Defining Cloud Services – Part 1

Diagram showing overview of cloud computing in...

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About a month ago I had a telephone conference. The audience was non-IT, meaning that they had no deep knowledge of Information Technology.

They all used computers, but typically for creating reports, doing research on the Internet and occasionally send an email.

The group had organized the conference call to learn about cloud computing, as they felt it maybe was important (without being able to explain that notion in much detail), for their work or maybe for their clients.

The first question they asked was; "what is cloud computing ?"

This being a conference call I was unable to use a whiteboard or any sort of graphics; which is kind of annoying, if you need to explain what cloud computing is.

So I began by telling them that cloud computing was not about what computers do for you, but more about how you experience the computer.

You can still type your report, write and send your email, do research, browse the web and store information; all the things you use a computer for.

The change from ‘normal’ computing to ‘cloud’ computing has much more to do with how you experience the computer, the device itself and the properties of the software (the programs that are available to you as a user).

To define cloud services we need to address:

  • Location
  • Scalability
  • Multitenacy
  • Automation
  • Utility & Services


In cloud computing the computer that is running the software that you are using probably isn’t in the same room as you are. It is most likely not even in the same building, town or state – although it could be. In fact an important attribute of cloud computing is that a user does not know where the computer that is running the software is located. Moreover, the user probably, at least most of the time, does not even care where the computer is, as long as he or she can access the program to write the report, send the email, do the research or store the address list for next years Christmas cards.

I also need to explain that for most users there is no clear difference between locations. If a user starts Microsoft Word to write a letter, the program is most likely loaded from the disk drive that is in the users own computer, a computer that is a desktop or laptop; and very near to where the user is located.

When the same users opens the web page of their favorite news-site or starts searching for something on Google or Bing, it is most likely that the user experiences both programs (the word processor and the search engine) as software that is available on his or her computer – thus giving the term ‘location’ a very relative meaning.

So in order to understand Location, I need to clarify that my explanation about Location has to do with the physical place where the computer that does most of the work is located. For Microsoft Word that is your local desktop or laptop, for a search request on Bing or Google that is a computer somewhere in the world, it could be California, Germany or Australia. When the search is processed by that computer, the result is send back to the computer of the user.

This last statement also explains why we always need two computers when we talk about cloud computing, one computer without a specific location (the one that does the work), and one device for the user (for example to see the result of the work).

The computer at the unknown location is probably very powerful or very specialized, the device for the user can be less powerful, but will probably have other qualities, such as a good screen for viewing the results, be very portable or allow for easy entry of data that needs to be processed.

If more people are requesting work from the computer at the unknown location, it will need to easily adapt itself to the amount of work that is to be done.

This attribute is called Scalability, a subject we will cover next time.

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