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Cloud Made Simple for Undecided Career Change Planners: The Fundamentals

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Despite its fundamental role in today’s business, many IT job seekers are reluctant to embrace a career in cloud computing. Sophisticated technical concepts and jargon make it confusing and complicated.

In this article, I use a top-down educational approach to share with you my 10-year experience with the following:

  • What cloud computing is.
  • How it works.
  • How it’s changing IT.
  • The opportunities it offers.

The article is part of a three-post series, Cloud Computing For Career Changers; I wrote it to make easy your learning. It stresses the key theories and concepts as well as the underlying principles, architecture, and opportunities. The intent is to pave your way to a fast, easy, and successful learning. These articles include:

  • Cloud Made Simple for Undecided Career Change Planners – Part 1.
  • How Businesses Leverage Their IaaS Cloud as a Virtual Datacenter – Part 2.
  • Why Businesses Make PaaS Cloud the Foundation of their DevOps Strategy – Part 3.

You’ll learn the knowledge needed to rapidly understand, major cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud (GC).

The IT Challenges Before the rise of Cloud computing

What you need to know before we delve deeper is, the rise of the internet in the mid 1990s caused an economic boom that made markets profitable and competitive. They compelled CIOs to adopt strategies built on the mantra, “Deliver ever more applications at ever shorter time frames and at ever lower costs.

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Fig 1. The competitive context caused by the rise of the internet in the mid 1990s

As illustrated, four constraints resulted from the raging e-commerce competition, they pushed in favor of economies of scale strategies; the bottom line was to get cost advantages through fast and cost-effective IT service delivery. They included:

  • Massive IT CAPEX and OPEX: Succeeding demanded budget-breaker investments in infrastructure and solutions built on Apache HTTP Server, Three-Tier Architecture, Java, and Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB).
  • Frequent IT capacity upgrade: Success required the ability to responsively upgrade infrastructure. The problem was, IT resource provisioning lead time and manual resource upgrade processes, they made it challenging.
  • Responsive and frequent application delivery: Speedy application delivery to get first-to-market advantages and challenge competitors was the third success factors. Manual Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) processes made it hard to achieve.

The CIO’s primary challenge was to constantly make sure, the IT organization is able to support the business in budget-shortage and resource-scarcity contexts.

the Five Principles that propelLED cloud computing as the new it paradigm

What’s not said enough is, the mantra remained a challenge until companies like Google and Amazon share their experience of using cloud computing to eradicate traditional IT constraints.

As figure 2 illustrates, five principles were derived from the benefits of the then rising concept of infrastructure virtualization; the idea was to base the IT platform of the future on these principles; they included Virtualization, Resource Pooling, Elasticity, Automation and Pay As You Go (PAYG):

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Fig 2. The Five Principles of Cloud Computing

Here are the key things you need to know about them!

Virtualization: The cloud service platform builds on it to maximize the use of compute resources and reduce the massive CAPEX and OPEX constraints. The core purpose is to partition each physical server into many virtual servers acting like real servers that can run operating system (OS) and large number of applications.

Resources pooling: The cloud platform uses it to constitute large pools of compute resources available when required. The objective is to eliminate the resource provisioning lead time, remove the frequent manual resource upgrade constraints and prevent any resource shortage to ensure business continuity.

Elasticity: It refers to the ability to automatically change how much resource is consumed in response to how much is needed.
The objective is to eradicate the drawbacks of the resource provisioning lead time and remove the frequent manual resource upgrade constraints that prevent business continuity.

Automation: It’s the ability to automatically provision and deploy new virtual servers and applications. The objective is to automate manual processes to meet the responsiveness challenge and ensure fast time-to-market.

Pay As You Go (PAYG): It’s the concept that the cloud service provider charges customers based on their usage and not on contract or commitment. The objective is to control and reduce IT costs.

The five principles are the foundation of a new generation of IT service delivery model based on cloud computing. Get accustomed to them!

cloud computing is a revolution of traditional it outsourcing

Many cloud starters keep asking, weeks and sometimes months after taking webinars and training, “cloud, how does it work exactly?” The reason is, a systemic perspective providing the big picture including the new organizational context, the various use cases of cloud, its functional architecture, building blocks, and services is missing.
Figure 3 summarizes the cloud computing’s working principles, concepts and functions you need to know:

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Fig 3. Five Principles Translated into Logical Cloud Services Platform Architecture

Two elements make the cloud’s service delivery model revolutionary, they include:

  • The fact that it’s an evolution of traditional IT outsourcing.
  • and the new concepts, processes and tools it introduces.

