Demystifying Cloud Services

A lot of people don’t understand the cloud, said Ronald Pascuzzi to an audience at PTC Live Global this week.

To emphasize his point, he showed a video clip of people interviewed at random on a city sidewalk answering the question, “What is the cloud?” Some said, “Data floating around.” A lot just said, “…Um.”

No matter your level of understanding, Pascuzzi, vice president of cloud services at PTC, can set you straight. Starting with a definition of cloud computing we can all grasp: a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage and process data, rather than on a local server or personal computer.

Organizations of all sizes use cloud services to streamline operations, improve profitability, and support their changing workplace and market requirements.

For example, using a hosted cloud service can reduce costs normally associated with in-house IT infrastructure, systems support, and maintenance, Pascuzzi said.

There are efficiency gains too, such as improved reliability, scalability, and faster time-to-value with new solutions. Rather than worrying about deployment, uptime, problem resolution, or updates, a company can focus on the true business value of the applications themselves, he said.

The benefits of a cloud-based strategy seem substantial. Yet understanding cloud computing terminology and solution differences can be confusing. Pascuzzi took the audience through them step by step.

There are three main service categories:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Furnishes servers and/or storage resources and network resources along with staff to implement and administer these systems.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): Delivers a platform (e.g., programming languages and tools) that customers use to develop applications that will then be delivered to end users via the cloud.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS): Offers application functionality to customers via a web browser. SaaS includes all the back-end services needed to needed to operate the application in the cloud.

These types of services can be delivered using various flavors of cloud:

  • Public cloud: A hosted service available over the Internet. Multiple customers share the service provider’s infrastructure. While this is the least costly option, some customers are concerned about security in the public cloud.
  • Private cloud: Cloud service is implemented within the corporate firewall that’s controlled by the IT department. This model is more expensive, but can alleviate security concerns when security is limited to a local area network (LAN).
  • Hybrid cloud: Uses both private and public clouds to perform distinct functions within the same organization.
  • Virtual private cloud: An on-demand, configurable pool of shared computing resources that are allocated within a public cloud environment. This flavor of cloud provides some isolation between different organizations sharing the resources to improve security.

Beyond investigating the differences between solutions, Pascuzzi said, there are a host of practical questions around the cloud, like: What are the risks, costs, and potential business benefits? How will the transition work? Will our data be secure?

Additionally, when it comes to selecting the right service provider and agreeing on contractual terms, other questions need to be addressed around what level of accountability you want from your cloud provider, and what level of accountability you are willing to assume.

Every company has its own objectives and concerns that need to be addressed early on. If you don’t carefully define what services you need and assess exactly what the provider offers, you can easily wind up with a partial solution, Pasuzzi said

Filling the gap between the cloud services you signed up for and the ones you need will then demand additional expenditures—and a complete solution may end up costing far more than expected.

Normally cloud services should reduce costs, but these savings can only be fully realized if the chosen provider can deliver the full range of services and technical capabilities that you require.

Before making the move to cloud services, carefully evaluate the provider to be sure you find the right match, concluded Pascuzzi.

Image by Lucian Savluc on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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