You can't go more than a few weeks without hearing about new features from larger cloud providers such as AWS, Google or Microsoft. They constantly add database services, new provisioning features, new management capabilities, new types of storage and many other services.
Late March price cuts across the board for cloud services from these providers made it clear that the public cloud wars were on. It was the functional equivalent of carnival barkers, all trying to attract your business at the same time. Once you're in their tent, it's very hard to leave.
However, a case can be made for a minimalist approach to cloud; one that takes advantage of public cloud services that don't have all of the bells and whistles -- just a few simple services, such as storage, compute or databases. In some cases, it has the ability to get down to the primitives of the platforms, without going through layers of application program interfaces (APIs) and management tools. In some circles, this is called a "naked cloud."
Naked clouds serve a purpose and fulfill a need in the emerging world of cloud computing. While public cloud platforms are preferred most of the time, there are a few instances when you need to get down to the native platforms using different degrees of control and management. Having options is a good thing.
Who are the naked cloud providers?
Naked cloud providers come in a few different forms and can include hosting providers, managed services providers and specialized cloud services.
- Hosting providers. Hosting providers are the easiest to understand, in that they just provide a platform hosting service, with a few front-end services. This is functionally the same as using a server in your own data center, only that it's located in a hosting provider's data center. You're typically responsible for the platform.
- Managed services providers. Managed services providers are third-party contractors that deliver network-based services and applications to enterprises. In the case of the naked cloud, they manage resources on your behalf, maintain the platform, put specific services into production and manage security and governance. Much like the hosting approach, you have control over the platform through your managed services provider. Examples of managed services providers include Hosting.com and Logicworks -- most provide hosting services as well.
- Specialized cloud services. Specialized cloud services are offered by a few cloud providers and are often called "bare-metal clouds." Bare-metal clouds provide a way to complement or substitute virtualized cloud services with a dedicated server environment. This eliminates the overhead of virtualization and it allows you direct access to most of the underlying platform services. Thus, bare-metal cloud servers do not run a hypervisor, but are delivered using the same on-demand model that most public clouds provide. Examples of bare-metal cloud providers include Internap, SoftLayer, Rackspace, Liquid Web and New Servers (also known as BareMetalCloud.com).
Why would enterprises use naked cloud?
First, enterprise IT wants to have more control over its cloud services; they want to control the platform, and platform services, using direct and native access. The larger public cloud providers typically don't allow this.
Most public clouds only allow access using well-defined APIs. While this abstraction layer allows the cloud provider to manage the use of resources, and provide multi-tenancy, it's not ideal when those in IT need direct access to underlying resources, such as memory and I/O.
Second, there are cost issues. In some cases, naked cloud is more cost-effective than public cloud. IT has more control and can manage naked clouds in a way that is more cost efficient for them than the big public cloud providers.
You'll have to run the numbers to understand if this approach is right for you. Typically, this works when you need to use resources for long periods of time and when the resources don't need to auto-scale. Unlike the big public cloud providers, naked clouds only provide a finite amount of accessible resources, thus your patterns of use need to consider this characteristic.
Finally, naked clouds can be the right fit when performance is imperative. Naked clouds are typically able to provide better performance because you have direct and unimpeded access to the native platform. As a result, you're not in competition with other applications or users for the same resources, and your application should be able to run faster and smoother.
The typical tradeoff here is scaling. Most naked cloud providers don't have the ability to auto-scale or auto-provision resources on-demand. Public clouds usually allow you to provision as many virtual server instances as you need and then de-provision them when not needed.
About the author:
David "Dave" S. Linthicum is senior vice president of Cloud Technology Partners and an internationally recognized cloud industry expert and thought leader. He is the author or co-author of 13 books on computing, including the best-selling Enterprise Application Integration. Linthicum keynotes at many leading technology conferences on cloud computing, SOA, enterprise application integration and enterprise architecture.
His latest book is Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise: A Step-by-Step Guide. His industry experience includes tenures as chief technology officer and CEO of several successful software companies and upper-level management positions in Fortune 100 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including the University of Virginia, Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin.