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Cloud Definitions: NIST, Gartner, Forrester

“Cloud” is probably the most hyped word in the industry these days and everyone has a definition of what it is

Analysts should love hype – it lets them jump into a hot area and be the thought leaders who everyone has to consult to make any sense out of what is going on in the area.

“Cloud” is probably the most hyped word in the industry these days and everyone has a definition of what it is. And despite this being a running joke in the industry, everyone obviously needs definition conversion to happen so we can start speaking the same language here.

U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) stepped in and did – from my perspective – something truly amazing: they provided a relatively comprehensive set of cloud definitions in a simple two-page document.

Cloud_DefinitionpngThe document lists major characteristics of cloud services:

  • On-demand self-service
  • Ubiquitous network access
  • Location independent resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured Service

Classical delivery models:

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

And cloud deployment models:

  • Private
  • Community
  • Public
  • Hybrid

For details and definitions see full NIST draft here.

Gartner has published a comparison between their definitions and those of NIST (requires subscription). In which they basically approve NIST definition (apart from a small rant that internet is not being specifically called out as access mechanism – my guess is that this is because private clouds can be deployed and accessed in local datacenters).

But then they suggest adding a couple of extra layers to the IaaS/PaaS/SaaS stack: namely Information and Process services – and quite a few deployment models explicitly calling out all various combinations of ownership (individual agency/company, government-wide, third-party) and access levels (anyone, limited membership, exclusive).

Here’s why I think that NIST definitions are better:

  • NIST’a terminology is widely accepted in the industry – for example, SaaS/PaaS/IaaS. Whereas Gartner seems to be pushing their own wording for everything: application services, application infrastructure services, system infrastructure services.
  • NIST is simpler:
    • SaaS/PaaS/IaaS distinctions seems to be sufficient – additional Gartner’s information services and process services seem to be subsets of SaaS and unnecessary detailed.
    • Private/Community/Public/Hybrid is much easier than the 8 block definition which Gartner has – and also generalized because Gartner’s classification is somewhat government-related. Yes, there might be further details in these groups: e.g. you might organize a public cloud out of your own datacenter or get an external company set one up for you. Yes, these details might affect the way your datacenter works for you but if we go along this path we can go way deeper than the 8 options Gartner came up with. 4 is enough. In fact, I believe that for most companies out there 3 would have been enough as well: Public/Private/Hybrid.

All, in all, a very good job by NIST, which hopefully will make Gartner work together and agree to one simple framework (Gartner’s reference architectures make my head heart).

In addition to these, Forrester just published a related report: “How To Message “Cloud” Offerings And Not Get Lost In The Fog” – arguing that use of the term “Cloud” – vague and overhyped it is these days – can backfire on you and should be avoided.

Although, I personally think that the term “cloud” is still the right term for the overall class of dynamic on-demand systems, I could not agree more that companies need to be specific when positioning their products and not do bulk search/replace changing all “SOA”/”SaaS”/”Internet”/”Virtual” terms on their web-sites to “Cloud”.

For example, I tend to characterize our upcoming OnDemand services as “Systems management as a service” (this is not approved by Quest marketing – just my personal wording for now.

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Dmitry Sotnikov is VP of Cloud at WSO2, building the cloud business for this leading middleware provider. Check out the WSO2 Cloud platform at http://CloudPreview.WSO2.com

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