Don’t fall for the marketing jargon: Running legacy infrastructure on a cloud instance is not actually cloud computing. Unfortunately, “cloudwashing” is common among enterprises as they attempt to jump on the cloud trend.
So, how do we dispel the hype to distinguish pure cloud software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS)? In this article, we’ll define cloud washed and cloud native, citing NIST standard definitions and industry expert opinions. We’ll add some cues to help decipher cloud washed versus cloud native architecture as you search for new tech. No whitewashing here; prepare for some hard truths.
What is Cloud Washing?
In recent years, services that simply work over the internet were rebranded with the “cloud” buzzword, perpetuating a tenuous, vague perception of the cloud.
Cloudwashed solutions are legacy, on-premises software held in a virtualized data center and rebranded as cloud software. Such tools originally were not built for the cloud and do not satisfy the NIST definition of true cloud computing.
While non-local hosting can reduce maintenance and server costs, by adopting cloudwashed services you sacrifice the benefits of cloud native. As Clint Boulton, writing for CIO describes:
“… the implementation doesn’t provide automated, continuous upgrades, let alone the multitenancy, self-service, auto-scaling and usage-metering capabilities that have come to characterize cloud services …”
Cloud Native: What is True Cloud Computing?
Cloudwashed is diametrically opposed with cloud native. To understand the true native cloud, let’s turn to the NIST official definition of cloud computing:
“Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.”
NIST also defines three service models of cloud computing (SaaS, PaaS and IaaS), and specifies four types of deployment models (private, community, public and hybrid).
As you can see, the NIST definition of cloud computing is specific. Authentic cloud services are configurable, providing hands-on optimization. They are elastic, able to provision and support multiple application requirements. Such cloud architectures are able to efficiently scale to the unique computing workloads of various applications.
Furthermore, resources for cloud services are pooled. According to HiTechNectar, “True cloud platforms are built on a true multi-tenant model, with different physical and virtual resources dynamically assigned and reassigned according to consumer demand.”
A cloud-native application (NCA) is thus an application specifically designed for the cloud that satisfies the definition of cloud computing. A true cloud solution would be a proprietary service built on a platform such as CloudStack or OpenStack. Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are all examples of authentic cloud providers.
Cloudwashing Warning Signs
Cloudwashing is rampant in the ERP realm. As HiTechNectar reports, “Many enterprise software vendors make claims that their applications are built for the cloud when they are not.”
Thus, to avoid cloudwashed software, take heed of these warning signs:
- Overuse of “cloud” in vague marketing jargon.
- The need for custom integrations (this is against self-service).
- No resource pooling.
- Lack of developer tooling.
- Lack of configurability.
- Tooling not planned with redundancy in mind.
- Server arrangement is not distributed.
Good Signs of a True Cloud
Thankfully, finding true cloud computing is made possible with the help from NIST, which lists five essential elements of cloud computing:
- On-demand self-service.
- Broad network access.
- Resource pooling.
- Rapid elasticity or expansion.
- Measured service.
Another good sign is the vendor’s involvement in the Cloud Native Foundation. Companies also dedicated to open source projects tend to be more progressive and transparent.
Dissipating the Foggy Cloud
A recent CompTIA Report found that half of the companies in 2018 have 31 percent to 60 percent of their IT systems in the cloud. Cloud computing is still driving the rise of cutting-edge trends including AI, blockchain and IoT.
Unfortunately, though, not all purported cloud services are authentic. Ruled by an incessant need to stay relevant, tech marketing adopts and overuses certain jargon, and the “cloud” is not immune. Only by understanding the dichotomy between cloud washed and cloud computing can CIOs make educated decisions regarding their tooling choices.
The NIST cloud computing criteria is valuable because NIST is an impartial standards agency. NIST computer scientist Peter Mell stresses the importance of evaporating this fog to reveal the truth:
“… by adopting an authentic cloud, [businesses] are more likely to reap the promised benefits of cloud—cost savings, energy savings, rapid deployment and customer empowerment.”
To avoid being cloudwashed, seek out multi-tenant architectures with self-provisioning, pay-per-use models, virtual instances and linear scalability. Only then will you reap the rewards of an authentic cloud-native environment.