David Chappell


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Cloud Platform Services: A Simple Taxonomy  
# Monday, March 31, 2008
If the next great application platform battle is for dominance in the cloud—and it is—it’s worth trying to categorize the services those platforms will provide. We’re all familiar with platforms for on-premises applications, which commonly have three fundamental parts:
  • Computing Services, providing a way to run logic. These services might be quite basic, such as those provided directly by an operating system such as Windows or Linux. Computing services can also offer more, such as the higher-level services provided by a Java EE server or the .NET Framework.

  • Data Services, allowing applications to store and work with data. Once again, these can be simple, such as an ordinary file system, or more complex, such as the services provided by SQL Server, Oracle, and other relational databases.

  • Integration Services, making it easier to connect applications and data. These might include communication services, the ability to run workflows that control the integration, and others. Plenty of on-premises products offer these today, including WebSphere Process Server, BizTalk Server, and many others.
Cloud platforms are beginning to address all three of these areas. Here are some examples in each one:
  • Computing Services: The most visible example of raw operating system services today is Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). By hosting Linux virtual machines, EC2 lets organizations run pretty much any Linux software they’d like in the cloud. For higher-level services, one good example is Saleforce.com’s Force.com. Intended to support a specific kind of business application, Force.com has attracted a significant number of ISVs. Microsoft provides something similar with its CRM Live offering, also targeting a specific kind of business application rather than the more general support offered by the .NET Framework or a Java EE server.

  • Data Services: For basic data access, Amazon is once again the most visible: Its Simple Storage Service (S3) works much like a file system in the cloud. Amazon also offers structured data access with SimpleDB, as does Microsoft with its recently announced SQL Server Data Services. It’s worth noting that these two offerings both work with hierarchical rather than relational data, each providing its own (non-SQL) query language.

  • Integration Services: Amazon's Simple Queue Service (SQS) provides a simple offering for cloud-based integration. Microsoft takes a somewhat different approach with BizTalk Services, providing connectivity and identity services today with support for cloud-based workflow promised soon.
There are connections between these categories in cloud platforms too, much like the connections in on-premises platforms; Amazon's EC2 relies on S3 for storage, for instance. We're also seeing hints of other kinds of services that a cloud platform will need. BizTalk Services includes an identity service, for example, something that's logically distinct from integration but is nonetheless required to provide cloud-based integration.

It’s early days for cloud platforms, and so nothing out there currently provides anything like the completeness, maturity, or unity of today’s on-premises platforms. All the vendors mentioned above (and others) are racing toward this goal, however, so don’t expect today’s fragmented world to last. Cloud platforms will one day provide the same kind of solid environment for creating hosted applications that on-premises platforms offer today. Anybody who cares about enterprise software should keep a sharp eye on this space.

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I'm sure we are in the CGI year for cloud services.
It'll work because you don't need hardware and administrator to run your business.
Who will be the winner? The best technical solution but also the best reputation, like IBM in the 90's.

In picking winners, I'd rank a good reputation higher than the best technical solution. Being good enough technically is all that's required--as usual, there's not much advantage in being the best. But especially in these early days, having the best reputation is worth a lot. Building trust is the big obstacle to the success of cloud computing, which makes a good reputation fundamentally important.

Who will care about the technology behind? Such if anyone bought a computer saying "Intel inside!".

I wonder how this will affect brands like Microsoft's when cloud based services becomes more popular. Will this be a driver for MS to set up there own data centers?

Microsoft already has lots of data centers, and they're busily building more. And anybody who creates software to run on a cloud platform will certainly care about the technology, since the APIs and services they use will depend on what that technology is.

Nice post David. This really is an interesting space with a lot of potential. We as an industry need to get better at reliability though if everyhing becomes as inter-related as it looks like it could become. I can think of several high profile Web site outages in the past couple of years, the growing use and inter-relationships of cloud services will only magnify the effects of an outage as we become more and more reliant on key services. I think we CAN do it, and hopefully everyone WILL do it :)

I agree, Brian--reliability is fundamental. Still, cloud platforms needn't be perfect. As long as they're at least as reliable as your in-house data center (and cheaper), they'll have some appeal. Given the challenges many organizations face here, especially smaller firms, I expect cloud computing will be a step forward.

Good post David,

I've been following some of this as well. It gets a little more interesting for "non-US-based" companies, especially public sector organisations as any data centre or cloud hosted on US soil is subject to Patriot Act provisions.

Too bad we can't choose a neutral place (Switzerland, Bermuda, etc.) to build the infrastructure for world cloud services that is immune from such legislation.

Is the enterprise really ready for this? Most enterprises that I deal with are still on the mainframe for mission critical apps (these are not going anywhere), leaving a set of applications outside the business core that maybe cloud eligible, but with the cost of computing (memory/cpu) always coming down, and the move towards virtualization of these resources I see the enterprise market for the cloud being negligible. Cloud computing in terms of computing services will be another option when outsourcing is being discussed within the enterprise.

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