At last Saturday's class for my Middleware Internals at IIIT-Hyderabad, I was introducing cloud computing and provisioning. Some basic questions came up - even computer science students from a Top-10 institution in the country have questions like "Isn't SaaS Cloud". What many miss is that Cloud Computing is more about virtualization-over-the-web and the enabling of mechanics such as integration and provisioning.
To this end (virtualization-over-the-web), Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provides the end users [i.e. the enterprise] value based views of a 'virtualized' application wherein all the operational and infrastructural aspects are managed by the service provider. Likewise PaaS provides the virtualized view of an application platform on which the end user can build a solution. Or with IaaS, where just the infrastructure/OS is virtualized over the web on which any solution can be installed and configured. The definition of cloud also varies based who you ask. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) providers will tell you that cloud is when you build applications on their platform. IaaS providers will tell you that if you use their infrastructure, then that is cloud. But I feel the real cloud is what the end enterprises see--a virtualized over-the-web application landscape in a combination of IaaS, PaaS & SaaS. It's a very heterogeneous environment that enables the IT solutions for the various business needs that the enterprise may have. This integrated infrastructure gets the best of breed with no constraints on technologies, platforms, payment models, and even physical location, while still enabling some common binding elements such as Web 2.0 enabled user interface, common administration approach, common integration approach and even provisioning capabilities across the various platforms in the cloud.
Provisioning is also emerging as an important common aspect of cloud computing. It has emerged from something intrinsic to specific platforms such as Amazon EC2, and now to a more generic expectation across all cloud services.Though the dimensions and approaches to its realization may be different in different providers, a few key dimensions are hardware resources, application platforms or cross cutting dimensions like user provisioning or business service provisioning. Examples include specific resources like hardware (say 2 CPUs), OS (linux ver x.y), app platform (tomcat servlet engine), or an instance of a specific application. And more importantly non physical resources like provisioning a user (for example: enabling access to multiple systems/apps for a new employee).
Through 2010 I think we should be seeing more enabling abstractions, models and utilities for provisioning in the heterogeneous cloud computing environments.
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