Defining cloud computing: It's all about the layers

Cloud concepts can be pretty confusing. But when you tell a small business owner or early-stage startup it means not having to spend a lot of money, it gets simple fast.

Denise Deveau wrote about this recently in the Globe and Mail (and I got quoted a bunch, which was nice.) But defining what “cloud” really means is a contentious subject. At the upcoming Cloudcamp in San Francisco (running before Structure, and organized by the energetic Reuven Cohen) this is sure to be a subject of debate.

My overly simple soundbite for the Globe article was that cloud computing was “having computing resources available to you when you don’t own the machines.” But that might get me into trouble: There’s a taxonomy of on-demand services, from platform-as-a-service to hardware-as-a-service. And then there’s grid computing. And of course SaaS gets lumped in with this.

So I’m going to try a more detailed description:

Cloud computing means having a set of abstracted resources available to you, and not worrying about what’s below that abstraction.

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Living in a virtual world

I’m at Web2Expo this week, followed by Interop next week. I’m moderating a discussion between database heavyweights: Brian Aker, Director of Technology for MySQL; Dave Campbell, Microsoft Technical Fellow behind MS SQL Server; and Matt Domo, General Manager of Amazon SimpleDB. My first question should really be, “why isn’t Oracle here?”

But with the exception of that session, everything I’m seeing is virtual. Here’s my list of ten companies with a virtualization theme you should probably know about.

  1. Elastra, whose seasoned CEO has them out of the gates in record time with a technology for provisioning whole app clusters across any grid you want.
  2. Platespin, who suck physical machines into the virtual world, and just completed acquisition by Novell.
  3. Bluelane, focusing on security within the virtual machine — since if someone owns your hypervisor, you’re a whole new kind of crispy toast.
  4. Stacksafe, who I interviewed for GigaOm out on the pier. Very interesting use of virtualization to do pre-production testing.
  5. 3Tera, who launched a major upgrade to their virtual machine management technology at Web2Expo this week.
  6. Rightscale, who make virtual machine management tools. They just closed a round from Benchmark.

But wait, you say, that’s not ten! Yep, there are four in the list that I can’t get into yet. Stay tuned. They’re all twists on essential parts of a modern application, using bits instead of atoms. And that changes everything.