Understanding Cloud Computing – Demystifying the Cloud
The alarm clock goes off… and Alex prepares for a new day. A special, different day, as he is starting his first job as a cloud engineer at TRENDYCORP.
As he’s riding his bike to the main office, he feels a strong rush of memories from the last few years. Four courses at university learning about computer science, a short course on programming macros in Excel, some months looking for a first job, mixed with several crazy parties and holidays, and finally, this offer from TRENDYCORP. He honestly couldn’t figure out why he was hired. He has no experience with the cloud, but this company seemed really interested in it.
The usual first-day steps are taken: signing in at reception, security guards taking a picture for the ID badge, taking the picture again because he doesn’t like how it looks, getting a new laptop with all the software preinstalled, connecting to the intranet, and waiting for the initial meeting.
Finally, Alex is pushed into a small room, where some other people are already gathered around a big table. Yes, these tables always seem bigger than the room. While Alex finds the only empty seat, a serious-looking woman stands up and begins to talk:
Figure 1.1 – The meeting room (Source: Photo by Amanda Mills, USCDCP, at https://pixnio.com/people/seven-people-at-meeting-on-office#, used under Free to use CC0 license.)
Eva: Welcome to TRENDYCORP. My name is Eva and I’m the HR manager who hired most of you. Alex, please sit down immediately. TRENDYCORP, as you all should know by now, wants to continue to be the leader in the Filiburths market – and for that, we have to modernize most of our old-fashioned processes, change most of our technology, and move to the cloud. That is the key – the cloud. To be honest, all I know about the cloud is... well, that’s where rain is produced, but as all our competitors have decided to go for it, we’ll do the same. And that’s why many of you were hired; we have to move to the cloud, and I want it yesterday!
She makes a sign to the young woman sitting beside her, who stands up.
Gloria: Welcome, all of you. I hope you’ll feel comfortable here. My name is Gloria, and I’m the manager of this IT team. First, I’d like to welcome Alex, Berta, and Raj, who are joining the team today. As it is their first day, I’ll ask everybody to introduce themselves – but first of all, some technical context for all of you. As Eva said, we have to migrate all our servers to the cloud. I’ve recently taken some training from our cloud provider, something called Cloud Essentials, and I think I have an initial idea of how we should proceed – but of course, I’ll need all your collective experience to help us move our projects to the cloud. That said, let’s go with your introductions.
Alex: I’m Alex. It’s my first day here. I’ve just finished my IT studies at university. Lots of theoretical things, but I have no real working experience. As for this cloud thing, I imagine it’s that place where you store your personal photos.
Berta: Hello, this is Berta. Like Alex, it’s also my first day. I’ve worked in several companies, some of them our competitors, as a developer and database administrator, for more than 7 years. I can query you using different SQL dialects, in multiple languages. I have also done some basic training on the cloud and read some documents, but I hope I can learn more and be useful to the team.
Raj: I’m Raj. Like Alex and Berta, it’s my first day here. I know a bit about networking, protocols… in general, communicating between multiple networks no matter where they are. As for the cloud, I’ve got a collection of scripts to download files; I hope they can be useful.
Charles: I’m Charles. I’ve been in TRENDYCORP for many years, maybe more than 10, and am in charge of network security. Other employees call me Change-No-Rules Charly. I’ll, of course, help you with every technical aspect you might encounter, but it has to be related to cables, routers, and firewalls. I’ll probably ask you lots of questions about that cloud thing. I imagine you studied it at university, didn’t you?
David: My name is David. I don’t work directly for TRENDYCORP; I’m your technical contact for my company BrandXCloud. We are specialized in cloud migrations. We have a team of cloud experts working for you, so if you need any technical help, please describe your issue accurately, send it to me, and I’ll forward it to the right person.
Harold: I’m Harold. I’ve been in this company for more than 20 years, in all of the important projects. If you need help, tell me, but only if I’m not busy with some tasks. I like discussing solutions, not problems. Over.
After the introduction, Gloria presents a list of applications they run at TRENDYCORP, and it mostly devolves into a conversation between David and her. Everyone slowly fades away, and soon the meeting ends.
What is cloud computing?
