An Introduction to the Types of Cloud Computing

Editorial Note: I originally wrote this post for the Monitis blog.  You can check out the original here, at their site.  While you’re there, take a look around at some of their other authors and content.

The folks at Gartner have something awesome called the “hype cycle”.  The cycle contains a “peak of inflated expectations” and a “trough of disillusionment”.  So, that alone gives it a pretty significant amusement factor.

But beyond the amusement lies an important insight into our collective psychology.  Those of us working in tech work in a booming and constantly evolving industry.  Because of this, we find ourselves bombarded with buzzwords.  These generate excitement at first and disillusionment later.  Eventually, they reach equilibrium.

Gartner uses this set of observations to advise companies about risk.  But we can use it to identify a term’s likelihood to induce buzzword fatigue and produce derisive satire.

Let’s get specific.  Do you remember a few years back, when “X as a service” really took off?  The world seized on the promise of the cloud.  Don’t maintain it yourself — have a service do it!  As the term rocketed up the peak of inflated expectations, everyone wanted a part of the cloud.

But then it fell into the trough of disillusionment, and satire ensued.  Twitter accounts offered “sarcasm as a service” to poke fun at the hype.  If you saw an offering for “everything as a service,” you had no idea whether it was serious.

Since this time, however, these offerings have ascended the so-called “slope of enlightenment” and established themselves as mainstream.  Actually, let me correct that.  They have established themselves as foundational to the modern internet.

Let’s now unpack this X as a service concept a bit.  In order to do that, I’ll offer a story in contrasts.

The “As a Service” Concept

Imagine that I own a small business.  In this capacity, I want to keep track of prospects, leads, and customers for sales purposes.  You can think of this as “customer relationship management” (CRM) software.

Back in the early days of my career (late 90s, early 2000s), you might have done this with Excel.  At least, you would have used Excel until it became too unwieldy.  Then, you’d have gone to Best Buy and purchased software that you installed from a CD.  Finally, you’d have installed the “client” on anyone’s PC who needed to use it while installing the “server” on some jack of all trades machine running Windows 2000 or something.  From there, using it was as easy as making sure not too many people tried to change things at once.

Fast forward a couple of decades and that seems… odd.  These days, you’d probably just navigate to something like salesforce.com and create a trial account.  Certainly small business owners would take this approach.  Larger organizations with more privacy concerns might still setup servers and install their own software.  But even the ones doing this would probably host a web app and have “clients” access it via browser.

This tale drives at the essence of “as a service.”  Stuffed into that small phrase, you find the large, important concept of “let someone else worry about it.”  You shouldn’t need to think about clients, servers, networks, and the like to have a CRM system.  Let someone else worry about it.  You just want to sign in via the browser.

This concept has become so important and so ubiquitous that it drives today’s internet.  But not all cloud, “as a service” concepts are created equal.  Let’s take a look at the major types of cloud computing, by conceptual level.

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