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Cloud Computing: Understanding Infrastructure as a Service

Introducing the notion of an alternative to AWS: Cloudcenters

Cloudcenters provide the same kinds of tools that all datacenter and server operators are already accustomed to, but with all the traditional advantages of cloud (i.e. self-service, pay-as-you-go, and scalability). Instead of creating completely new paradigms, cloudcenters are a methodology by which the customer can have a virtual datacenter hosted ‘in the sky.’

Amazon’s Web Services (AWS) is not the only way to build scalable Cloud Infrastructures. There are two emerging methodologies for constructing Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) AKA “Cloud Infrastructure Services”. The first is what we call “cloudcenters”, which are essentially datacenters in the sky. The second is what we call an “Infrastructure Web Service”. GoGrid was one of the pioneers for cloudcenters, while AWS largely created the second model.

Understanding IaaS means looking closely at these two approaches. Clearly the notion of cloudcenters embodied by AWS competitors such as ourselves, FlexiScale, ElasticHosts, AppNexus, and others is important. My colleague, Michael Sheehan, will go into more depth on how we think this distinction modifies his earlier Cloud Pyramid (above left) in a follow-on article to this one.

Infrastructure Cloud Models

Understanding these two approaches is important because it directly affects your selection of a Cloud Infrastructure provider. These two models highlight a difference in core infrastructure and in target markets. Cloudcenters provide a direct equivalent to traditional datacenters and hence are usually more desirable for IT staff, systems operators, and other datacenter savvy folks. Infrastructure Web Services on the other hand are more analogous to Service-Oriented-Architectures (SOA), require significant programming skills, and are much more comfortable for software developers.

Infrastructure Web Services

I’m going to assume for this article that you are somewhat familiar with Amazon Web Services (AWS), but I’ll briefly re-cap. AWS provides a number of different ‘Web Services’ that can consumed individually or put together to support different kinds of applications, usually a batch processing or web application of some kind. These services include:

  • Object-based file storage via Simple Storage Service (S3)
  • Servers on demand via Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)
  • Block storage on demand via Elastic Block Storage (a part of EC2)
  • Distributed database functionality via SimpleDB (SDB)
  • Content distribution and edge-caching via CloudFront
  • Messaging & queuing via Simple Queuing Service (SQS)
  • Payment processing via Flexible Payment Services (FPS)
  • Billing & re-packaging of the above services via Amazon Dev Pay

This is a robust ecosystem of services form which you can use any or all of in order to build your application, getting the traditional benefits of Cloud Computing such as self-service, pay-as-you-go, and massive scalability.

Unfortunately, every service above is based on an Amazon standard, not an industry standard.  S3 is not accessible via CIFS or NFS. EC2 provides Xen hosting, but image management and storage is completely custom. SQS does not use any standard queuing or messaging protocols such as JMS or STOMP. SimpleDB now has an ‘SQL-like’ interface, but is essentially a 100% ground up creation of Amazon.

A major advantage of using the Amazon approach however is that greenfield applications developed from scratch have a very powerful set of vetted, scalable services, that can be used to build that application. This means avoiding the intrinsic and extrinsic costs associated with deploying a separate queuing or database system.

The alternative, of course, is to use the same tools, paradigms and standards that you deploy in an industry standard Enterprise datacenter today.

More Stories By Randy Bias

Randy Bias is Co-Founder and CTO of Cloudscaling. His provocative views on the cloud computing disruption have made Randy Bias one of the industry’s most influential voices. He has inspired organizations to embrace cloud to transform business processes and position for success in a new world where computing resources are ubiquitous, inexpensive, instantly scalable, and highly available.

A vocal open systems advocate for more than two decades, Randy was the technical visionary at GoGrid and at CloudScale Networks. He led the open-licensing of GoGrid's APIs, which inspired Sun Microsystems, Rackspace Cloud, VMware and others to follow. In 2006, he co-founded Cloudscaling and since then has led teams that built and deployed cloud infrastructure for more than two dozen clients globally.

Randy was an early and vocal supporter of the OpenStack project, and led the teams that deployed the first public OpenStack storage cloud (Swift) outside of Rackspace, and the first public OpenStack compute cloud (Nova). He is a founding Board Member of the OpenStack Foundation. He also popularized the cloud server "pets vs. cattle" meme.

Randy blogs at Cloudscaling and Simplicity Scales, as well as GigaOm, CloudAve, O’Reilly Radar, TechCrunch and others. He is consistently recognized as one of the most influential social media voices in cloud computing. He is frequently interviewed in the media, and he speaks at dozens of industry events annually.

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