Alex and Berta return to their desks after the meeting. They see Gloria rushing to the meeting room. Gloria is nervous, as it is her first presentation to the TRENDYCORP board about the cloud. Most of the board members are traditional businessmen and have very little to do with technology. She has rehearsed the presentation but still has butterflies in her stomach. She is expecting a lot of WHY and WHAT questions. Finally, everyone arrives on time and the presentation starts.
Gloria: Thank you everyone for making the time to be here. I am happy to walk you through the benefits we plan to achieve by migrating to the cloud. First, I will walk you through the current model of IT at TRENDYCORP, and later, I will talk about how cloud technologies can help us.
Gloria moves to the first slide on the screen:
Figure 1.2 – Server room (Source: Photo by Indrajit Das, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:139_Server_Room_01.jpg, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)
Gloria: So currently, we are running some of our IT and business applications from this room. It is our data center and…
Before she can finish her sentence, a question is raised.
Board Member 2: Which applications?
Gloria: We have around 20 applications running here; some notable ones are our internal website, the invoicing system, inventory management system, payroll application, email servers, and some monitoring applications.
Board Member 2: Where are the rest?
Figure 1.3 – The shared data center (Source: Photo by BalticServers.com, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BalticServers_data_center.jpg, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)
Gloria Those are being run from a shared data center we have on the outskirts of the town.
Board Member 1: I didn’t know that… but anyway, please proceed.
Gloria: So, currently, our applications are split across three locations; one is our own server room, the second is the third-party data center on the city outskirts, and the third is the leased data center near our manufacturing plant in Asia. We have a leased line network connection connecting these three locations so that our developers, who work from this office, can access and connect to the remote locations. As our business is growing at a rapid pace, the need to scale and operate our applications at the same pace is becoming a challenge. Over the past three years, our online business has surpassed traditional methods, and we have a growing customer base that is keeping our software development team busier than ever. I have put together some data points related to growth, budget, and estimations for the next two years in a printed report, which is in front of you.
All the board members open their folders and start browsing through them. Gloria takes a deep breath and drinks some water to soothe her nerves. As everyone is checking the report, the room is filled with an awkward silence. This goes on for a few minutes.
Board Member 3: If I read your estimates correctly, you are saying that we are already running 120% of the planned capacity for our IT needs.
Gloria: Yes, that’s true, and that is adding pressure to our overall online portfolio. On the one hand, we are running at a higher-than-estimated consumption of our applications, and on the other hand, our incident response time and the number of major incidents are increasing.
Board Member 3: Major incidents?
Gloria: A major incident is a highest-impact, highest-urgency incident. It affects a large number of users, depriving the business of one or more crucial services.
Board Member 3: Obviously, this is not good for business. Do we lose business when this happens?
Gloria: Yes, we do. Those numbers are on page 5.
Board Member 3: That’s alarming – and you mean to say we can address this by using the cloud?
Board Member 3: So, this cloud will only solve current problems, or do we need to find some other solution for forthcoming problems?
Gloria: There are some additional advantages of using the cloud, and that’s what I want to discuss next.
Board Member 3 nods his head.
Gloria: Okay, so if there aren’t any further questions, I want to present the six major benefits of moving to the cloud.
Figure 1.4 – Benefits of the cloud
Gloria: Currently, for every new project or capacity expansion in an existing project, we have to make a large capital expense. This includes an expense in terms of buying new servers, adding more storage, upgrading our internet, and more. Whereas with the cloud, we don’t have to make any capital expenses, we can use the cloud like a utility, as with electricity, and we pay only the usage charges, which are based on what we use. This model will allow us to trade capital expenses for variable expenses.
Board Member 2: Will it result in cost savings or just the same capital expense spread over in shorter chunks?
Gloria: We plan to achieve cost savings. I have added that estimation on page 8.
Board Member 2: A quick question: won’t these services be at a higher cost? Don’t we need to take the profit for the cloud provider into account? When I make a meal at home, it is obviously cheaper than having a meal in a restaurant.
Gloria: In the case of cookery, that is true, but in the case of cloud services, the answer is different. That’s the second benefit.
