Everyday I hear, see and read about “cloud services.” So, I asked myself what a cloud service really was. And as usual, I started with Wikipedia. They have an article about Cloud Services, but frankly it looks more like an introduction to cloud computing. Not really what I’m looking for.
Then I read a VMWare white paper, entitled Public Cloud Service Definition, but it really focused on describing VMWare vCloud Director Services, so that wasn’t it either.
Finally I found an IDC definition of Cloud Services: “cloud services” are fundamentally about an emerging delivery/consumption model – one that can be applied to IT industry offerings (e.g., as in software-as-a-service (SaaS), and storage or server capacity as a service), but also much more broadly, to offerings from many other industries, including entertainment, energy, financial services, health, manufacturing, retail and transportation, as well as from government and education sectors.
Now, that one got me closer, particularly because they add a set of characteristics to the definition. Webopedia even goes one step further, providing cloud services examples such as online data storage, backup solutions, Web-based e-mail services, hosted office suites, document collaboration services, database processing and managed technical support services.
Yes, a cloud service can be as simple as these, but it can also be very complex, addressing the specific business need of a user. Many people have a tendency to forget that. A cloud service can be the combination of multiple cloud services that jointly address a specific need. We tend think of a service and an offering as separate, when they often co-exist side-by-side.
An offering is something you propose to a user under specific conditions for a specific price. That offering may consist of one or multiple services that are provisioned and made available to the user as soon as he/she has agreed the conditions and price.
But what can such an offering be? For example, you are an R&D project manager in a large multi-national and start-up a new product development project where you will work with teams around the world as well as with component suppliers. What you need is a “project collaboration platform.” That’s the offering you are looking to provision and set-up for your project team.
You expect that offering to give you several things Including: a wiki, a staging area for transferring files with suppliers, a SharePoint environment to store your IP and critical information, an ideation platform to capture and assess the ideas from your project team (internal and suppliers) and a virtual room to facilitate communications etc. Each of those services may be offered separately to other users, but that is not what you are interested in. You want, to get the complete set of services, so you don’t have to take care of integration, linkage of the different environments (some of which may be on the intranet, while others need external accessibility) in one single action.
This service is complex and will need several virtual and physical servers to be provisioned. These require software installation and configuration, IP addresses made available etc. The orchestration of multiple applications is required, and then the integration of those in a single environment is needed. To demonstrate the complexity, let’s look at the SharePoint environment alone. To make life easy, I used the HP Sizer for Microsoft SharePoint and calculated an environment for 300 users without redundancy. I need 24 Cores, over three physical machines at least. Those need to be integrated and appropriate storage needs to be configured, together with vLAN’s, . And that’s just for SharePoint.
Now, to make things a little more complex, your new project may require access to the enterprise CRM system to understand customer needs. Your company uses Salesforce.com as its CRM platform. So, now the cloud offering I just talked about, not only consists of services that are located on the enterprise private cloud, but also on a public cloud. We call that aggregation. During the orchestration, the system will have to reach out to Salesforce.com to set-up an appropriate user for this access, and will then have to keep track of the salesforce credentials to re-initiate the session when triggered by the user, so he does not need to log into salesforce separately.
I think you get the point. Despite just being mentioned on the side, cloud services are an essential part of the cloud. Unfortunately, their complexity is often overlooked when choosing a cloud platform.
Many companies decide to start their journey to cloud with the development of an agile “Test and Development” environment. This consists mainly in the provisioning of infrastructure services in which the developers create the appropriate development or test environment by installing software packages. That is actually easy and many cloud service platforms provide such functionality. But as the end objective may be to provide fully integrated services (offerings, I should say) such as the ones I describe in this blog post. Make sure that, right from the start, you inquire if this is possible with the environment you choose. It would be too bad to have to change platform along your journey to cloud