Let’s discuss them!

Cloud is an Advanced IT Outsourcing Approach

Cloud computing is an advanced form of IT outsourcing involving organizations, users, cloud services, the internet, and one or more cloud service providers.

The cloud service provider: It’s the organization that provides the cloud service; it owns and controls the cloud computing platform. The cloud service provider has become the IT organization’s main partner.

The cloud services:  It’s any IT service and infrastructure resource made available to users and organizations on demand via the Internet from the cloud computing provider as opposed to being provided from a company’s own on-premises servers. examples include Software as a Service (SaaS) services example Google G Suite, Platform as a Service (PaaS) services example AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) services example AWS Elastic Computing Cloud (EC2).

Organizations and Users: They refer to any individuals and organizations using the cloud services and infrastructure resources through a subscription.

The internet: It’s the means by which cloud services including SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS services as well as infrastructure resources are accessed by users.

Cloud computing can be defined then, as an Internet-based computing where different services and virtual infrastructure resources are delivered to organizations and individual users over the Internet.

The New Cloud-based IT Body of Knowledge

At this point, you’ve learned what the traditional IT challenges are, what are the cloud’s five principles, and more importantly how they make IT organizations relevant.

Let’s explore how cloud computing works and get a grasp of the new IT Body of Knowledge (BoK) that goes with it!

Keep in mind that, as a computing system, cloud was primarily thought to allow fast and easy infrastructure resources provisioning; the logic underneath was, infrastructure virtualization would not only minimize IT costs but would also speed up IT operations to make the business agile and responsive. To comply with the five principles and achieve the agility and responsiveness expectations, cloud platforms build on three fundamental building blocks:

  • Basic functions
  • Services
  • APIs

Let’s discuss them!

The Cloud Basic Functions

The Cloud Basic Functions building block is the foundation of any cloud solution, its primary role is to enable infrastructure resources provisioning. It introduces a number of key concepts which are part of the new IT jargon you’ll deal with including Virtual Machine, Virtual Storage, Virtual Network and Hypervisor.

Let’s discuss them.

Virtual Machines: Think about them as software pieces that emulate functions of physical servers like CPU, Memory, and program execution. The cloud platform’s basic building block leverages a computer software, firmware or hardware called a hypervisor to create and run virtual machines on host physical machines.
The hypervisor uses specific software to share and manage physical machines’ hardware, allowing for multiple environments which are isolated from one another, yet exist on the same physical machine.

Virtual Storage Devices: Think about them as a virtualized forms of a storage device that exists as a construct within a virtual environment. Virtual storage acts as an abstraction between the user and the actual storage hardware.
A storage hypervisor is leveraged to manage virtualized storage across various types of infrastructures, including Network File System (NFS) and iSCSI.

Virtual Network: Think about it as a regular network that connects services and resources like virtual machines, virtual storage, database, and applications with each other and the rest of the internet via a secure, encrypted, and private network. It provides a framework that gives the organization cloud infrastructure substance.
network hypervisor is leveraged to provides an abstraction layer for  network hardware. They allow the creation of virtual networks that are completely decoupled and independent from the underlying physical network.

The Cloud Services and APIs

Cloud services are a set of web services fulfilling IT needs as varied as infrastructure resources provisioning and configuration, security and fault tolerance implementation as well as access to innovative tools like Analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Science.

They fall into three categories also known as cloud layers. Let’s detail them!

Software as a Service (SaaS): It refers to services and applications that are available on an on-demand basis. SaaS is also a business model where instead of purchasing software licences, the user or the organization rents it. The fee scales with the amount of use.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): It provides virtual machine images of varied operating system. Storage and network bandwidth are also supplied; storage is charged per gigabyte per month while bandwidth is billed for transit into and out the cloud service provider network.

Platform as a Service (PaaS): It delivers a platform to users and organizations, enabling them to develop, run, and manage applications without the need to build and maintain the infrastructure such software development processes typically require. PaaS billing approach is similar to those of IaaS.

Cloud APIs: The Cloud Application Programming Interface makes cloud services available to users and organizations. They’re a set of mechanisms underpinning the browser-based GUI through which users manage their cloud computing and a set of programming services that enable the development of applications and services used for the provisioning of cloud hardware, software, and platforms.

