizable core of functionality, vendors incorporating those standards in their products, industry analysts and the marketplace supported a change in vocabulary to Business Process Management. This differentiation helped the more-specialized vendors by cutting down the multitude of workflow product purveyors to a hundred or so BPM product vendors. Then, as specialization and technology progressed, a smaller set of vendors, scrambling for differentiation in a still-crowded market and helped by the analyst community, established the Business Process Management Suite (BPMS) product marketplace further defining what world-class BPM software should be. There will likely be continued market and vocabulary evolution as technology progresses and vendors consolidate in the coming years.

What we are generally calling Cloud Computing today has already begun the same sorts of change. The delivery of products and services is becoming better defined as more vendors offer products, more analysts try to define markets and more organizations and people adopt these technologies. While the demarcation lines are still quite blurry we can see some basic definition coming into focus. The market offerings are beginning to stratify and vendors and analysts are starting to use new, more precise terms to position products and services. One of the most confusing aspects of this change is a shift in the use of the word service(s). For a few decades the IT market-definition vocabulary distinguished hardware, software and services as major segments. Services in that vocabulary referred to consulting, programming and other human-rendered work and still does. In the new Cloud vocabulary practically everything has service as part of its name. We should probably start calling Cloud Computing “Cloud Services”. Let’s examine a few examples.

At the lowest level (furthest from the application user) of the emerging Cloud hierarchy is IaaS (pronounced “eye as”) which stands for Infrastructure-as-a-Service. Vendors in this marketplace package together hardware such as server computers, disk storage, routers and other networking gear and base-level software such as operating systems, databases, web-server software, back-up and load-balancing products and firewalls. These are the basic IT building blocks needed to connect computer systems to the Internet and provide an environment where programs can run in the Cloud. A term you may hear to describe a common set of software components is LAMP or LAMP Stack where LAMP stands for Linux (an open source operating system), Apache (open source web server software), MySQL (an open source relational database manager) and PHP (an open source scripting language.) As with all evolving vocabularies, some may argue that delivery of the software described above as part of a packaged service puts a vendor in the PaaS (see below) market. However, most service offerings from major vendors today include the software and its maintenance as part of their service and price. Some examples of IaaS offerings include Savvis Cloud Compute, EC2, OpSource and Rackspace Cloud Hosting.

The next level “up” is PaaS (pronounced “paz” or “pass”), an acronym for Platform-as-a-Service. While established as a major term, this marketplace is still being defined since there are a wide variety of “platforms” available. In general, this term refers to a packaged service environment where web applications can be both created and run. Some examples of these PaaS services include, Google App Engine, Cloud Harbor Business Operations Platform and Longjump.

At the “top” (closest to the application user) is SaaS (pronounced “sass”) which stands for Software-as-a-Service. This term describes offerings of software applications which run on Internet servers, are delivered via web browsers and are typically sold via a subscription license. This term was one of the earliest adopted in the Internet marketplace thanks mostly to SaaS giant Today there are over 1100 products offered in this marketplace according to the SaaS Showplace, a website listing SaaS products.

The lines between these markets are still not well defined and some vendors such as provide products in more than one of theses markets. Sometimes a vendor will provide all the hardware and software needed to provide a product offering without outsourcing. More often these days, however, SaaS and PaaS vendors use IaaS products and SaaS vendors are beginning to develop and deliver SaaS applications on PaaS offerings. You are witnessing the evolution of the Cloud industry as specialization drives down costs and makes better technologies available.

As we have seen, the general populous and press have begun embracing the term Cloud Computing but folks inside the industry at conferences and cocktail parties have already begun using terms like SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS to better define and differentiate their products and markets. So, if you want to sound like an insider – someone in the know – it’s time to morph your Cloud vocabulary to a more precise set of descriptions.

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