She moves to the next slide and explains:
Figure 1.5 – Economies of scale
Gloria: Cloud providers benefit from economies of scale. As an example, when one of our customers buys one product, they pay X amount, but when our dealers place an order of the same product in bulk quantity, they get a volume discount. Similarly, cloud providers buy in bulk, negotiate better contracts from hardware manufacturers, power providers, and real-estate companies, and keep their own cost low. This is translated into lower costs for the customer, and if the costs are lower, more customers will use their services, which results in the overall cost of services becoming lower. Some cloud providers get their hardware highly customized as per their requirements and cut down on the cost of things that they do not need. This results in a much lower price for customers.
Board Member 1: That’s an interesting way of doing business.
Gloria: As another benefit, we, as the customer, don’t have to worry about capacity. Currently, for every project, we launch or expand; we make a capacity estimation and buy resources based on these estimates – and if these estimates are wrong, we lose money or lose customers.
Board Member 1: Can you explain this?
Gloria: Let’s say our team estimates that for project X, we will need 10 resources. This is based on an estimation of 1,000 customers using that application. If the application is popular and we have more customers than estimated, then the 10 resources may not have enough capacity to handle the increased load and our customers will get a slower response from the application, which results in unsatisfied customers, and we may lose them if this is persistent. Conversely, if the utilization of resources is lower than the estimation, let’s say only 4 resources are being used because of less customer demand or a slow sales quarter, we are keeping those extra 6 resources running – and it costs us money to keep those unused resources running.
Board Member 2: Can somebody not shut down those resources?
Gloria: Yes, we do so, but that only saves the running cost, as with electricity and cooling, but the capital expense of buying that resource is not reversible. And after a finite lifetime—in most cases, it is 2 or 3 years—the resource will no longer be supported and we will have to buy support plans separately, which leads to the maintenance cost of older resources increasing. It is similar to how maintaining a very old car can become expensive as those parts are not in production anymore.
Board Member 2: So, we call the cloud provider to shut down those resources and start them again when we need them?
Gloria: Not exactly. We don’t need any human intervention for it. It is all programmable and sometimes built into the offering of the cloud provider, so we no longer have to guess the capacity for every project. We can start small and then shrink or expand the resources as needed.
Board Member 2: Okay.
Gloria: Also, since these resources are available on demand, we don’t have to go through lengthy procurement cycles, which sometimes take months. We can roll out new features more quickly, run multiple campaigns in parallel, compare their performance, and respond quickly to changing demands. This will increase the speed and agility of our IT team. We will be able to experiment more often, run more proofs-of-concept, and never worry about the high cost of failure, as in traditional systems.
Board Member 2: So, what will happen to the engineers we have on 24/7 support? Will this cloud leave them without a job?
Gloria: No. It will just change their focus. Currently, they are mostly in fire-fighting mode. They are always busy with undifferentiated heavy-lifting tasks, such as troubleshooting, capacity expansion, backups, or patching activities, and rarely get any time to add value. These activities don’t differentiate our business from our competition, as everyone has to do this – but once we start using the cloud, our support team will have more time to focus on things that add value to the business and differentiate us from the competition. They have shared lots of ideas and some of the ideas are pretty interesting. I am sure it can add a lot of value to our business. We can focus on what matters to our business.
Board Member 2: So, we won’t be needing backups or patching anymore?
Gloria: We will still need that, but it just becomes a checkbox activity with the cloud. We select a maintenance window for our workloads and the cloud provider will automate the process of backup, patching, and capacity expansion for us.
Board Member 3: That’s interesting – but what about our third location in Asia? Will it remain as it is or also go the cloud way? I don’t want to renegotiate the lease every time we expand our manufacturing units.
Gloria: We don’t have to. Cloud providers have facilities all over the globe and we plan to move supporting applications closer to the manufacturing plant in Asia – and we will be able to leverage other global locations too as we expand our manufacturing units. We can go global in minutes.
Board Member 3: That’s good. Do we need to hire local teams in those areas?
Gloria: No, our team from here can perform remote maintenance – and we hope to get a better connectivity speed and performance because of the cloud provider’s high-speed network.
Board Member 2: Much better. I am fully convinced after hearing you and seeing all the data you presented. Can you also send this report in an email?
Gloria: Yes, I will email you just after this meeting.
Gloria: Thanks for your support on this. We have a few new team members who have joined us this week to accelerate our project.
