An Introduction to Cloud Computing


The Cloud is a computing model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. For more information, see  The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing .

This is a technological breakthrough compared to the traditional approach where resources had to be allocated in advance with the danger of overestimating (or underestimating) the needs.

But, most importantly, in the cloud the allocation is done automatically and in real-time. This is the elasticity attribute of the cloud. The cloud main architectural principle is predicated on delivering IT services on demand. The result is software architectures with qualities such as: elasticityauto-scaling,  fault tolerance and administration automation.

An extension of this is the concept of application as a service usually, a REST web service.For more information about designing for the cloud, see  Cloud Ready Design Guidelines .

From a hardware point of view, three aspects are new in cloud computing:

  • The “infinite” computing resources available on demand, thereby eliminating the need for users to plan far ahead for provisioning
  • The elimination of an up-front commitment by the users, thereby allowing companies to start small and increase hardware resources only when there is an increase in their needs
  • The ability to pay for use of computing resources on a short-term basis as needed (e.g., processors by the hour and storage by the day) and release them as needed, thereby rewarding conservation by letting machines and storage go when they are no longer useful.

You may want to take a look at the following video to understand the difference between cloud and traditional virtualization: Cloud and Virtualization.

Cloud Deployment and Service Models

Deployment models define different types of ownership and distribution of the resources used to deliver cloud services to different customers.

Deployment Models

Cloud environments may be deployed over a private infrastructure, public infrastructure, or a combination of both.

The most common deployment models as defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) include the following:

  • Private cloud. The cloud infrastructure is operated solely for a single organization (client). It may be managed by the organization itself or a third-party provider, and may be on-premise or off-premise. However, it must be solely dedicated for the use of one entity.
  • Community cloud. The cloud infrastructure is shared by several organizations and supports a specific community with shared requirements or concerns (for example, business model, security requirements, policy, or compliance considerations). It may be managed by the organizations or a third party, and may be on-premise or off-premise.
  • Public cloud. The cloud infrastructure is made available to the general public or a large industry group and is owned by a cloud provider (an organization selling cloud services). Public cloud infrastructure exists on the premises of the cloud provider.
  • Hybrid cloud. The cloud infrastructure is a composition of two or more clouds (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities but are bound together by technology to enable portability. Hybrid clouds are often used for redundancy or load-balancing purposes. For example, applications within a private cloud could be configured to utilize computing resources from a public cloud as needed during peak capacity times.

Service Models

Service models identify different control options for the cloud client and cloud provider. For example, SaaS clients simply use the applications and services provided by the provider, where IaaS clients maintain control of their own environment hosted on the provider’s underlying infrastructure. The following are the most commonly used service models:

  1. Software as a Service (SaaS).  It   enables the end user to access applications that run in the cloud. The applications are accessible from various client devices through a thin interface such as a web browser. Some examples are:
    1. gmail
    2. Google docs
    3. Microsoft Office 360
  2. Platform as a Service (PaaS). It enables the deployment of applications in the cloud. These applications are created using programming languages and tools supported by the cloud provider. Some examples are:
    1. Google App Engine
    2. AWS Elastic Beanstalk
  3. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). It enables the provisioning of compute processing, storage, networks and other computing resources to deploy and run applications. You cannot control the underlying physical infrastructure though.Some examples are:
    1. Google App Engine
    2. Amazon S3
    3. Google Compute Engine
    4. Google Cloud Storage
    5. Google Big Query

The following picture depicts the service models and the way they stack up:

You can find the above picture and more information at NIST Cloud Computing Reference Architecture.The next picture shows the control and responsibilities for cloud clients and providers across the service models:

Cloud Logical Architecture

The cloud architecture is structured in layers. Each layer abstracts the one below it and exposes interfaces that layers above can build upon. The layers are loosely coupled and provide horizontal scalability (they can expand) if needed. As you can see in the next picture, the layers map to the service models described earlier.

As shown in the previous picture, the cloud architecture contains several layers, as described next.

  • Hosting Platform. Provides the physical, virtual and software components. These components include servers, operating system, network, storage devices and power control and virtualization software. All these resources are abstracted as virtual resources to the layer above.The virtual machine (VM) is at the core of the cloud virtualization. It represents a software implementation of a computing environment in which an operating system and other apps can run. The virtual machine typically emulates a physical computing environment, but requests for CPU, memory, hard disk, network and other hardware resources are managed by a virtualization layer which translates these requests to the underlying physical hardware.
    VMs are created within a virtualization layer, such as a hypervisor that runs on top of a client or server operating system. This operating system is known as the host OS. The virtualization layer can be used to create many individual, isolated VM environments.
  • Infrastructure Services. The important function of this layer is to abstract the hosting platform as a set of virtual resources and to manage them based on scalability and availability. The layer provides three types of abstract resources: compute, storage and network. It also exposes a set of APIs to access and manage these resources. This enables a user to gain access to the physical resources without knowing the details of the underlying hardware and software and to control them through configuration. Services provided by this layer are known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).
  • Platform Services. Provides a set of services to help integrating on-premise software with services hosted in the cloud. Services provided by this layer are known as Platform as a Service (PaaS).
  • Applications. Contains applications built for cloud computing. They expose web interfaces and services and enable multitenant hosting. Services provided by this layer are known as Software as a Service (SaaS).

The vertical bars in the picture represent components that apply to all layers with different degrees of scope and depth. Mainly they support administrative functions, handling of security and cloud programmability (the later supporting the most common programming languages).

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