Cloud Definitions

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) offers a definition of Cloud Computing. This definition is not education-specific, but is intended to apply generically to all industries. William Dembi, Infrastructure Specialist, Idaho Digital Learning Academy, offers this alternate definition for education audiences, based on the NIST categories.

What Are Cloud Services?

A cloud service is any service made available to users on-demand via the Internet from a cloud computing-provider’s servers. These services have become categorized as belonging either to Software-as-a-Service (Saas) such as Google Docs, Platform-as-a-Service that automates infrastructure tasks (PaaS), or Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas) where the user can spin up servers and populate them on demand.

Currently market forces are driving providers of these services to blur the lines between one another. IaaS providers are finding themselves commoditized and are looking up the stack to provide tools and services or to partner with PaaS providers. PaaS providers, in turn, are looking to avoid commoditization by creating “stickiness” through application ecosystems that run on their platforms. And SaaS providers are leveraging IaaS and PaaS to achieve scalability.

Virtualization

But when does it make sense to develop a full private cloud with self-service and metering for legacy resources, and when does it make sense to simply virtualize?

Virtualization makes computing environments independent of physical structure. Server virtualization partitions a single server so that it can run multiple virtual machines. Storage virtualization combines storage devices into a combined storage unit. This offers significant cost savings as well as simplification of management.

On-prem private cloud does not generally offer a great deal of cost savings over and above virtualization. The reasons for going to a private cloud involve other advantages such as self-service, resource-tracking, and the ability to meet changing resource demands. In a district, the questions will be whether teachers or school administrators will be spinning up and provisioning servers via self-service and how dynamic the workload.

Public, Private, and Hybrid

A cloud service is any service made available to users on-demand via the Internet from a cloud computing-provider’s servers. These services have become categorized as belonging either to Software-as-a-Service (Saas) such as Google Docs, Platform-as-a-Service that automates infrastructure tasks (PaaS), or Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas) where the user can spin up servers and populate them on demand.

Public cloud consists of shared cloud resources as provided by a Cloud Service Provider (CSP). Private cloud, on the other hand, uses dedicated resources for a given organization. Hybrid cloud involves using both private and public cloud resources. When implementing new services and systems, it is generally most effective to build them for the public cloud from the beginning.

The transition to public cloud doesn’t happen overnight, and there may be certain legacy situations where it isn’t justified. For example, if a district has a brand new data center it may not make sense to abandon it. If the district is tied to software that doesn’t benefit from cloud affordances, it might make sense to keep it private.

A private cloud is technically the same as a public cloud, but the resources are dedicated to a single tenant. Most often this refers to on-prem dedicated resources, such as those used when it is not yet cost effective to move legacy services out of the district data center. Technically, though, a private cloud can also be implemented on third party cloud services not shared with other users. The combination of public and private cloud is labelled as hybrid cloud.

Managed Services vs. Cloud Services

Managed services take even more rote IT work out of the schools. They offer many options including data backup and recovery, hardware updates, software installations, patch management, and other advantages. The cost model consists of a monthly fee package to the managed service provider and metered payments to the cloud service provider.