Board Member 1: Keep us posted. And all the best. Thanks.
Gloria: Thank you.
The board members leave the meeting room. Gloria heaves a sigh of relief. She has achieved a milestone, Get buy-in from management, for the cloud project. As she exits the meeting room, she finds Alex and Berta heading toward the coffee machine.
Berta: You seem happy. I am sure the presentation went very well.
Berta: Nice. Want to join us for a coffee?
Gloria: A little later. I have to send an important email. Enjoy your coffee.
Gloria dashes over to her desk. Berta and Alex casually walk toward the coffee machine.
Providing IT as a utility service
Alex: We should talk a bit more with our colleague, Harold. From what I’ve understood from our meeting, Harold is part of the project, even if he seems a bit reluctant to do it. Seems like he’s free now – why don’t we talk with him a bit?
Berta: I had to deal with this kind of person in my previous job. I really don’t like how they behave with new hires, considering them more as a threat than an asset to the company. He probably thinks that he is going to lose his job because of us; that’s the reason he hasn’t talked with us at all.
Alex: Oh, come on! Let’s talk with him a bit, and I’ll show you that you’re wrong!
Harold is focused on a long, complex report when the two young colleagues approach him. Alex addresses him first.
Alex: Hey, Harold, how is it going? Are you working on something interesting?
Harold doesn’t say a word. Alex, trying again, points at Harold’s desktop, a black-and-white picture of an old, huge machine.
Alex: Oh, you have a cool wallpaper! What is it supposed to be?
Harold: I’m not surprised you don’t recognize it; you are too young. In the old days, this kind of machine was used in factories to generate electricity.
Figure 1.6 – Machines generating electricity (Source: Photo by , at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Generator_of_Yaotsu_Old_Power_Plant.jpg, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.)
Alex: No way! Why would someone have a machine like this when electricity is available at the push of a button? This looks so big – it obviously required a lot of space, lots of maintenance, and tons of money to own.
Harold: That’s why not every factory could afford it. Let me take you a little back in history. In the early days—I guess about a hundred years ago—there was no central way of producing electricity. Every factory used to set up these types of giant machines to produce their own electricity. Obviously, this was a challenge for small businesses, because of the initial cost and ongoing maintenance.
Alex: Wow. I didn’t know that.
Harold: Sometimes, a big industrial unit needed two or three of these machines to address the growing demands of electricity, and obviously, a dedicated team would maintain and run it. The whole production process would stop if this machine failed, so it was a very critical piece of machinery – but now, electricity production and distribution have become so much simpler and that’s why this machine is in a museum. When energy companies started producing electricity centrally and began distributing it, the whole scenario changed. Some energy companies used hydropower or coal power, and nowadays, it can be nuclear or solar power. Companies that operated these power stations started setting up a grid of cables all over the place so that they could distribute electricity to consumers. Consumers could be big industries or small households who would just pay for what they use and never pay for the infrastructure cost of setting up the whole power station.
Alex: Wow! I did not know that electricity production has come such a long way. I never think about all this when I consume energy at home or in the office. We just press a button to light a bulb and only pay for what we use.
In the meantime, Berta, who was listening to the whole story, considered the challenges that factories had to face in the old days. Suddenly, she realized that Harold’s story was related to their project and to cloud computing in general.
Berta: Hey, Harold, sorry to interrupt you. You are basically talking about the same relationship between how companies manage their on-premises IT infrastructure and how they manage their cloud-based IT infrastructure.
Berta: Well, as you know for sure, in the early days of computing when companies started to use computers, they started by maintaining a data center—a place to keep, or host, all their applications, servers, networks, and storage. Compare a data center to this giant machine.
Harold: You don’t have to explain what a data center is to me, young lady!
Berta: I’m sure, Harold, but just let me finish. Data centers require a huge amount of capital expenses, and companies such as ours have to keep them running smoothly so that business can run smoothly, and because of that, they hire a team of professionals such as you to maintain and operate them. With business growth, companies may need to add more capacity to their data centers or add more data centers to increase the availability of their applications. This puts an extra burden on companies financially, and they have to focus their time and energy on keeping these data centers running.
Harold: Yes, sometimes we call this activity keeping the lights on.
