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The lines between cloud computing models are blurring

Laura Smith, Features Writer

The three dominant cloud computing models -- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) -- are changing fast, as cloud providers reach

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up and down the stack to offer as close to a one-stop shop as possible.

To understand how these cloud computing models are evolving and converging, it helps to know the history, said Jeffrey Kaplan, managing director of ThinkStrategies Inc., a consultancy in Wellesley, Mass. For one thing, he says, SaaS was first.

By 2006, Salesforce.com Inc.'s strategy to appeal to end users of its customer relationship management (CRM) SaaS -- as opposed to the IT staff -- had taken off, to the point where other software makers decided to mimic its subscription-style, usage-billed, pay-as-you-go pricing. This created a shadow process whereby business managers began to buy their own software solutions, as opposed to getting them from IT.

"Then Amazon asked, 'Why can't we do that with compute power?' and the concept of IaaS was born," Kaplan said. “[Previous attempts at] utility computing didn't take off because it was complex. Amazon commoditized compute power, allowing users to buy it literally by the hour or by MIPS."

Not long afterward, Salesforce.com realized that some customers wanted to customize its software, and thought, “Maybe we should give them a developer's environment," Kaplan said. And thus came PaaS.

IaaS gets automation

In 2011, a big trend in IaaS is the move to automation -- a converged infrastructure with automated scripting, according to Joe Onisick, technology solutions architect at World Wide Technology Inc., a systems integrator in St. Louis. The IaaS might not have orchestration abilities from a portal, but it can rapidly provision services, he said.

For instance, when an application developer requests servers with a particular processing capacity and memory, IT would use automation tools to deploy the virtual or physical resources required from the underlying converged infrastructure.

The difference between automation and orchestration is that if true "orchestration" was in place, the developer could submit the request in a portal; and all approval, change management and infrastructure deployment would be handled without IT intervention, Onisick said.

Another trend is the blend of IaaS and SaaS, such as Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Enterprise Cloud Services (ECS), announced last week. The ECS run on Hewlett-Packard's Converged Infrastructure architectural model, to match clients' IaaS resources with their demand for business applications. HP securely hosts the workloads to provide something the Palo Alto company calls Computing as a Service.

Meanwhile, such traditional hosting companies as Savvis Inc. and NaviSite Inc. are transforming their server farms into virtual private clouds, Kaplan says; and IaaS provider Rackspace U.S. Inc.has added management services to its cloud servers, including monitoring and technical guidance.

SaaS is here to stay

Enterprises battered by the recession are not as interested as they once were in investing time and money in software development or software maintenance. Moreover, software licensing continues to be a headache in a virtualized environment. For both reasons, software subscription cloud computing models are expected to stick around, and business software companies are paying heed, according to Kevin Dobbs, managing partner of Montclair Advisors LLC in San Francisco.

Vendors like Oracle Corp. and SAP AG will get on board with this shift, delivering subscription models of their software that include cloud-like features, such as self-service and usage billing, according to industry analysts. IBM, which already has a SaaS, last month announced new partnerships and greater adoption of its LotusLive public cloud services. Those provide integrated email, social networking and collaboration services through the IBM cloud.

"This shift [to SaaS] is massive, and is going to take at least 10 years," Dobbs said. "We are probably only in the second year, post recession."

The subscription model is detrimental to the end user. Vendors parcel off pieces, charge you for components. … Backup and replication are sold separately. It is about finding new revenue streams.

Henry Mayorga, director of network technologies, Baron Capital Inc.

This isn't necessarily a good development, said Henry Mayorga, director of network technologies at Baron Capital Inc. in New York. "The subscription model is detrimental to the end user. [Vendors] parcel off pieces, charge you for components. Let's say I want to upgrade vSphere -- the first thing I have to upgrade is vSphere management," he said. "[Vendors] have shifted the control components to separate products for which they can charge. Backup and replication are sold separately. It is about finding new revenue streams."

Analysts at Forrester Research Inc., however, said SaaS will be a disruptive technology in only a quarter of the areas served by the global software market. Andrew Bartels and Liz Herbert, analysts at the Cambridge, Mass. firm, project that SaaS will grow from 7% of total software spending in 2010 to 17% in 2013.

The CIO of a high-end acoustic electronics maker, who asked to remain anonymous, said he uses SaaS for a corporate training and learning management system -- one of the areas in which SaaS will disrupt the status quo, according to Bartels and Herbert. In addition to human resource management, many companies are using SaaS for CRM, IT management and security, they said.

Even the original SaaS model is blurring. Last week, NetSuite Inc., a San Mateo, Calif., provider of enterprise resource planning software suites delivered as SaaS, announced a partnership with Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP, an accounting and advisory firm in Chicago, to establish a professional service, or "cloud computing consulting practice," for accountants.

He has seen the future, and it is PaaS

"I see PaaS as the true end-goal for cloud computing," World Wide Technology's Onisick said. "Developing SaaS or private software offerings on a common portable platform removes the tie to the infrastructure as a whole, and makes the application more portable, robust and scalable."

Several companies are partnering to create cloud computing services where developers can build applications directly on a platform without worrying about the underlying infrastructure or operating system. Microsoft and Google Inc. with their Azure and Google Engine, respectively are getting involved, according to Kaplan. "Some people call Amazon [a] PaaS, but it does not provide the development environment," he said.

Microsoft's Azure cloud will support applications developed in the PHP scripting language and Java, as well as in its own .NET. Salesforce.com, likewise, expanded its Force.com development platform by purchasing Ruby on Rails provider Heroku in December. Many other PaaS offerings are here today and coming in 2011, according to Montclair Advisors' Dobbs. Those include products from Apprenda Inc., Corent Technology Inc., Engine Yard Inc., Facebook Inc., Intalio Inc. and Nimbula Inc. Also available now or soon are Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flex, Intuit Inc.'s IPP, NetSuite's SuiteCloud, Oracle Corp.'s Fusion, Relational Networks Inc.'s LongJump and Wolf Frameworks' Wolf.

"As these offerings start to become more portable and standardized between cloud providers, this model will increase in popularity," Onisick said. 

To that end, the OpenStack project founded by NASA and Rackspace has lured about 50 companies, including most recently, Cisco Systems Inc.

IaaS-SaaS-PaaS triple threats?

And then there are those who would become triple threats, providing all three service models. IBM is doing it with IaaS in its data centers, LotusLive SaaS and its middleware stack as a PaaS, Kaplan said. Hewlett-Packard has hardware for IaaS and wants to convert its systems management into SaaS, but is not in the PaaS game, he said. Dell Inc. is in the running, having bought several SaaS providers last year, and having an IaaS product through its acquisition of Perot Systems.

"What these changes will do to business has yet to be fully fathomed," said Geoff Woollacott, engagement manager and senior analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. in Hampton, N.H. He is working to come up with simple, standard definitions for IT services that are provisioned like a utility.

"If you buy the 'IT as electric current' concept," Woollacott said, "what is happening is that discrete businesses are realizing it is cheaper and less of a headache to sign up for Con Edison than to build and operate their own power plant."

The trick for IT executives is determining who the Con Edison of cloud computing will be.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.


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