freshidea - Fotolia


Cloud computing definition in constant flux

The cloud and its definition are hard to grasp, as each regularly evolves. Vendors continue to push the boundaries of cloud computing with new offerings.

Amazon Web Services continues to set the pace in public cloud as it regularly rolls out new cloud offerings and prices its existing services to meet the changing needs of customers. But other players are seeking to gain a share of the market by creating their own cloud categories and pushing the boundaries of the cloud marketplace.

The proliferation of cloud services has created a double-edged sword. The stream of new cloud alternatives has produced a buyers' market, characterized by intensifying price competition. But it has also made it more difficult for IT and corporate decision makers to determine which cloud offerings are best suited to meet their particular business and technological requirements.

RightScale's fourth annual State of the Cloud Survey, of 930 IT professionals about their adoption of cloud infrastructure and related technologies, found that 82% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy, up from 74% in 2014. This means the vast majority of organizations are cobbling together a mix of on-premises and on-demand resources to achieve corporate objectives.

Defining the cloud

On May 20, 2010, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) held the first government-hosted Cloud Computing Forum and Workshop in response to a request of the Federal CIO to accelerate the development of cloud standards for interoperability, portability and security.

For many, the amorphous term "cloud computing" seemed to be an odd label to apply to the idea of shared services that had been evolving for decades. Yet for those who knew that the term "cloud" had been previously used to quickly describe how telecommunications networks traversed the skies, applying the same terminology to a new generation of data communications capabilities seemed appropriate.

Just as it is impossible to get your arms around a cloud because it is an intangible and constantly changing thing, it was equally challenging for some to grasp cloud computing. One of the primary objectives for the NIST initiative was to define the meaning of cloud computing. This led to the publication of The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing working paper in September 2011, which suggested that the cloud marketplace was composed of five essential characteristics, three service categories and four deployment models.

The five essential characteristics of cloud computing were on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and measured service. The three service categories were software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). And, the four deployment models included public, private, hybrid and community clouds.

Cloud continues to change

While the five essential characteristics of cloud computing have been generally agreed upon, how they manifested themselves in various deployments differs widely. And various cloud vendors have established their own service subcategories to the industry taxonomy to gain a competitive advantage. These services range from storage as a service and security as a service to integration platform as a service and everything else as a service. Even the basic deployment alternatives of public, private, hybrid and community clouds are being divided into more narrow gradations.

Many vendors are offering cloud training programs to help current and potential customers better understand the rapidly expanding cloud alternatives. Amazon recently unveiled AWS Educate to help educators and students use cloud technology in the classroom. While these programs are intended to grow the cloud workforce and encourage broader market adoption, they all tend to be narrowly focused on the sponsor's particular cloud niche.

But the real winners in today's cloud rush may be tech consultancies, systems integrators and value-added resellers that have strong client relationships, solid cloud skills and industry-specific domain expertise that can be used to help organizations meet their particular requirements.

Next Steps

What is the true definition of cloud?

The definition of cloud computing: Why it matters to IT security

Dig Deeper on AWS architecture and design