Understanding Cloud Formations

Cloud Computing
Understanding Cloud Formations

By Barbara DePompa

There are a number of ways agencies can leverage the technological tools, services and expertise available to help consolidate and modernize data center operations and smooth the migration to cloud-based solutions.
Investments in virtualization, high-speed networking, automated tools for management, monitoring and capacity planning all can be used as stepping stones in the move to cloud-based services. Federal organizations are leveraging cloud-related technologies such as virtualization and service-oriented architecture (SOA) to build on-demand web services.

“Virtualization enabled us to reduce servers by 66 percent, and physical data center requirements by 12,000 square feet,” said Chip Brodhun, senior technologist/project director of emerging technologies for the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC). The USMC was able to transition from simple consolidation via virtualization into cloud services by implementing greater automation in the management of its IT environment. Without additional budget or personnel, cloud services can be used help alleviate some IT management chores, he explained.

Although cloud computing is still evolving, it has been defined by NIST as a pay-per-use model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable and reliable computing resources.  These resources include “networks, servers, storage, applications and services that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal consumer management effort or service provider interaction,” NIST said.

The elastic, shared, self-managing and self-healing utilities inherent in cloud computing are so attractive because they support all users, no matter where they are located. Also, these services can minimize inefficient infrastructure, while boosting initiatives such as Green IT, disaster recovery/COOP (continuity of operations) and Telework. Cloud computing also can help federal agencies create unified, reliable, available infrastructures, comprised of interchangeable industry-standard components.

There are three primary cloud service models federal agencies can choose from, including:

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – this provides the ability to provision processing, storage, networks and other computing resources, offering the ability to deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications. IaaS puts IT operations in the hands of a third party, with options available to minimize impact if a cloud provider has a service interruption.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) – offers the capability to deploy onto a cloud infrastructure customer-created or acquired applications created using programming languages and tools supported by the provider.

Software as a Service (SaaS) –
delivers the ability to use a provider’s applications running on a cloud infrastructure. The applications are accessible from various client devices through a thin client interface such as a web browser.

Another important choice to make involves selecting a deployment model for a cloud solution. Here’s a brief description of the four primary models:
* Private clouds – operated solely for an organization, this option creates the least risk. A private cloud may be managed by the organization or a third party and may exist on-premise or off-premise. On the downside, a private cloud may not provide the scalability and agility of public cloud services.

* Community clouds – shared by several organizations, this type of cloud deployment supports a specific community with a shared mission or interest. Community clouds may be managed by the organizations involved, or by a third party, and may reside on- or off-premise. Data may be stored with the data from other organizations.

* Public clouds – owned by industry suppliers that sell cloud services. Public cloud services are made available to the general public or a large industry group. Data may be stored in unknown locations and may not be easily retrievable.

* Hybrid clouds – Two or more clouds (private, community or public) that remain unique entities, but are bound by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability, such as cloud bursting for load balancing between clouds. This model can be used to reduce inherent risks to data by merging different deployment models. Hybrid clouds work best in environments that already use classification and labeling of data to ensure data elements are assigned to the correct cloud type.

The choice of deployment model is tied to each agency’s specific requirements. According to Jon Oltsik, a senior principal analyst for the Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, Mass., the most popular choices are SaaS and IaaS. SaaS is popular because it provides a ‘commodity’ method for achieving better services, such as customer relationship management, he said. Meanwhile, IaaS is used for development purposes and laptop backup services. Oltsik recommends if internal resources or skills are scarce, cloud-based services may provide a viable alternative to resolve agency-specific challenges.

Meanwhile, he added, it’s far less appealing to consider cloud services for highly customized applications or services deemed sensitive or mission critical.