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Cloud 101: Blurring the lines between Virtual, Physical, Cloud

Nathan Day | June 29, 2012
By gaining a clear understanding of the capabilities and pricing structure of cloud providers, you should be able to achieve the full promise of the cloud.

There's lots of talk about the "cloud" today, especially in Singapore where industry organisations such as Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) and the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) are coming together to create a trusted cloud eco-system to accelerate Singapore's position as a global cloud hub.

According a study conducted by the IDA in 2012, Singapore is ranked third in the Asia-Pacific region for cloud adoption, after Australia and Japan[i].  In addition, the Singapore government has initiated its plan to establish the first private computing cloud infrastructure for all government bodies while IDA has initiatives to encourage businesses to adopt cloud computing[ii].

But what exactly is cloud?  Some may argue that the cloud is just marketing hype - a buzzword for a broad range of solutions being billed as the latest, greatest trend that everyone is trying to exploit.  Others - who oftentimes have a vested interest in a single product - may try to narrowly define the cloud as mandatory technical reference architecture comprised of a specific virtualisation software residing on a particular hardware platform.

But, in reality, the cloud is something in between those two extremes. It can be a combination of virtual, physical and hosted solutions that give users capacity on demand from a pool of computing resources. It should deliver scalability and flexibility, and offer self-provisioning and management.  And you should only have to pay for what you use.

The Cloud, Defined

Today's cloud offerings got their start with the advent of virtualisation, in which a virtual hardware platform, operating system, storage device or network resource was used instead of an actual version of that product.

But virtualisation alone is not the cloud. In 2011, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) published an official definition (NIST Special Publication 800-145) of this relatively new business model in the computing world. NIST concluded that "cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction."

 In essence, the cloud is an operational model that enables delivery of computing-as-a-service in a way that is flexible enough to meet your unique needs and use cases.  Today, cloud providers have developed innovative hosted offerings that meet this definition, but, in the process, are blurring the lines between virtual, physical and cloud environments.

The reason there is less of a distinction today is because technology has evolved in a way that enables cloud providers to rapidly deploy even dedicated physical infrastructure in a private cloud to deliver the benefits more commonly associated only with virtual solutions. The best cloud solution is one that allows you to select the compute and network platforms that best suit your applications, even when those may require a combination of virtual, physical and cloud solutions.


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