The National Institute for Standards in Technology has a definition of what cloud computing is that's fairly agreed upon within the industry. But research firm Gartner says there's still a lot of cloud-washing, or market confusion on exactly what the technology is. Today, the firm released a list of five things the cloud is not.
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First, let's focus on what the cloud is. NIST defines cloud computing as having five characteristics: on demand self-service; broad network access; resource pooling; rapid elasticity or expansion and measured service.
Adoption of cloud services is being driven by the "rapid penetration of virtualization" in the enterprise and as a way for enterprises to more efficiently deliver IT services, says Gartner analyst Tom Bittman. But with the hype has come a muddled definition. Bittman has simple advice for the potentially confused IT buyer. "IT organizations need to be careful to avoid the hype, and, instead, should focus on a private cloud computing effort that makes the most business sense," he says. Here are some of the top misconceptions Bittman says he sees in the industry:
Cloud is not just virtualization
Just throwing a hypervisor on a server is not private cloud computing. While virtualization is a key component to cloud computing, it is not a cloud by itself. Virtualization technology allows organizations to pool and allocate resources, which are part of NIST's definition. But other qualities around self-service and the ability to scale those resources is needed for it to technically be considered a cloud environment. A private cloud - compared to public or hybrid clouds - refers specifically to resources used by a single organization, or when an organization's cloud-based resources are completely isolated.
Cloud is not just a money saver
One of the biggest misconceptions by IT organizations is that the cloud will save money. It can, but it does not inherently do so. Automation technology, an important part of a private cloud network, can be a significant investment for many IT organizations. The result can be the ability to reallocate resources more efficiently, and it may allow some organizations to reduce their overall capital expenditures for new hardware, which can save money. But Gartner says the primary driving benefit of adopting a cloud model should not be a cost savings, instead it's around increased agility and dynamic scalability, which can improve speed to market.
Private cloud is not always on-premise
Many people associate private cloud with being in an organization's data center, whereas public cloud is from a third-party service provider. Many vendors will sell off-premise private clouds though, meaning the resources are dedicated to a single customer, with no multi-tenant, shared pooling of resources among various customers. "Private cloud computing is defined by privacy, not location, ownership or management responsibility," Bittman says. Be careful of various security definitions from providers though. Some vendors may, for example, outsource their data center operations to a collocation facility, or could pool resources among customers but separate them using VPNs. Investigate the details of your off-premise cloud offering, he advises.
Private cloud isn't just in the infrastructure layer
Private cloud computing is often thought of as virtual infrastructure services. There are other private cloud deployments though, particularly on the software and platform layers and increasingly in many other forms. Bittman says the IaaS layer is the fastest growing segment of cloud, but it is not necessarily the most important.
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"IaaS only provides the lowest-level data center resources in an easy-to-consume way, and doesn't fundamentally change how IT is done," he says. The platform as a service (PaaS) layer, he says, is where organizations can create customized applications built to run on cloud infrastructure. PaaS comes in public or private flavors as well, having the application development service hosted either in your own data center or in a dedicated environment from a provider.
It may not always be private
Private cloud is the natural first step toward a cloud network for many organizations. It provides access to the benefits of the cloud - agility, scalability, efficiency - without some of the security concerns, perceived or real, that come with utilizing the public cloud. But Bittman predicts that as the cloud market continues to evolve, organizations will open to the idea of using public cloud resources. Service-level agreements and security precautions will mature and the impact of outages and downtime will be minimized. Eventually, Gartner predicts that the majority of private cloud deployments will become hybrid clouds, meaning they will leverage public cloud resources. Meaning your private cloud today, may be a hybrid cloud tomorrow. "By starting with a private cloud, IT is positioning itself as the broker of all services for the enterprise, whether they are private, public, hybrid or traditional," Bittman says. "A private cloud that evolves to hybrid or even public could retain ownership of the self-service, and, therefore, the customer and the interface. This is a part of the vision for the future of IT that we call 'hybrid IT.'"