Randy Bias, chief technology officer of ServePath cloud offering GoGrid, penned a post recently that raises an interesting distinction within the once uniformly defined infrastructure-as-a-service space.
To briefly recap the cloud market for context, commercial cloud computing has traditionally been seen as consisting of three distinct offerings:
- software as a service (SaaS): Complete application systems delivered over the Internet on some form of "on-demand" billing system. Examples include Salesforce.com, WebEx, and Workday.
- platform as a service (PaaS): Development platforms and middleware systems hosted by the vendor, allowing developers to simply code and deploy without directly interacting with underlying infrastructure. Examples include Google AppEngine, Microsoft Azure, and Force.com.
- infrastructure as a service (IaaS): Raw infrastructure, such as servers and storage, is provided from the vendor premises directly as an on-demand service. Examples include Amazon Web Services, GoGrid, and Flexiscale.
What Randy is arguing, however, is that there is a clear distinction between the service ecosystem approach of Amazon Web Services (which he calls an infrastructure Web service) and a more utilitarian infrastructure-focused cloud service such as the ones many of the hosting companies-turned-cloud providers have produced, including GoGrid, Flexiscale, and Rackspace CloudServers. He calls those companies providers of "cloud centers."
The difference is the degree to which managing the cloud service resembles managing a similar infrastructure in an enterprise data center. As Randy notes, the question is whether you want to take a developer-focused approach toward cloud capacity, or a system administration approach.
To Randy, the difference is striking, and in many cases, a cloud center has distinct advantages over an infrastructure Web service:
Cloud centers focus on making your cloud infrastructure look very much like infrastructure you already have or are already familiar with, while infrastructure Web services ask you to embrace a new paradigm...Besides the obvious advantage of 'looking like' your current data center, cloud centers allow for strategies like using the cloud for off-site disaster recovery.
It will be much easier to model a copy of your current data center to a cloud center than it would be to model a copy onto an infrastructure Web service.
Personally, I think Randy is on to something here, though the distinction may be somewhat short-lived. At the very least, my own experience has clearly been that so-called cloud centers do present much more focus on managing infrastructure components as if they were familiar elements of any data center. In fact, the NAS-like service GoGrid recently began offering, Cloud Storage, is much more like the network-attached storage that most system administrators would be used to managing than is AWS' Elastic Block Storage, which allows only a single Elastic Compute Cloud instance to connect to each storage unit.
Why is the cloud center/infrastructure Web service distinction interesting? Well, it is only fair to give Amazon its due and acknowledge that it is by and far the largest and most successful IaaS offering in the market. Furthermore, its rapid pace of innovation makes it a difficult service to compete with head-to-head, as most other IaaS vendors would probably acknowledge.
By separating out the purpose of AWS from the purpose of cloud center offerings, these companies can begin to compete with each other on a much more level playing field, and convince many enterprises that the effort involved in moving existing applications and architectures to Amazon may be much more than it would be to simply leverage a cloud center.
Will it work? I think that it remains to be seen. For a couple reasons, I think the distinction will be short-lived:
- If there is a market for more "data center-like" infrastructure, I think Amazon could address it in a year or less
- As developers begin to design for the cloud, taking advantage of existing service-oriented architectures to do so, those infrastructure Web services begin to be more and more important. If those services aren't available from the Internet itself on an infrastructure-independent basis, cloud centers may find themselves offering similar services to AWS in just a few years.
However, I freely admit that this is a guess on my part, based on limited past markets with which to compare. It may very well be that the "cloud center" distinction creates a powerful market segment of its own, and that many system administrators, or those with unique architecture needs, will rush to embrace "data center-like" cloud offerings.
At the very least, this is a very smart piece of marketing by GoGrid, given the current market conditions.
What do you think? Is there room in the IaaS market for a distinction between infrastructure Web service providers and cloud center providers?