Berta: Oh, cool – I didn’t know that! This is where the interesting part of the story comes in: with cloud computing, companies don’t have to worry about all of this. They can choose a cloud provider in the same way we choose an electricity provider for our office or house, and they can start by using the resources hosted in the cloud provider’s data centers. These data centers may host ready-to-use applications or the building blocks to build your own custom application. Cloud providers maintain and run data centers all over the world to provide services to their customers, who will pay only for what resources they use – or to use cloud computing terminology, they pay as they go, in the same way that we pay only for the electricity we consume.
Berta: Cloud providers keep thousands of servers running at scale, so multiple customers can start using it without worrying about setting up their own data centers. This allows their customers to focus on their core activities, usually the development of their applications, and save them from undifferentiated heavy lifting, such as server provisioning, storage expansion, backups, security... Cloud providers provide their resources through the internet; in a similar way, electricity producers distribute their energy through a network of electric wires, grid stations, and other similar components. In both cases, we are still talking about networks:
Figure 1.7 – Comparison between electricity and cloud computing
In summary, if we need some electricity, we just have to sign a contract with an electricity provider and then press a button. In the same way, if companies need IT resources, they sign a contract with a cloud provider and just… press a button! Or maybe I should say… call an API! Hahaha!
Alex: Berta, you are amazing! What an excellent way to explain cloud computing to everyone. Let’s use this explanation in next week’s presentation that we have to deliver. Thank you.
Alex and Berta, convinced about what they’ve said, leave Harold and come back to their desk happier than before. They have just completed one step in their cloud journey and still have a long way to go!
Differentiating between private, public, and hybrid cloud
Alex is getting ready to leave the office at the end of the day when Raj walks up to him. He notices the gym bag Alex is holding.
Raj: So, are you planning on going to the gym after work?
Alex: Oh, yes. I am on a hybrid exercise plan this week.
Alex: Yes. I do cardio exercises at home and for weight exercises, I go to the gym.
Raj: Nice, that doesn’t sound too different from hybrid cloud.
Alex: What’s that?
Raj: So, when you exercise at home, you use the private cardio equipment that you have bought, and it is used only by you. You maintain it and get more equipment if you need it. That’s a private gym. Similarly, companies may invest in hardware and software – that is, capital expenditure – to set up a private cloud, which gives them a higher degree of customization, and is fully controlled by an internal team. A private cloud may still host public-facing applications, but the companies get full autonomy in setting and maintaining them. Companies follow this path if they have some stringent latency or compliance requirements for their applications.
Raj: In a way, yes. The gym company sets up a location, maintains an energetic ambiance, hires trainers, puts in equipment, and may have other facilities too, such as lockers, a swimming pool, a sauna bath, and so on. If its pool of members keeps on growing, it will probably also expand its operations to scale its gym facilities. The gym will maintain security, follow local regulations, and a member just pays a monthly fee to use those facilities.
Alex: Interesting. Tell me more.
Raj: Now, sometimes, a company may not want to fully operate its applications from the cloud – or if they are in the midst of migration, they may end up with a hybrid model. Like when you want to exercise, you use your cardio equipment at home, and to use a sauna, you can go to the gym afterward. Similarly, a company may host a latency-sensitive or highly customized application on-premises in their private cloud, such as a custom database, and use a frontend, such as a web server, hosted on the public cloud. This sometimes gives them greater flexibility. Some companies also use the cloud as their failover mechanism – so if they have any issues with their private cloud, they may set up failover to the public cloud and return operations back to the private cloud once the problem is fixed. Another use case could be to launch a new project for which the private cloud may not have enough resources; then they can use the public and private cloud at the same time.
Alex: Does this not create connectivity issues?
Raj: Yes, but there are ways around it. In my last job, I was helping customers establish these network connectivity options – and believe me, these networks are much easier to establish now and are evolving at a rapid pace. Some of the options are almost 10 times higher in speed than our current network here.
Alex: Wow – but what about compatibility issues? I guess it won’t be as easy as drag-and-drop from on-premises to the cloud.
Raj: In fact, it is like drag-and-drop in some scenarios. Private and public cloud vendors are working together to create solutions that provide a way to migrate your applications seamlessly – and there is a plethora of third-party solutions available to facilitate this hybrid approach. I was amazed when I saw an application being migrated from a private to a public cloud without any downtime.
