Wednesday, January 5, 2011

16 Key Attributes of Cloud Computing

The term, cloud computing is being used to describe a continually growing list of computing products and services. Indeed, many people stretch the term to include on-premise IT implementations, sometimes known as ‘private clouds’. Unfortunately, definition stretching can render the term cloud computing meaningless. In effect, terminology pollution of this kind helps legacy IT suppliers to slow the adoption of IT as a service and the migration to a utility model of computing. They prefer to continue gouging huge amounts of capital from their customers and to describe their current offerings as ‘private clouds’.

A great way to simplify the concept of cloud computing is to list the key attributes of cloud computing using non technical terminology that non IT specialists can understand. Buyers of IT products and services can use such a list to determine where their computing resources sit on the cloud computing spectrum. They can also use it as a roadmap to determine what needs to be undertaken or negotiated in order to reap the benefits of cloud computing.

16 key attributes of cloud computing are as follows:

1. Cloud computing offerings are services, not products

2. Cloud computing allows customers to increase and decrease the number of users that have access to services, exponentially

3. Cloud computing allows customers to provision new services to users instantly or within hours

4. Cloud computing turns computing resources into operational expenses rather than capital expenditure

5. Cloud computing enables organizations to pay for computing resources based on consumption of the resources in question

6. Cloud computing allows multiple, diverse customers to share computing resources

7. Cloud computing service enhancements, such as updates, are automatic

8. Cloud computing resources can be accessed using any Internet-enabled device, from any location

9. Cloud computing integrates security into services

10. Cloud computing eliminates the need for support contracts

11. Cloud computing costs less than on-premise alternatives

12 Cloud computing allows the purchase of services without human interaction

13. Cloud computing integrates automatic backup into services

14. Cloud computing services are delivered from remote locations

15. Cloud computing services are delivered by a third party

16. Cloud computing services are delivered via the Internet or via an IP VPN

A spectrum of attributes like the one above allows us to illustrate where a service fits with respect to cloud computing. For example, services provided by public cloud vendors such as, Netsuite and SuccessFactors satisfy most of these attributes. Hence, it seems reasonable to refer to their offerings as cloud computing services.

‘Private clouds’ typically satisfy comparatively few of these attributes. Hence, it seems unreasonable to refer to such offerings as cloud computing services.

If organizations seek the agility and flexibility offered by cloud computing, they must consider purchasing services that offer as many of these attributes as possible.


  1. I noticed that Pim uses this definition from NIST

    I am having an internal debate about a couple of cloud things. Firstly, you include IP as a attribute - when I'm not sure that this is a necessary feature - it is currently the way cloud works, but I could envisage a service which used a different network. How important is the underlying technology to cloud? I was reading the NIST definition and I note that it is very functional and fails to pin itself to any technology. The more I think about it the more I tend toward technology neutrality. The cloud as a concept seems fluid and all encompassing.

    I get the whole private cloud / public cloud issue. But I'm not sure how important it is. It seems like a losing battle. Maybe the way forward is to segment the list of attributes into full cloud and private cloud attributes - when only half the boxes are ticked it's private. But I don't think you can sweep the tide back on this one... better to accommodate in the definition.

    BTW I like the list. I'm having more debates about whether some are key attributes - for example, backup and security. They are included in cloud services - but are they defining characteristics? I wouldn't want to buy a cloud service without them, but would a service be cloud without them? Possibly.

    You can tell I am in my early days with my thinking on this...

  2. Thanks for the comment, Jamie.

    I am not a big fan of the NIST definition for a variety of reasons. In particular, the private deployment model prohibits certain key characteristics of cloud computing such as multi tenancy. The NIST definition has a bunch of essential characteristics that are too broad and could apply to a shared service centre.

    I agree with your point about assessing where an IT resource falls on the spectrum of cloud attributes. Something that is termed a private cloud will frequently only have a few of the attributes that I outline. For this reason, it seems to me that it is not reasonable to use the term cloud to describe the resource/asset In question.

  3. Oh, I agree with your point on technology neutrality. Perhaps it should be 15 attributes.