Should You Mix Cloud Services or Go All-in-One?

When you examine a cloud-based solution, should you use a mix of multiple cloud services or work with a single vendor that runs the whole stack? EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet explores the pros and cons of each approach.

By Brian Proffitt | Posted Jul 5, 2011
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As cloud computing grows ever more popular, many vendors are taking an own-the-stack approach to delivering cloud services to customers. It's a race to see which vendors, if any, will dominate the sector first. The question for your company is, do you use a single- or multi-vendor approach to the cloud?

Let's talk about this whole stack idea. Take your average server, and metaphorically cut it open to view the layers within. At the most basic level, you have the operating system and application layers. But as we all know, there are layers within layers: The operating system handles administration, resource management, networking… all the things applications need to run and communicate with the outside world.

Taken together as a collection, all of these layers represent a stack. Servers can themselves be components of a larger stack within a data center, with application, database, networking and storage systems as layers.

And then there's the cloud, the on-demand accessible pool of computing resources that uses automated and rapid provisioning to deliver what end users need. "Cloud" is often confused with data center, but the presence of automated and low-maintenance management is the key difference.

Cloud Means Everything as a Service

Like any other IT offering, cloud computing can be expressed as a stack as well, though usually with just three layers:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The "bottom" layer of the cloud is comprised of the basic core materials: the hardware, operating systems, network devices and storage.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS). The "middle" layer of the cloud that acts to provide a platform on which cloud applications run. Sometimes referred to as the "OS" of the cloud, though the individual operating systems live in the IaaS layer.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS). The "top" layer of the cloud is the actual software delivered to the end user over the network.

There are a lot of vendors who play in one or two of these layers. Amazon Web Services and Rackspace, for instance, provide offerings for the IaaS layer. Google App Engine, RightScale, and Microsoft Azure are good examples of PaaS vendors, and besides Google's stable of apps, Salesforce.com is a classic example of SaaS in action.

For most of these vendors, the flexibility and choices of what they can work with to deliver an end-to-end solution mean that they can usually tailor a deployment to meet customer requirements. The customer wants a hybrid cloud running a CRM software? How about AWS, managed by RightScale, all running Saleforce? Or some other combo that makes sense technically and fiscally.

But there are some vendors that see the best approach to the cloud is to own the entire stack, so they can deliver and manage the whole thing for customers. The appeal is understandable: by not partnering with anyone (except perhaps SaaS partners, because the huge diversity of SaaS offerings prevents any one vendor from having them all), a vendor can avoid changes in licensing and business arrangements, and -- let's face it -- keep all the revenue for themselves.

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