As with the notions of Cloud Service Providers, Cloud Servers, Users, and Organizations, the concepts of Virtual Machine, Virtual Storage, Virtual Network, Hypervisor, SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, and Cloud APIs are the fundamentals of the Cloud Body of Knowledge. Get accustomed to them!

the cloud opportunities that are changing the it landscape

Cloud computing is changing the way we do IT; the five principles have changed almost everything, the infrastructure, IT operations value chain and the related processes, skills and tools.

As you’ll notice, infrastructure is where cloud computing has brought the biggest changes and benefits. Businesses increasingly use it as part of their datacenter, take advantage of PaaS clouds to modernize their application deployment infrastructure or build on cloud- based analytics infrastructure to perform cost-effective data warehousing.

Let’s discuss them one-by-one!

Cutting Costs and Making IT Operations Responsive with IaaS

Businesses increasingly use the IaaS layer as a virtual datacenter that supplements their traditional infrastructure; the five principles create the conditions for the implementation of virtual datacenters that perform the same functions—hosting, computing, storage, networking, security—at lower costs with higher performance.

As figure 3 illustrates it, most cloud solutions e.g., AWS, Azure and GC implement the IaaS layer as a virtual datacenter that combines virtualization and resource pooling to concentrate virtual computing, storage and networking equipment for the purpose of collecting, storing, processing, distributing or allowing access to large amounts of data. Elasticity and automation are also leveraged to ensure system reliability and business continuity.

Improving Application Quality and Accelerating Deployment with PaaS

Another cloud’s layer that’s increasingly adopted is PaaS; it offers the most powerful feature of DevOps: the CI / CD pipeline. It also builds on the five principles to accelerate applications deployment and equip businesses with fast time-to-market.

PaaS through a mechanism known as Infrastructure as Code (IaC) combines the benefits of virtualization and automation to set up and configure complete chains of virtual servers that automate in a continual and accelerated manner software deployment.

Like IaaS, it relies on resource pooling and elasticity to avoid resource shortage and ensure business as usual. It also builds on the PAYG principle to help organizations cut their software development costs.

The Five Principles Make Data Analytics a Game Changer

Analytics is another area where the five principles of cloud computing bring significant improvements; they help to meet the related challenges ranging from the amount of data to collect and data analysis scale to real-time meaningful data collection and multi-source data collection.

Server virtualization builds on hypervisor to optimize the use of CPU and server memory to increase data processing efficiency. Similarly, storage virtualization combines physical storage resources to share them effectively in an effort to reduce cost and make it easier to manage data.

Elasticity, resource pooling, and automation ensure that the data analytics platform can scale as needed to handle large volume of data.

the key takeaways

We have come to the end of the first stage of your cloud computing discovery journey. The objective was to share with you the general principles and concepts that provide the big picture needed to quietly tackle the technical complexity.

Cloud is a set of computing services delivered by a third party; they’re available on-demand and are dynamically scalable in response to changing need. Furthermore, it’s an evolution of traditional IT outsourcing.

You’ve learned that the major driver behind cloud computing isn’t only technology but economics. To achieve that, the cloud platform architecture introduces a new cloud-based IT Body of Knowledge (BoK) which stresses principles and concepts designed to help businesses make substantial economies of scales while improving operational agility and responsiveness to market opportunities.

In the next article of this series, How Businesses Leverage Their IaaS Cloud as a Virtual Datacenter, I’ll share with you the key things to know about Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and how top companies like Netflix, United Airlines, General Electric and eBay use it as the foundation of their Virtual Datacenter.

To Your Continued Success!

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Philippe Abdoulaye
Philippe Abdoulaye is technology leader with hands-on expertise in leading IT organization transformation to cloud, IT infrastructure migration to AWS, and DevOps deployment. He is a member of Amazon Partner Network (APN) and Rackspace Partner Program and has been extensively working in Cloud and DevOps Transformation Advisory and Consulting. Founder of ITaaSNow LLC, a digital transformation advisory startup, Philippe is an international technology speaker, author of 7 books and more than 100 articles. He has been named in the top 20 cloud computing e-book sellers of all time by The Book Authority and featured in global technology and business magazines as prestigious as Forbes, ZDNet, Inc and foreign magazine like Germany's ComputerWocher. He is translated in French, Spanish, German, Chinese and cited in numerous digital transformation works.

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