Many organizations are touting services “in the cloud,” allowing their users to easily access email, movies, music and making desktop systems mere shadows of their former selves. Users do not need to install major applications like Microsoft Office or Photoshop, because their functionalities are available in the cloud, and as a result, desktop computers, laptops, tablets and phones are forced to become “fat browsers.”
Operating systems become very simple, and most applications, since accessed through a browser, are available from any device and vendor.
When cloud computing is described, it is typically divided into three categories:
- Software as a Service (SaaS): Applications in the cloud
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Operating environments in the cloud
- Platform as a Service (PaaS): Operating systems in the cloud
SaaS: Applications in the Cloud
Of the three cloud categories, SaaS is considered the most consumer-facing cloud computing system. Cloud computing that is described as SaaS has websites that support various activities, like watching movies, editing and sharing documents or holding meetings.
- Facebook, Twitter
- Yahoo mail
- Google Applications
- Microsoft Office 365
- Adobe Connect
IaaS: Operating Environments in the Cloud
IaaS offers companies the opportunity to move into the cloud. For example, the vendor will take an entire server and virtualize it into the cloud, which can also be referred to as hosting. In this model, the current operating environment, including the operating system, database software, applications and all data are moved completely into the cloud. For IaaS to function correctly, the applications require an internet browser.
Vendors large and small are creating versions of their software that will operate in this way. Examples include:
- Amazon –Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)
- Google – App Engine
- Salesforce – Appexchange
- Skytap – Virtual Lab
PaaS: Operating Systems in the Cloud
Platform as a Services is differentiated from IaaS, because PaaS is actually an operating system, database, etc., built to run directly in a cloud environment. Instead of hosting an operating system as IaaS does, PaaS gives application developers the ability to develop applications that are actually cloud-based.
For example, Microsoft’s Windows Azure was the first cloud-based operating system. Windows Azure:
- Provides a platform developers can use to build cloud applications
- Offers pre-built applications for people to start using
- Allows users to slowly move away from desktop/server offerings to cloud offerings
- Offers .NET, SQL, SharePoint and Microsoft Dynamics CRM services
- Migrates major application to the cloud, e.g., Office, SharePoint, Dynamics and all Windows functionality
Many companies with cloud offerings want to offer all of these services. In turn, the major cloud providers and well-known technology companies, like Amazon, IBM, HP, Google and Microsoft, offer IaaS/PaaS hybrid services. This means users can build applications on their cloud-based operating system and host operating system/database/applications together in an environment that supports all of a customer’s cloud needs.
But What About the App Store?
With Apple as the app store trailblazer, Google and Microsoft all support application stores. Up to this point we have discussed applications in the sky (SaaS), virtualization of entire operating environments (IaaS) and operating systems in the cloud (PaaS). Applications you install on your devices –– are combinations of “things-on-the-ground” (on your device) and “things-in-the-sky” (what you access via the Internet).
So, are app stores a contradiction of the cloud computing model? The answer is both yes and no. Often vendors can offer a much more customized interface to their cloud-based functions by building an application that users install on their device. Many of these apps are hybrids, i.e., they have installed functionality, yet depend on a live connection to the cloud. Other apps are self-contained and run even when the device is not in a connected mode.
The end result is that as users, we will have the option to use our devices in a way that is most suitable to our business and personal needs. Most of our devices will probably have a mixture of pure cloud-based apps and installed apps.
The cloud is already an integral part of most installations and over the next few years, I predict all businesses will move the bulk of their compute power from the ground to the cloud. After all, this is the computer revolution of the 21st century.