Back to Basics: Options for the Cloud

November 20, 2017 | min

For some time, Nutanix has been talking about using an Enterprise Cloud to run a wide range of applications and workloads in IT environments, large and small. Our CEO and co-founder, Dheeraj Pandey, spoke about this topic earlier this year, explaining what made up an Enterprise Cloud and how IT organizations (including Nutanix ourselves as blogged by our CIO, Wendy Pfeiffer) are benefiting by adopting it in the age of multi-cloud.

However, we are still seeing a lot of confusion, uncertainty, and fear of the cloud from many in the industry. Vendors and others are using terms different from their intended usage, and the fast pace of innovations has no doubt contributed to this effect. In the traditional sense, “Cloud” is a metaphor for Internet or network-based IT, where different services, such as computing/servers, storage, and applications, are delivered to the end users and other consumers of that service.

When the term was first coined, it was essentially an extension of what service providers were already offering (storage, compute, applications, email, etc.), except it was done over public networks (or outside of a company’s firewall).

Today, IT organizations, analysts, and vendors are challenging the traditional definition to encompass ‘private’ cloud services. This is driven by the IT organization’s evolution from the manager of traditional services and applications, to a service provider in their own right – using a combination of their own in-house and outsourced services. Here are a couple of examples:

  • A retail IT organization has created a self-service model for development and QA teams across different business units to quickly spin up new infrastructure on a shared platform to run virtual machines and containers for compiling code and testing. Some teams have gone so far as to integrate provisioning and tearing down infrastructure into their dev/test scripts using REST APIs. This IaaS offering replaces the myriad of public cloud services previously used by the IT team.
  • In an attempt to consolidate software licensing and eliminate any potential security and compliance risks, an IT organization for a professional services company has deployed database as a service (DBaaS) for all of its business units. This has not only helped consolidate expensive licenses, it has also accelerated time to deploy and scale applications.
  • Instead of delivering physical laptops and desktops, the centralized IT organization for a large company is pushing its field teams to embrace the concept of ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD), with access to IT applications and data over virtualized desktops. These virtualized desktops are delivered as a service (DaaS) hosted across regional datacenters, ensuring global connectivity and security.

These are all real-world examples of customers leveraging Nutanix Enterprise Clouds in their organizations. Choices to use different models for cloud services are driven by a range of factors such as:

  • Price, including the ability to pay for the service as an operating expense (OpEx), a capital expense (CapEx), or some combination of the two. OpEx can also follow different expense models, including utility pricing.
  • Elasticity, including the ability to scale up or down based on usage. Scaling can be predictable such as handling the end-of-quarter processing or unpredictable such as handling a surge of new orders due to unforeseen circumstances.
  • Application modernization, including leveraging cloud-native databases, containers, and micro-services. Portions of the application scale can be based of cloud services and automatically provisioned/invoked or scaled using APIs and scripts.
  • Adoption of DevOps, where companies are driving new agile models for their software lifecycle. In agile development, concepts such as self-service and automated deployment are the norm; hence they require a cloud-like infrastructure back-end.
  • Outsourcing, including leveraging external vendors or other internal groups to take on the task infrastructure, platform or software delivery. This is typically done if organizations feel their resources are better spent elsewhere. For example, individual business units in a global company are adopting DaaS because they do not want to deal end-user environments.

Here is a glossary of some of the terms used to describe the different terms associated with cloud:

XaaS – This is a collective term that stands for anything or everything as a Service. It is an acronym used by vendors, media, analysts, and IT to describe delivering cloud services over the network. Used interchangeably with Cloud Computing, XaaS is also referred to as the ‘SPI Service’ model. SPI stands for Software, Platform, and Infrastructure. If you are a student of standard definitions, NIST qualifies Cloud Computing or XaaS as those possessing the following characteristics:

  • On-demand self service
  • Broad network access
  • Resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured service

Cloud Services – This refers to all of the services delivered by cloud service providers, including infrastructure (including storage, compute, etc.), platform (to run applications), and software (consumed directly by the end user, including CRM, email, and virtualized desktops).

IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service is one of the most common manifestation of a Cloud service where end users provision compute, storage, networks, and other fundamental computing resources upon which consumers are able to deploy and run arbitrary software. The arbitrary software in this case includes operating systems and applications, typically deployed as Virtual Machines. The cloud service provider is the one managing the underlying infrastructure, which is almost always invisible to the end user. Nutanix X-Powered Service Providers deliver IaaS to their customers using Nutanix Enterprise Cloud OS running on wide range of platforms.

PaaS – Platform as a Service delivers the ability to deploy custom or standardized applications (including run-time environments) using supported APIs, scripts, programming languages, and tools. This is a level higher than IaaS, where the cloud service provider manages not only the infrastructure, but also the execution environment. End users have control over the deployed applications and configuration settings, but the stack up to the application is typically invisible to them. Applications in PaaS are increasingly being deployed in containers. Both IaaS and PaaS are important enablers for workflows underlying continuous innovation and DevOps. Here is a podcast on our community site talking about the same.

SaaS – Software as a Service is another level higher up than PaaS, where end users consume the application over the network. The application is managed by the cloud service provider and is accessed over a wide range of devices, including web browsers and mobile applications. The entire stack, including the application, is invisible to the end user. SaaS providers can use their own infrastructure or leverage another cloud service provider to build and run their software applications. Specialized versions of SaaS include Desktops as a Service (DaaS), email services, and Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS). More complex services, such as Database as a Service (DBaaS), can be classified as either PaaS or SaaS depending on end-usage.

Service Provider – These are the entities responsible for delivering the cloud services. They include public cloud providers, such as Amazon with AWS, Microsoft with Azure, and Google with Google Cloud; service providers, including Nutanix X-Powered Service Providers; and system integrators, such as Accenture, CapGemini, Cognizant, DXC, HCL, IBM GTS, TCS, Wipro, and many more. In addition to third-party providers, internal IT organizations in large enterprises are now also serving the role of a cloud service provider for their end users.

Private Cloud – These are the cloud services that are provisioned for exclusive use by one end user organization. Private clouds can be owned, operated, and delivered by either the end-user organization, external service providers, or some combination of the two. The infrastructure can be located either on-premises or off-site (i.e., hosted). Private clouds that are managed by external service providers are typically called managed (private cloud) services. Private clouds are typically used for critical workloads where there are specific requirements for performance, availability, or security.

Public Cloud – This includes cloud services ranging from infrastructure to platform to software that are available for general public use. These services are generally owned, operated, and delivered by public cloud service providers in their own datacenters. Public cloud services are typically billed similar to utilities like electricity, i.e., consumption of services over time. But like utilities, public cloud service providers apply a variety of methods, including minimum contract pricing, with ability to burst or rapidly grow (and corresponding shrink). Nutanix announced Nutanix Xi Cloud Services, which is a native public cloud extension to the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Platform, at our .NEXT event in June 2017. You can read more about it here, and even sign up to receive more information (blog).

Community Cloud – This includes all of the cloud services that are available to a community of end users with shared goals or requirements. Like private clouds, they can exist on-premises or off-site and can be owned by the end users or an external service provider. Public cloud service providers are now carving up specific parts of their infrastructure to provide specific communities with cloud services where it makes sense.

Hybrid Cloud – This term refers to services that use a combination different clouds, including private, public, and community clouds. The applications and data are migrated or transferred between these clouds using either standardized or specific protocols or processes. Typical use cases include using separate clouds for different layers of multi-tier applications. For example, in a 3-tier application stack, the presentation service might reside on the public cloud, the application service might reside on a managed private cloud, and the database service might reside on an on-prem private cloud.

Multicloud – This term refers to the macro level strategy of using multiple different clouds across an end-user organization, including various private, public, and hybrid cloud deployments. One of the challenges faced by organizations as multicloud become the norm is how to manage multiple different clouds and ensure application portability across these clouds.

