Getting Granular on Cloud Computing

Cloud Security: Bitkom- and RSA-PDFs for download (graphic: grasundsterne)
Cloud Security: Bitkom- and RSA-PDFs for download (graphic: grasundsterne)

Cloud computing isn’t just hype, as steadily increasing sales reveal, in Germany as well as in other countries. With an average growth of 37% forecast for the next three years, cloud computing is the fastest growing sector in the IT and telecommunications industry. According to Gartner, global sales in 2008 topped more than U.S.$46 billion, and by 2013, this figure is slated to increase to over U.S.$150 billion. So, let’s take a look at the IT services available with cloud computing.

IaaS, PaaS, SaaS

Cloud computing services can be divided into three areas: IaaS (infrastructure as a service), PaaS (platform as a service), and SaaS (software as a service). All three have in common the fact that they are offered as IT services through the Internet and are usually invoiced according to use. IaaS comprises the provision of virtual hardware and basis infrastructure. Examples of IaaS include Amazon’s EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) service and cloud-enabling technologies and services from HP. Customers use virtual server capacities from the cloud and only pay for as much as they actually use.

PaaS offers software providers a development platform with a direct connection to the cloud. Providers such as Microsoft (with the Windows Azure platform) deliver technical frameworks (databases, middleware) and enable customers to develop software that hooks up with other technology platforms using standardized interfaces.

With SaaS, the software provider ships its product to customers using the Internet. Users don’t need their own hardware. Instead, they have a subscription for the application and run it using their Web browser. An example of SaaS in the business environment is the SAP Business ByDesign solution, which will finally become widely available in 2010. In the consumer segment, Web mail and photo album services are the most widely used SaaS applications.

Dr. Martin Reti: Cloud Computing erfüllt derzeit nicht alle Unternehmensansprüche (Foto: Benjamin Blaume)
Dr. Martin Reti: Cloud Computing doesn't meet company requirement at this moment (photo: Benjamin Blaume)

Problem areas

As well as the issue of security, cloud computing has other problematic aspects, says Dr. Martin Reti, marketing manager at Deutsche Telekom’s subsidiary T-Systems and coauthor of the recommended guide to cloud computing (only available in German) by BITKOM (the German Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media).

For example, a German company would violate the law if it stored personnel data beyond the jurisdiction of the European Union. And what happens to the business data, if the company switches provider? Who guarantees that the process will work smoothly and all the data will be deleted from the former provider? The security experts from RSA, the security division of EMC, have published a highly readable guide to data protection in the cloud, which can be downloaded free of charge at

Evolution, not revolution

The idea of providing applications on tap from the Internet is not a new one. Way back in the 1960s, researchers predicted that, one day, IT services would be available like electricity from the socket. “The breakthrough for cloud computing came with the continuing advancement of networking capabilities,” believes Dr. Jakob Rehof from the Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering ISST. “Only due to the good infrastructure have cloud services become reliable and reasonably priced,” he adds.

Public vs. Private = Hybrid

Cloud services are used by the billion in the consumer sector. From Yahoo! though Flickr and LinkedIn, the user data is located on unknown servers and is available through a Web browser at every computer with Internet access. This is what the experts term a public cloud. But every right-thinking CEO would surely have nightmares at the thought of important business data floating around on some server or other.

In a private cloud, also known as an enterprise cloud, the data is located in a cloud environment operated by the company itself. Access is restricted and usually takes place through the company’s intranet or a VPN connection. The technical benefits of the cloud remain the same. According to Reti, the way of the future is the hybrid cloud. This combines the benefits of a traditional IT environment and the public and private clouds.

Despite all the unanswered questions, BITKOM advises companies to take a close look at cloud computing. According to Christian Tüffers, senior manager at Accenture, cloud computing is indeed a revolution from a business perspective. “In ten or 15 years, there may well be companies that don’t have their own IT infrastructure,” he says. Rehof also believes that cloud computing is a trend that companies cannot afford to miss out on.

At the Cloud Computing Days, held at the beginning of December in German cities of Cologne, Frankfurt (Main), and Munich, it was clear that the topic is attracting great interest. Bernhard Klier, managing director of the organizers Deutsche Kongress, says, “All three events were fully booked. We had more people wanting to attend than we had places.” Due to the tremendous response, Klier is already planning the next Cloud Computing Days, which are scheduled to take place in April 2010.