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Cloud Computing Expo: Introducing the Cloud Pyramid

I would like to propose a 'Cloud Pyramid' to help differentiate the various Cloud offerings out there.

This insightful post by Thorsten von Eicken recently got me thinking. The term “Cloud Computing” is much too vague. People want and need “slots” or “segments” where they can group things. This is how the mind operates through categorization and ordering. So, to possibly help with this, I would like to propose a “Cloud Pyramid” to help differentiate the various Cloud offerings out there.

Cloud Pyramid

There are other ways to display this hierarchy, however I elected to show it as a pyramid. For example, if one were to weight the graphic by the number of providers within each segment, the pyramid would be upside-down. The point here though is to show how these cloud segments build upon and are somewhat dependent upon each other. While they are directly related, they don’t require interdependence (e.g., a Cloud Application does not necessarily have to be built upon a Cloud Platform or Cloud Infrastructure). I would propose, however, that Cloud trends indicate that they will become more entwined over time.

Cloud Application

Within this part of the pyramid, users are truly restricted to only what the application is and can do. Some of the notable companies here are the public email providers (Gmail, Hotmail, Quicken Online, etc.). Almost any Software as a Service (SaaS) provider can be lumped into this group. Most retail consumers use the services within this Cloud. You get pre-defined functionality and you cannot much further than that. Applications are designed for ease of use and GTD (getting things done). SalesForce, a huge Cloud Application/SaaS provider that has led the way for hosted software, falls into this category as well, however, their force.com product does not. Even online banking offerings could be lumped into this group.

Characteristics:

  • Strengths
    • Sometimes free; easy to use; lots of different offerings; easy to access; good consumer adoption; proven business models
  • Weaknesses
    • You can only use the application as far as what it is designed for; no control or knowledge of underlying technology

Cloud Platforms

As you move further down the pyramid, you gain increased flexibility and control but your a still fairly restricted to what you can and cannot do. Within this Category things get more complicated to achieve. Products and companies like Google App Engine, Heroku, Mosso, Engine Yard, Joyent or force.com (SalesForce platform) fall into this segment. This category is becoming more congested with competitors, many of whom are trying to leverage the Cloud Infrastructure.

Characteristics:

  • Strengths
    • Great for developers with a particular niche target, upload a tightly configured applications and it simply “runs”; more control than a Cloud Application
  • Weaknesses
    • Restricted to the platform’s ability only; hard to work “outside the box”; sometimes dependant on Cloud Infrastructure providers

Cloud Infrastructure

At the bottom of the pyramid are the infrastructure providers like Amazon’s EC2, GoGrid, RightScale and Linode. Companies providing infrastructure enable Cloud Platforms and Cloud Applications. Most companies within this segment operate their own infrastructure, allowing them to provide more features, services and control than others within the pyramid. And at this foundation level, GoGrid offers infrastructure in the form of both Linux and Windows, load-balancing, and storage. Some Infrastructure providers may leverage others within the space in order to provide competitive viability as well.

Characteristics:

  • Strengths
    • Offers full control of server infrastructure; not confined to “containers” or “applications” or restrictive instances
  • Weaknesses
    • Sometimes comes with a price premium; infrastructure offerings still being built out

This post is open to discussion! My questions, what do YOU consider to be good examples of each Cloud Category? Can Cloud Computing be broken down into the ones listed above? What segment has been omitted and why do you think it is that way?

Lastly, for a humorous analysis of all of this, take a look a John M Willis’ post “Is Everyone an aaS?” which, in a tongue-in-cheek way, puts it all into perspective.

More Stories By Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan is the Technology Evangelist for Cloud Computing Infrastructure provider GoGrid and ServePath and is an avid technology pundit. GoGrid is the cloud hosting division of ServePath Dedicated Hosting, a company with extensive expertise and experience in web hosting infrastructure. Follow him on Twitter.

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Most Recent Comments
ericnovikoff 03/29/09 12:17:00 PM EDT

I've seen this pyramid expressed in a number of ways. Being a cloud computing provider myself (on the Infrastructure layer) I realize that looking at it from the provider's viewpoint misses a critical dimension: what the customer is actually trying to purchase. Today's offerings are still aimed far too restrictively at programmers and startups, and miss what enterprises are looking for.

On the Application level, the customer is looking to purchase functionality. Many SaaS providers forget this and offer software licenses instead. SaaS is not boxed software! Looking at it that way just frustrates the customer (me included!)

On the Platform level, the customer is looking to buy time and cost savings in deploying an application, and cares less about control, scalability, or perhaps long-term cost. Those providers that get this offer a suite of services that truly make a difference.

On the infrastructure level, the customer is looking to buy computing - something they might traditionally have gotten from an IT department. Despite claims of the commoditization of computing driving cloud services, customers actually have specific needs to run certain software, achieve defined uptime and security requirements, reach performance goals, and of course cost goals. The variety of these goals means that there is far more room for cloud computing services that address these needs than the services which have been introduced so far. To take advantage of these options, customers need the services to be packaged with management functionality and services that provides the value they seek, not just raw CPU cycles.

-Eric
http://www.computingutility.com

Scott 07/17/08 07:29:01 PM EDT

Joyent is an infrastructure provider.

Kevin Jackson 07/15/08 11:32:55 AM EDT

Your comments are very similar to some other views. See

http://kevinljackson.blogspot.com/2008/07/my-views-on-classification-of-...

When asked this question, I first describe three layers:

Layer 1 - Hardware virtualization - This is the "bare metal" layer of storage and CPU virtualization
Layer 2 - Application virtualization - This is when you use web services or APIs to provide a specific function or capability.
Layer 3 - Process virtualization - This is when you string web services and APIs together to deliver value (function or capability) to an end user
Different infrastructure terms can then be used to describe how these layers are put together:

Layer 1 is grid computing, utility computing or IaaS. The specific descriptive term is a function of the business model used to deliver the capability
Layer 1 delivered with layer 2 is PaaS. A developer uses the platform services or APIs to create value for an end user
Layer 1 delivered with a software application is SaaS
When Layer 2 and Layer 3 are designed with web services and layered on top of a hardware infrastructure (virtualized or not), you have a Service Oriented Architecture
Layer 1, 2 and 3 delivered with services and/or APIs already organized in workflows and delivering value to an end user is Cloud Computing.

Michael Sheehan 07/14/08 11:49:16 AM EDT

@ Cloud Pyramid
Feel free to use the analogy. My original post is at [http://blog.gogrid.com/2008/06/24/the-cloud-pyramid/] .

-Michael

Grisomd Trier 07/14/08 10:06:42 AM EDT

Consumers of cloud computing services purchase computing capacity on-demand and are not generally concerned with the underlying technologies used to achieve the increase in server capability.

Cloud Pyramid 07/14/08 08:16:08 AM EDT

Useful typology indeed. I am going to use this if I may in training...

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