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Cloud Computing Expo: Introducing the Cloud Pyramid

I would like to propose a 'Cloud Pyramid' to help differentiate the various Cloud offerings out there.

This insightful post by Thorsten von Eicken recently got me thinking. The term “Cloud Computing” is much too vague. People want and need “slots” or “segments” where they can group things. This is how the mind operates through categorization and ordering. So, to possibly help with this, I would like to propose a “Cloud Pyramid” to help differentiate the various Cloud offerings out there.

Cloud Pyramid

There are other ways to display this hierarchy, however I elected to show it as a pyramid. For example, if one were to weight the graphic by the number of providers within each segment, the pyramid would be upside-down. The point here though is to show how these cloud segments build upon and are somewhat dependent upon each other. While they are directly related, they don’t require interdependence (e.g., a Cloud Application does not necessarily have to be built upon a Cloud Platform or Cloud Infrastructure). I would propose, however, that Cloud trends indicate that they will become more entwined over time.

Cloud Application

Within this part of the pyramid, users are truly restricted to only what the application is and can do. Some of the notable companies here are the public email providers (Gmail, Hotmail, Quicken Online, etc.). Almost any Software as a Service (SaaS) provider can be lumped into this group. Most retail consumers use the services within this Cloud. You get pre-defined functionality and you cannot much further than that. Applications are designed for ease of use and GTD (getting things done). SalesForce, a huge Cloud Application/SaaS provider that has led the way for hosted software, falls into this category as well, however, their force.com product does not. Even online banking offerings could be lumped into this group.

Characteristics:

  • Strengths
    • Sometimes free; easy to use; lots of different offerings; easy to access; good consumer adoption; proven business models
  • Weaknesses
    • You can only use the application as far as what it is designed for; no control or knowledge of underlying technology

Cloud Platforms

As you move further down the pyramid, you gain increased flexibility and control but your a still fairly restricted to what you can and cannot do. Within this Category things get more complicated to achieve. Products and companies like Google App Engine, Heroku, Mosso, Engine Yard, Joyent or force.com (SalesForce platform) fall into this segment. This category is becoming more congested with competitors, many of whom are trying to leverage the Cloud Infrastructure.

Characteristics:

  • Strengths
    • Great for developers with a particular niche target, upload a tightly configured applications and it simply “runs”; more control than a Cloud Application
  • Weaknesses
    • Restricted to the platform’s ability only; hard to work “outside the box”; sometimes dependant on Cloud Infrastructure providers

Cloud Infrastructure

At the bottom of the pyramid are the infrastructure providers like Amazon’s EC2, GoGrid, RightScale and Linode. Companies providing infrastructure enable Cloud Platforms and Cloud Applications. Most companies within this segment operate their own infrastructure, allowing them to provide more features, services and control than others within the pyramid. And at this foundation level, GoGrid offers infrastructure in the form of both Linux and Windows, load-balancing, and storage. Some Infrastructure providers may leverage others within the space in order to provide competitive viability as well.

Characteristics:

  • Strengths
    • Offers full control of server infrastructure; not confined to “containers” or “applications” or restrictive instances
  • Weaknesses
    • Sometimes comes with a price premium; infrastructure offerings still being built out

This post is open to discussion! My questions, what do YOU consider to be good examples of each Cloud Category? Can Cloud Computing be broken down into the ones listed above? What segment has been omitted and why do you think it is that way?

Lastly, for a humorous analysis of all of this, take a look a John M Willis’ post “Is Everyone an aaS?” which, in a tongue-in-cheek way, puts it all into perspective.

More Stories By Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan is the Technology Evangelist for Cloud Computing Infrastructure provider GoGrid and ServePath and is an avid technology pundit. GoGrid is the cloud hosting division of ServePath Dedicated Hosting, a company with extensive expertise and experience in web hosting infrastructure. Follow him on Twitter.

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