What Is The Cloud?

Posted by Matthew Littlefield on Thu, May 26, 2016 @ 10:00 AM

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cloud1.jpgThe Cloud is a term that has many different meanings to many different groups depending on perspective.

Over the past 12-18 months when LNS Research has discussed the Cloud it has largely been in reference to our definition of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Although the Cloud is clearly a critical component of the IIoT, it is also an important standalone topic and technology. Click here to speak with Matthew

The Cloud is also a term that drives a lot of confusion in the market place. In no small part it is due to all the different ways vendors attempt to use the term and, in some cases, intentionally confuse the subject for advantage.

In one of our recent internal meetings, the LNS Research analyst team discussed at length the topic of Cloud and how industrial companies should be thinking about the Cloud to drive as much business value as possible. During this discussion, a number of critical definitions and points of differentiation emerged that we believe are important for the broader market to understand.

-Defining “The Cloud” - There is no clear or narrow definition of what is meant by “the Cloud,” and as such a broad “All of the above understanding” of “The Cloud” should be adopted. The Cloud can reference IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, public, private, hybrid, hosted single-tenant software, multi-tenant software, and many more. All of these technologies are credibly referred to as Cloud. With so many differing interpretations, “The Cloud” is almost a meaningless term without additional clarification. Although it may make us all feel old, Wikipedia has had a very useable page on these definitions for almost 10 years, much of which has not changed for at least the last 5.
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-Defining the “Cloud Platform” - Cloud Platforms are consolidating and rationalizing around public IaaS and PaaS for traditional structured databases/data warehouses; like those offered by Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS, two of the leading offerings in the space.

-Defining the “Big Data Platform” - Big Data Platforms are still emerging and generally built on top of Cloud Platforms with the ability to handle the volume, velocity, and variety (structured, semi-structured, and unstructured) requirements of Big Data. Often Cloud Platform vendors have added Big Data Platforms as an additional offering. In some cases, Big Data Platform providers have developed home grown Cloud Platforms to offer Big Data Platforms. In other cases, these vendors are offering a Big Data Platform on top of another vendor’s Cloud Platform. Generally, Big Data Platforms also have data streaming, an important piece of connectivity, and some analytics capabilities (edge analytics, visualization, collaboration, and predictive/prescriptive analytics), but are often enabling other analytics solutions.

-Defining the “IIoT Platform” - The IIoT Platform goes beyond just the Cloud and Big Data Platforms to incorporate robust connectivity from the edge (sensors, devices, gateways, assets, et.); with hardware and software along with application development capabilities to enable mobility, collaboration, and mash-ups. For the most part, IIoT Platforms are delivered with an ecosystem of Cloud Platform, Big Data Platform, and other IIoT Connectivity/Application Development providers.

-Defining Cloud Software and SaaS - SaaS and Cloud Software are two terms that are almost as fraught with misunderstanding and confusion as the general Cloud term itself. If you go back 5-7 years, Cloud Software or SaaS almost always referenced multi-tenant software that was purchased on a subscription basis. In the consumer space this definition still rings true, but the same can’t be said for enterprise applications.

In the Enterprise Application space there are really two types of Cloud Software or SaaS vendors today:

1. Multi-Tenant Cloud and Single-Tenant Hosted Cloud. Multi-Tenant Cloud vendors (sometimes referred to as true-cloud) take the more traditional consumer approach, where all users share a single multi-tenant code base that is generally updated on a continuous basis, free from traditional version and upgrade issues.

2. Single-Tenant Hosted Cloud vendors that offer hosted versions of traditional single-tenant software with a subscription model, either on top of a homegrown Cloud Platform or increasingly on top of a third party Cloud Platform like Azure or AWS. To add even more confusion, in some cases vendors have traditionally been Single-Tenant Hosted in nature are beginning to also offer separate Multi-Tenant offerings.

Due to these two very different types of companies going to market with very similar marketing messages, it is important that industrial customers do their homework and understand which type of vendors they are dealing with because each type has its own set of advantages and disadvantages:

-Multi-Tenant Cloud – Because these vendors were frequently born in “The Cloud,” even if it was just a homegrown data center, these vendors have a very different internal culture when compared to established Single-Tenant Hosted Cloud vendors. These new companies will likely innovate faster and deliver new capabilities to market more quickly. These companies are also more likely to be plugged into the community of other Multi-Tenant Cloud vendors. So, the companies are likely to be developing web services based Cloud-to-Cloud integration with complimentary Multi-Tenant offerings from other similar vendors. There are also some differences among how users interact, often due to sharing a code-base, the users become more collaborative and even do benchmarking with companies that could be considered competitors. These vendors are also more likely to take a mobile first approach and incorporate enhanced design methods from the consumer space.

-Single-Tenant Hosted Cloud – Since most of these vendors are moving legacy products to the Cloud, these vendors often have a richer feature function set than Multi-Tenant Cloud competitors. These vendors can also offer customers more control over what new functionality is delivered and when, which can be helpful in regulated/validated environments or where the workforce may not be as tech-savvy. Additionally, many of the third party Cloud Platform providers are just now becoming cost effective for the delivery of SaaS in either Multi-Tenant or Single-Tenant hosted environments. Because of this shift, many of the Single-Tenant Hosted Cloud vendors are ahead of Multi-Tenant Cloud providers in the move from home grown Cloud Platforms to third party Cloud Platforms, allowing improved offerings for cost, security, and global support. Also, by more closely partnering with Cloud Platform providers, these vendors have the potential to be more forward thinking around the IIoT, as the Cloud Platform providers add IIoT capabilities.

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Tags: Cloud-Computing, Internet of Things, IIoT, Digital Transformation