Clearly, enterprise IT has become very “cloudy.” The term cloud computing has grown from a little-known buzzword into one of the hottest topics in IT today. This surge in interest has led to a great deal of debate as to what cloud computing is and how to apply it to the enterprise. However, in the course of these conversations, one critically important issue seems to be casually overlooked and underappreciated – the difference between cloud infrastructures and cloud platforms, and the benefits of each to the enterprise.
Infrastructure-oriented approaches to cloud, including Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offerings, seek simply to provide access to virtualized computing resources in an on-demand manner. Typical of this approach is Amazon’s EC2, through which any user can request Linux or Windows virtual machine instances which are created on the fly and billed based on actual usage. The user of cloud infrastructure always knows how many virtual machines they have and what their individual IP addresses are and, in the case of Amazon’s EC2, the “sizes” of each instance. However, clients don’t know where the machines are geographically or what kind of hardware is being used. This is what makes the service cloud-like.
Of critical importance is the fact that the management of the individual instances is handled at the operating system level and on a machine-by-machine basis. While this may increase end-user control it also dramatically increases operational complexity.
Platform-oriented approaches to cloud are distinguished by the higher level of abstraction they provide as well as the supporting services they make available to the applications that run on them. Google’s AppEngine is a good example of the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) approach and the distinction between infrastructure-and platform-oriented cloud types. The platform user is solely concerned about the applications they are running in the cloud. To migrate an application to the cloud they simply package it and then deploy it to the cloud. The deployment happens in a single step and the end-user doesn’t necessarily even know whether the application is being run on a single virtual machine or 10 at any given point in time. In addition, the application can take advantage of special services provided by the platform, such as authentication or data access.
There is little doubt that various forms of cloud computing will play an increasingly important role for organizations seeking a competitive advantage. Enterprises that employ cloud platforms—in either public or private cloud environments—will benefit from the increased scalability, security, and portability of their cloud-based applications, as well as the ability to manage third party applications. Cloud platforms will also help them to significantly reduce time-to-market, realize substantial cost-savings and react more quickly to changing market conditions. Because of these clear benefits to IT departments and to an organization’s business goals, cloud computing is here to stay and cloud platforms will help unlock the power of cloud computing for the enterprise.
Appistry is a leading provider of cloud application platform software, and is on the forefront of cloud computing solutions that provide organizations with a competitive advantage by to making it easier and more cost-effective to develop, deploy and manage critical business applications.