Part 2 – A Universal Service Model
In my previous post, I introduced the idea that all cloud services are “platform as a service,” especially when we think of the entire Internet as the platform, and the various services available to applications at run-time. These services include, but are certainly not limited to, what is broadly called Infrastructure as a Service. IaaS has been extremely popular and successful with traditional IT practitioners because it fits relatively easily into their operational models. Still, it is the most basic and least developed of the spectrum of services the net has to offer.
It is a strategic blunder to think that cloud’s ultimate value can be tapped by simply applying traditional IT datacenter concepts and patterns. In fact, the quest to add cloud to one’s IT portfolio without undertaking significant software development and operational reform will likely lead to failure. Certainly the outsourcing of infrastructure as a service reduces risk, simplifies operations, and potentially reduces overall costs to a business if implemented properly. But to stop there is to cheat one’s self of the true riches the cloud model can unearth when fully pursued.
To understand this better, consider that the only purpose of IT operations is to provide data processing and storage that enable a business to meet its objectives: “It’s all about apps and data.” IT becomes a drag on the business if it fails to adopt capabilities and transformative operational models that are more directly relevant to providing the application and data storage facilities the business needs. Whereas in the past, the most directly relevant capabilities may have been providing raw compute power and storage capacity tailored to custom applications, the reality of our current environment is that the various wheels that make apps and data go have been reinvented so many times that they are easy to find and often free. The global Internet and open source software are the primary reasons for this change.
The idea of transformation is at the heart of cloud computing’s real value. One must go beyond IaaS to fully reap its rewards, and most have done so, perhaps unknowingly, by using the service model at the opposite end of the spectrum: “Software as a Service” or SaaS. In this model, the service presented is the application itself, and using the service is just a matter of paying subscription fees to cover a number of users, connections, queries, etc., then accessing the application with a standard web browser or via an API. This service model is decades old, but standing up such a service has historically been very difficult. Until recently, none but the largest organizations had the expertise, resources, and fortitude to build them.
It has been mentioned that IaaS is at one end and SaaS at the other of a spectrum. But spectrum of what? I contend it is the spectrum of services available from all cloud sources, distributed across a continuum of cloud service abstractions and the types of applications built upon them. I’ve created a diagram, shown in the figure below, to help facilitate a complete discussion of this concept, which I’ll tackle in my next installment. For now, take a look and start thinking about the implications of this “universal service model.”