Defining cloud computing: A taxonomy

Those of you who still think the best answer when deploying any new application is to buy a server and rack it in your datacentre, you are woefully behind the times and may just be making the most expensive and slowest decision possible.

Myriad deployment options exist today, from colocation to virtual machine hosting, and this collection of options has been blown out even wider thanks to the advent of cloud computing, which Forrester defines as:

A standardised IT capability (services, software, or infrastructure) delivered via internet technologies in a pay-per-use, self-service way.

Cloud computing differs from other hosting options because of the latter two characteristics and because of how vendors (and end users) deliver them. For example, pay-per-use generally means no long-term contract for the service and nearly all track consumption and factor this into their pricing. Also, self service typically means services are provisioned with no human intervention, sales calls, service tickets, or lengthy procurement processes and thus empowers the buyer to provision the service and start consuming. This implies that procurement of the service is fully automated, and to deliver cloud services cost effectively, this is essential. Another common characteristic of cloud computing is multitenancy, or the ability to service multiple customers from the same resources. In software this can mean that multiple customers interact with a single instance of the application or service being delivered. For infrastructure, this typically means that customers share the same physical hardware but are separated from each other via virtualization technologies.

Cloud computing services deliver IT empowerment that can't easily be matched by other outsourcing or hosting solutions because of their time-to-market advantages, the flexibility they offer, and the economics of the service, when leveraged correctly. But it should be noted that cloud computing isn't one service, but a collection of services that meet this definition.

And not all cloud computing services are designed for the same users inside the business. Most aren't designed for ready consumption by infrastructure and operations professionals, but by developers, for example. So it's imperative to understand the categorization of cloud computing services, who they're for, what makes them different, and how mature each category is so that you know where to add them to your strategic road map.

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