Multitenancy – In this scenario, multiple unique and trusting end users can share cloud resources in an isolated fashion without knowledge of or impact on each other. Multitenancy can manifest itself in different cloud services in different ways, including IaaS (where each tenant gets a VM with dedicated network connectivity), PaaS (where tenants share common developer application runtimes like Java to run their apps), or SaaS (where data and processing for multiple end users commingle in a single application). Multitenancy options vary based on the isolation of the execution, security/access, and data privacy issues.

Consumption-based pricing – This is a utility-style pricing model that is applicable to both public and managed/hosted private clouds, when the end user only pays for the services consumed. This is also called ‘fractional consumption’, as the end user doesn’t necessarily pay for all the infrastructure an external or public service provider deploys; only what they consume, or as pay-as-you-go pricing. This pricing model has existed in the infrastructure space for quite some time, dating back to UNIX and even mainframe systems. It is enabled by one of the characteristics mentioned in NIST’s definition of the cloud of measured service.

Self-Service – This term refers to the concept of enabling end users to shop and buy/provision their own cloud services. Self-service is typically enabled through a web portal where less tech-savvy end users can peruse through a (typically well-organized) service catalog and appropriately configure and provision these cloud services. Service catalogs are also referred to as marketplaces, with services ranging from IaaS (storage, VMs), PaaS (applications, runtime framework), or even SaaS (CRM instances).

Virtual Machines – Most simply described, a virtual machine is an emulation of a computer system. In the case of mainstream (full) virtualization, the underlying hardware is emulated by a hypervisor which allows a ‘guest operation system’ to be run. While virtual machines have been around for over 50 years, they have become the norm in the last decade. Choices for virtualization stacks/hypervisors include VMware vSphere with ESXi, Microsoft Windows Server 2016 with Hyper-V, Nutanix Acropolis with AHV, Citrix XenServer, Oracle VM, and others.

Container – This is a specialization of virtualization where several, multiple, isolated user-space instances are supported by a single underlying operating system. The applications run in their own user-space and only use the OS resources assigned to them, including file system (for storage), processes (for compute and storage), and so on. Containers software (e.g., Docker) gives applications a means of being portable, since they can be deployed on cloud services on a wide range of private and public cloud services and PaaS Platforms. Additionally, cloud services can deploy a framework (such as Kubernetes) to automate deployment, management, and scaling of containers, using Docker under the covers.

Cloud should not be seen as source of confusion, but a way to move IT and the entire organization forward. Nutanix has a rich history of helping organizations from large global 2000 companies to midsized businesses embrace cloud with our Enterprise Cloud OS and through our X-Powered Service Providers. Here are some resources to help you understand the concepts presented above:

Continue the conversation on the Nutanix community and join IT Pro’s collaborating, learning and defining a new era with an Enterprise Cloud that bridges the gap between traditional infrastructure and public cloud services.

Disclaimers: This blog includes forward-looking statements, including but not limited to statements concerning our plans and expectations relating to product features and technology that are under development or in process and capabilities of such product features and technology, our plans to introduce product features in future releases, product performance, possible cost savings from utilizing our products, competitive position and potential market opportunities. These forward-looking statements are not historical facts, and instead are based on our current expectations, estimates, opinions and beliefs. The accuracy of such forward-looking statements depends upon future events, and involves risks, uncertainties and other factors beyond our control that may cause these statements to be inaccurate and cause our actual results, performance or achievements to differ materially and adversely from those anticipated or implied by such statements, including, among others: failure to develop, or unexpected difficulties or delays in developing, new product features or technology on a timely or cost-effective basis; delays in or lack of customer or market acceptance of our new product features or technology; the introduction, or acceleration of adoption of, competing solutions, including public cloud infrastructure; a shift in industry or competitive dynamics or customer demand; and other risks detailed in our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended July 31, 2017, filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this presentation and, except as required by law, we assume no obligation to update forward-looking statements to reflect actual results or subsequent events or circumstances.

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