Alex: Without downtime? You must be kidding!
Raj: No, I am not. Yes, it requires some very specific networking configurations, but it is completely possible… and in a reverse direction too. Suppose after running a global campaign for millions of users on the public cloud, you want to bring your applications back to the private cloud; that is possible too.
Alex: Amazing. I am starting to understand it… but this is enough exercise for my brain today. I don’t think I can handle any more at this point. I’m going to go and do some physical exercise too. Do you want to join me on my walk up to the bus stop?
Raj: Thanks, but you carry on. Maybe some other time. I am going out for a pizza party with my ex-colleagues today.
Alex: Okay. Enjoy the party! See you tomorrow.
Raj: See you tomorrow.
Understanding IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS
Raj has no difficulty locating the pizza place. He has been there before. It is not a lavish place, but its pizza could compete with any Michelin-star restaurant’s pizza. Raj’s ex-colleagues are all gathered to celebrate Ahmad’s new job at a renowned software company. Ahmad is always in learning mode. He has also completed some training and certifications regarding a popular cloud vendor.
Raj knows that it will soon be his turn to throw a party the following month. This small group has, after all, developed a tradition of gathering and celebrating when people start a new job and get their first salary.
Ahmad: Thanks for coming, Raj.
Raj: I wouldn’t have missed the chance to catch up with all of you – or the pizza, of course.
Raj: PaaS Pizza? Is that some new place you have recently been to?
Ahmad: Oh, no. It is the way I describe pizza options. They are not very different from cloud technology.
Raj: Wait a minute, are you saying that eating a pizza is similar to cloud technology?
Ahmad: In some aspects, yes. Let me tell you how I interpret these different cloud models. We always hear the words IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, and to explain it, I found that pizzas are the best examples.
Raj: I am all ears – and I guess everyone else here is too.
Ahmad: Okay. Let’s assume you have a craving for pizza. There are different ways of having a pizza. You can make it yourself, buy a frozen pizza from the supermarket and cook it at home, order in and get it delivered to your place, or come to a restaurant such as this and have it:
Figure 1.8 – Different ways of eating pizza
Ahmad: When you make a pizza at home, you have to take care of having cheese, tomato sauce, toppings, dough, fire – an oven, electricity or gas – soda, and a dining table to eat at. For a person who loves cooking, this is the best option, but it involves a lot of steps. The second option is to buy a frozen pizza from a supermarket, which has already been prepared, and the supermarket or the vendor has taken care of the cheese, tomato sauce, toppings, and dough. You just take it and make it at home. In this case, you only need to take care of the fire, oven – electricity or gas, and have soda and the dining table to eat at on hand. The third option is to get your pizza delivered as per your choice, so you just need to get soda and have your dining table, and the rest is managed by the pizza company. And as the final option, you can just eat out. Walk into a place such as this, pick and order, enjoy your pizza, pay for it, and that’s all. Mind you, the paying part is mandatory:
Figure 1.9 – Responsibilities when having pizza
Raj: I still don’t quite get the cloud connection though.
Ahmad notices that everyone at the table is glued to his explanation.
Ahmad: Let’s consider you want to run an application – so what are your options?
Raj: I could run it on a server in my data center.
Ahmad: Yes, you could, and who manages it?
Raj: It’s my application in my data center – so obviously, I have to manage it.
Ahmad: Exactly! You take care of the infrastructure – that is, networking, storage, the server, and virtualization; platform – that is, the operating system, middleware, and runtime; and software – that is, the data and application. That is a traditional approach to running an application on-premises. Now, consider if a service provider gives you a ready-to-use server and takes care of the infrastructure, and you connect to it remotely and install the required platform and software. In this way, you have saved a lot of effort and time. This is a way of getting your infrastructure as a service, commonly known as IaaS.
Raj: I understand – so if I am an administrator, I don’t have to worry about racking-stacking of servers, cabling, storage, power, or cooling. That surely will save a lot of time.
Ahmad: Yes, exactly, and if you are a developer, a cloud provider may offer you Platform as a Service (PaaS), where they give you a ready-to-use system with the required platform pre-configured, so you can just deploy your application and take care of your data storage requirement. Your exposure is reduced and you can focus more on something that makes your application unique rather than focusing on undifferentiated activities, such as installation, patching, updates, and so on.
