Buyer beware: Cloud washing rampant among tech vendors

The cloud computing hype cycle has led many tech vendors to cloud wash their products. Here are the characteristics of a true cloud computing service.

NEW YORK -- Vendors continue to ride the cloud-hype wave by cloud washing products that don't deliver the value...

that true cloud services can.

Seemingly every new product is either labeled with the "cloud" buzzword or with "cloud-enabled." Vendors accused of taking existing bundles of hardware and software and rejiggering them ever so slightly to slap on the "cloud" tag include Hewlett Packard and Oracle Corp. Specifically, the Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud Software system is an appliance made up of servers and software that industry watchers say is neither elastic nor cloud.

This type of cloud washing is going on all over the tech industry, so companies have to consider cloud options with a discerning eye, said David Linthicum, senior vice president with Boston-based cloud consultancy Cloud Technology Partners, during his presentation at the Modern Infrastructure Decisions conference here this month.

Cloud confusion was evident during the conference, where IT professionals from industries ranging from banking to government agencies gathered to determine their initial course of action for cloud computing.

Step one: Figure out what the cloud actually is.

One attendee summed up the uncertainty best when he interrupted a panel of cloud experts to ask, "What do you mean by 'private cloud'? Is that the same [as] internal cloud? Or virtual private cloud?"

One attendee defined private cloud as server virtualization renamed.

"If you are doing virtualization and you are doing automation and change management, you are doing cloud; you just aren't calling it that," said Ashish Patel, head of storage infrastructure for a financial asset management firm on the East Coast.

Characteristics of true cloud computing

The answer to the cloud vernacular question varies, depending on who responds. But the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as a set of characteristics, delivery models and deployment models that include the following:

  • On-demand self-service
  • Ubiquitous network access
  • Resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • A pay-per-use billing model

The NIST also explains that cloud has four deployment models -- hybrid cloud, private cloud, public cloud and community cloud -- and three delivery models -- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS).

The deployment models can be used for any of the delivery models -- think private PaaS -- and those delivery models have become umbrellas for a number of other as-a-Service offerings, such as Applications as a Service, under SaaS, and Management as a Service, under IaaS.

But the terms may not matter as much as the end results. Cloud services simply have to offer a more efficient way of delivering IT, said a chief enterprise architect for a government agency based in New Jersey.

"In the end, the platform doesn't matter," he said. "It's all about the best way to deliver the service. … Sometimes, a public cloud service provider can do it better -- and they might even be more secure."


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