Has the NIST “as-a-service” definition come to a crossroads?

By: Steve Hughes - 14/10/2011

Steve joined Colt in 2008 and has played a key role in developing Colt’s cloud and virtualisation services. He is a member of the IT Services portfolio marketing team where he is responsible for defining and introducing new services for the European market. Catch up with Steve’s latest views at http://www.twitter.com/coltandthecloud.

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The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has recently published two new documents on cloud computing: the first edition of a cloud computing standards roadmap and a cloud computing reference architecture and taxonomy.
Colt has been a strong supporter of the NIST definition of cloud since it came out in 2009 and it has been helpful in defining the scope of cloud computing especially in a business-to-business context. These new documents are equally valuable.
However, as we move from theory to practice, tensions are beginning to appear in cloud definitions – and the biggest creaks can be heard in the Service Deployment models of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS (infrastructure, Platform and Software-as-a-Service).

Gradually Software-as-a-Service is looking more akin to the old ASP model of per seat pricing and access to software applications over the internet.  At the same time the lines between IaaS and PaaS are blurring.

So why is this important? Two reasons: market hype and customer understanding.

Forrester reckons SaaS accounts for 80% of the cloud market revenue and dwarfs those revenues from IaaS and PaaS. So when we talk about the cloud market, we are actually beginning to talk about two markets – the enterprise IT department (IaaS/PaaS) and verticals and line-of-business (SaaS).
The danger of trying to cover two different markets under one umbrella comes when  analysis becomes difficult to understand and compare, making it more prone to hype and misunderstanding.

The IT professional and IT service provider should be concerned with the architectural design challenges of cloud computing. The question “is that Iaas or PaaS”? is not the right conversation for end-users and CIOs.

The real issues are those of design, migration, management, service levels, and orchestration. The work NIST is doing in the new reference architecture is a good start at putting “flesh on the bones” – but while IaaS/PaaS/SaaS models are shoe-horned into this architecture – it will still creak.

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