Posted by: Christian Verstraete | July 9, 2010

A Cloud Platform, often forgotten, but highly needed

We’ve heard a lot about cloud computing over the last year. Since the middle of 2007, searches for the term have been booming, and although, according to Google Trends, the trend has reversed somewhat lately, today’s “Google meter” was still above 33 million pages. Many cloud definitions have been developed, but the one I always refer to is the one from NiST, the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, as it addresses many of the cloud specifics and is precise enough to differentiate cloud and cloud look alike offerings.

Now, that definition introduces, like many others, the concepts of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. Somehow, many people have the impression these three concepts are like Russian puppets. A SaaS automatically contains a PaaS which in turn contains an IaaS. Well in fact that is absolutely wrong.

Each of them is built on a Cloud Platform, a hardware/software stack that contains the common elements required for a cloud offering to work. Separating this base functionality from the actual services allows providers (internal or external) to develop multiple services (even from different types) on the same platform. Such platform includes three main functionalities, a demand, supply and delivery function. Let’s look at each in a bit more details.

Let’s start with the demand function. This one includes a service request function, in other words, the possibility to set-up a user portal through which services can be requested. obviously, the content of the portal will be related directly to the type of services provided, but the base portal functionality and its linkage with provisioning, configuration and billing is common to all types of services. It also includes a billing function, which will be different for a private or a public cloud, and a basic service health, SLA management environment. Finally a service catalogue and service portfolio management environment are required. Again, the content will depend on the service delivered, but the “reservoir” should be there.

The supply function includes the resources (servers, storage, networking, software etc.) that will be provisioned and configured to deliver the appropriate service. This will be complemented with resource management including release, health check etc.

Finally, the delivery function includes the service configuration and activation, delivery assurance (which in turn links with SLA management), the actual charging and user/order management.

Both supply and delivery share a service management and governance function.

On top of these common elements, a service provider (being it an IT department or a public cloud provider) can now develop simple services such as CPU as a service, or Storage as a service, but also more complex environments such as development platforms as a service, or even business functionality such as ERP or CRM as a service. Each of those services will now use the common platform services, allowing appropriate charging of a user that combines IaaS and SaaS services for example.

Why this aspect is most often missed out is a mystery for me. It really makes the offering very clean and allows companies to expand their offering moving forward.

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