Raj: That can save a lot of time for admins and developers.
Ahmad: Yes, true – and then there’s the final offering, known as Software as a Service (SaaS), where you have almost zero management responsibility. When you use an online email platform or an online meeting system, the vendor has already set up all the required components. They take care of everything and keep your data safe as per the settings you have configured. So, you can focus on the business rather than maintaining and running the systems:
Figure 1.10 – Benefits of the different services
Raj: That’s so relevant and quite an interesting way to understand these concepts.
Ahmad: Yes. Some vendors expand these models and offer various services in this way and sometimes name them differently – such as Database as a Service (DBaaS), Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS), and Function as a Service (FaaS), to name a few.
Raj: Interesting. Thanks for explaining this to me, Ahmad. I can’t wait to explain this to my colleagues tomorrow. I will probably bring them here one day if they agree to take care of the mandatory pay part of it.
Ahmad: Of course. For the time being, let me take care of the mandatory pay part.
Everybody at the table is laughing.
Distinguishing between managed and unmanaged services
Gloria: Thank you so much.
She ends the call and finds Berta facing her.
Berta: Good morning, Gloria. How are you?
Gloria: Good morning. I am okay, but I’d be better if I could get a cup of coffee.
Berta: Can I get you a coffee from the machine?
Gloria: The machine is showing not in service on its display. I was on the phone with the company that is managing it for us. Glad that it was open early and is sending someone to fix it soon.
Berta: Wow, a coffee mechanic on call. Interesting.
Berta: Let’s go. I need a coffee too.
The downstairs coffee shop is not crowded and service is quick. Gloria knows the barista and introduces Berta to him. Afterward, they find a secluded corner and settle there, sipping their coffee.
Berta: I like their service. Fast, easy, and cheap. It won’t burn a hole in my wallet if I get my coffee from here every day.
Gloria: It’s much better now; previously, they didn’t have enough staff, and customers had to wait a long time to get their coffee. Luckily, they realized it and fixed the problem.
Berta: That’s the best thing about a managed service.
As Berta is about to speak, Alex walks in, looking like he too needs a coffee before starting his day.
Alex: Hello! Sometimes, a broken coffee machine leads to a good conversation. Hope I am not interrupting.
Gloria: Not at all. We were talking about managed services in the cloud. Join us.
Alex pulls up a nearby chair and settles down as Berta starts explaining.
Berta: What happens when you’d like to drink some coffee? Maybe you do this at home… you have bought a coffee machine and probably some coffee. Then, you connect it to the power, pour in water and coffee grounds, and press the buttons. You have to do all the work. You also pay for the electricity, and you need some space at home to keep the machine. Finally, after using it, you have to clean it.
But there are other options. Now, consider the coffee machine in our office. You just press a button, and you get your cup of coffee. Someone does the maintenance, adds water and coffee, and cleans it.
Gloria: Not as frequently as I’d like.
Berta: That is a service. A service means someone is doing tasks for you, hiding the complexity from you, so you have more time for other things. You can be more creative, instead of spending your time doing routine tasks such as cleaning the machine – and when, like today, the machine is not in service, Gloria calls the company responsible for it, and someone visits to fix it. Then, there are also smart coffee machines that can automatically inform the maintenance company if there is any problem via the internet.
Alex: I prefer to come here, request my coffee, grab it, and that’s all…
Berta: Yes, that is an even better example of a service – or maybe of a better service. Of course, someone is doing the work for you; in this case, you don’t even see the details. Which coffee machine are they using? How many of them do they have? How much electricity is used? You don’t need those details; you just want a cup of good coffee, reasonably fast and reasonably cheap. That’s a service. You get what you need and nothing else, and you don’t worry about the nitty-gritty of the implementation details.
Gloria: And every service in the cloud is built this way? This seems like a completely new way of working!
Berta: Well, it depends on what you need. If you just need to store files or a table in a database, you just provide the data—you don’t need to see the physical servers. The service provides access to the data, not to the infrastructure needed – but if, for some reason, you need a server with RAM and CPUs, there are services that can provide these to you. Each service can be different, but the idea is the same for all.
