You must have wondered what all services – that you use – belong to the cloud category. There are some essential characteristics that apply to all the different types of cloud services. These characteristics help you understand if the applications being used by you are really cloud.
People often ask me what all services belong to the cloud. The most common among those questions is – does my email service serve as an example of cloud computing? This article tries to answer such questions by defining five essential characteristics of cloud computing.
Though cloud computing is relatively new, people have been using email services for many years. Several contradictory definitions of cloud computing raises doubts if email services belong to the cloud category. Once you understand the five characteristics discussed below, it becomes easier for you to decide if your email service is related to cloud computing. Based on these five characteristics of cloud computing, you can understand if chat services and social networking sites relate to cloud or are they simply web based services. Note that in order to be categorized as a cloud related service, the service in question must meet all the five requirements mentioned below. It will not classify as cloud if it fails to meet one or more of these requirements/characteristics.
No Need To Deploy Additional Infrastructure
One of the benefits of services related to cloud computing is that you do not need to buy special devices. You should be able to start right away with whatever infrastructure you possess already. For example, you have a computer and an Internet connection. All you need to do is to sign up with the cloud service provider and start using their services.
Talking of email services, I do not recall any email service provider who asks you to add special hardware to your infrastructure. You may need to download and install their software sometimes but never in any case – any hardware needs to be purchased for using cloud based services.
Scalability is an important characteristic of cloud computing. Instant scalability means that the cloud service should be able to satisfy your needs without you having to wait. In terms of storage, whether you need 5GB or 10GB, the cloud service provider should be able to make space for you on his cloud within minutes. In most cases, meeting the scalability requirement is automated. You just need to enter your need and the cloud service should be able to meet your demands.
Coming back to email services, most email service providers allow you to use as much or as little space as you want. Of course, there is a maximum cap with most email service providers. Gmail, for instance, has a cap of 10 GB. Within this 10 GB cap, you are free to use as less as 1 MB and as much as full 10 GB. There is provision for you to purchase additional space in case you reach the cap.
On Demand Provisioning & Release
Cloud means elasticity. It does not mean that if you are given a facility to use 10GB maximum (cap), it should provide you with continuous space of 10GB on the cloud. It should be able to provision space just as much as you need to use and keep on provisioning as your need increases. Similarly, when your need reduces, it should be able to release the space occupied by you so that other users can make use of that space. Space, in this case, is just an example. Cloud can mean anything from space to software to platform to infrastructure.
In other words, cloud does not mean pre-allotted fixed service. It should be able to provision and de-provision the service as and when it is required. Does your email service work accordingly? Given that your email service provider offers you 10GB of mailbox, does he always keep all that space reserved for you or does the service keep on allotting you space as and when you need it?
Multi Tenancy – Who All Can See Your Data?
Multi tenancy means that the cloud should be able to host services for more than one user and at the same time, the activities of each user are protected. With cloud, though it is possible that the same server is storing files of different users, it should be able to protect your data from being viewed by others. Same applies when you are using some infrastructure or a platform. Other users of the service should not be able to know what exactly you are doing on the cloud.
With emails also, others do not know what you are doing – what emails you are sending, to whom are you sending the emails and who all are sending you the emails.
Location Independent Service
The cloud means you are not tied to any physical location. This also means that you can access the service using the Internet from anywhere in the world. This essential characteristic makes cloud, a viable option when you need to access your data on the go.
Coming to emails, can you access your emails from anywhere? What else do you need to access your emails other than a computer and an Internet connection? Is there any location based restriction?
The above are five essential characteristics of cloud computing services. Going by the above, the web hosted email services such as Google mail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, Earthlink and similar are indeed cloud based emails. They fit all the five characteristics we discussed above. Then, there are email services that are restricted to organizations. These are locally hosted email services that run on local servers. Users of such email boxes need to connect to the company network before they can log in and use their email services. The latter is more of local service than a cloud based service.
People do differ however – in a sense that most of the web hosted email companies charge by the space ‘chunks’ instead of charging it by the actual space you are using. For example, if you are using 10GB of space with ABC email service, you will be paying for entire 10GB instead of the actual space your mailbox occupies. But then, the same people agree SkyDrive and Google Drive are cloud offerings even if they too charge people based on storage ‘chunks’. By storage ‘chunks’, I mean that people purchase additional space in multiples of 5GB, 10GB and so on. Even if you are using 9 GB (7GB free and 2GB out of 5GB ‘chunk’ purchased), you still pay for entire 12GB (7GB free plus entire 5GB purchased) for an online storage service. And if that is still ‘cloud’, why can’t web hosted email services be considered cloud services?
Let us know your thoughts.