Gloria: Interesting, so does that mean that all services are managed by the cloud provider?
Berta: The level of managed may vary. Let me give you one more example.
Berta addresses Alex.
Berta: Alex, look at yourself. You wear nice, trendy, and clean shirts – but what do you do when you want your clothes clean? You have multiple options: you can build your own washing machine. Completely DIY, you buy the parts, you assemble it, but very few people do this. Let’s assume instead that you have bought or rented it. Now, you have your own washing machine at home. You own the machine. Now, you also need two supplier companies for electricity and water, and, of course, pay for them. Energy is not particularly cheap now. Then, you provide the space for it; it must fit into your house, as well as your house’s weird plumbing. You also buy soap, and you take care of any cleaning and repairs when needed. You also assume full responsibility for it: if there’s a leak, you need to fix it or get it fixed.
Alex: I agree. I have some memories of busted pipes.
Berta: There’s an easier option. You may find a common place where washing machines are available. Maybe they are in your cellar, belonging to the community and shared with other tenants – or maybe you take your basket to a launderette you find on your street. You go there, choose an available machine, insert the coins, stuff your clothes into it, close the door, push the button, and wait until it’s finished. You don’t worry about the water supply, electricity, plumbing, and so on:
Figure 1.11 – Cleaning as a service
Some people prefer to use an even more elaborate service. You just take your dirty clothes to a specific place, usually a counter. Some places will even pick your clothes up directly from your home. I’ve even seen some hotels with a hole in the wall, where clothes seem to disappear, but after some time, they are returned to you, completely clean. Magic? No, just a more elaborate service model. You don’t see how it is done, you don’t see any washing machine, and you don’t care. You only get what you need, that is, your clean clothes.
Gloria: Agreed. During my last business trip, I stayed in a hotel where they had laundry bags in the room. You put your clothes into it, housekeeping collected them when they came to clean the rooms, and the next day, you found them in your closet, neatly folded and ironed. They even had a 2-hour turnaround service for urgent cleaning.
Alex: Yes, I used a washing machine at home when I lived with my parents. We had 3 leaks in 2 years, and 3 not-so-happy neighbors. Now, I go to a launderette. I don’t have the space in my small flat for a washing machine, nor the required power. And the place I go to provides additional amenities: I have my shirts cleaned and ironed too.
Berta: Similarly, in the cloud, managed services mean that someone does all the configuration, maintenance, and monitoring for you, and you only worry about requesting the service and using it. For example, for all the databases we want to move to the cloud, we just have to migrate the data, and our cloud provider will take care of the hardware and software that might be needed. They will do the backups, updates, and monitoring; they will even update everything to the latest version based on the maintenance window we define.
Berta: You’re right. It’s like having your own washing machine. You have to maintain it, connect it to the electricity and water supply, and pay for it even if you don’t use it.
Alex: Who would use this then?
Berta: Well, you may want to use it if you need a high degree of customization or controls. Sometimes, there may not be a ready-to-use service for a specific task, and you may want to build it from the ground up. That’s where an unmanaged service can be helpful.
Alex: By the way, the expression managed services versus unmanaged services implies a point of view. The service still has to be managed by someone; in the case of managed services, the provider manages it, and in the case of unmanaged services, the user manages it.
They enter the office and find a coffee mechanic fixing the coffee machine. Berta and Gloria smile and get busy with their day jobs. After a while, the coffee machine starts showing in service.
Our new hires have had their first contact with the cloud; now, they begin to understand the service model, its advantages, and some possible options.
The details of how all of this is achieved continue to be magic for them. Over the next few days, they’ll dig into the details of how their provider manages (pun intended) to supply these services to TRENDYCORP and the rest of the world.
They’ll face the infrastructure being used, the network topology, and how everything is put together to provide a fast and reliable collection of services.
- Cloud computing: https://docs.aws.amazon.com/whitepapers/latest/aws-overview/what-is-cloud-computing.html
- Cloud benefits: https://docs.aws.amazon.com/whitepapers/latest/aws-overview/six-advantages-of-cloud-computing.html
- Services: https://aws.amazon.com/products
- Managed Services: https://serviceproviderslist.com/what-are-aws-managed-services/
- Electricity generation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electricity_generation#History