Cloud Architecture, some examples

Cloudarchitecture is similar to classic IT architecture, but there are important differences. Classic IT systems are built up from software components installed on in-house servers. Cloud computing solutions and applications, in contrast, are built up from services and service providers.

Software as a Service

Even if you only want to use SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions, it is unlikely that there is a single cloud application provider fully servicing your needs. At the very least, you will want to think about what happens when your cloud provider stops servicing you. This means that in addition to the cloud application,there is also another service or component capable of serving as a back-up solution.

An example of such a simple architecture would be a webmail provider like Gmail or Hotmail, combined with a periodic download of all messages to the user’s PC.

IT architectures tend to be depicted as diagrams that show how various functions are allocated to components. An architectural choice might be where to put management of user identities and credentials. The diagram can then act as a model for subsequent application selection, development and deployment.

Two architectures may deliver the same functionality to its users, while differing in their capability to withstand failures of components or providers or comply with security regulations. Other quality criteria include pricing, flexibility and agility. It is therefore an architect’s job to explain advantages and disadvantages of the alternative architectures.

For more examples of architectural questions when using Software as a Service, consider the use of a CRM (customers relationship management) system, such as Salesforce or Insightly. Where will you manage the identities of your users? In the CRM, or in your staff database? How can the data that a potential customer enters on a website be entered in the CRM? How will you drive an email list out of the CRM? How will you integrate mobile applications? You might have all of these as a function in your CRM, but that is not necessarily the best idea in the context of your wider application portfolio.

Platform as a Service

Platform as a Service solutions bring their own questions: what data formats will be supported? XML, JSON, REST, or other (if you don’t know what these are, I have made my point anyway)? How are transactions going to be monitored for performance over this chain of components? How will version upgrades of external services be managed? As an example of a PaaS solution, consider the back-end of an e-commerce site.  This needs to integrate with payment and shipping providers, and maybe  retrieve customer details, such as creditrating and location.

Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructures as a Service solutions finally, introduce entirely new levels of complexity. Compared to other cloud models, the technology components such as servers, storage and networks, are more visible. Some of the complexities of traditional infrastructure management, such as housing and networking, are radically reduced. However, to take full advantage of cloud computing requires control of automatic scaling up and down of infrastructure resources. It just is not yourdaddy’s web server anymore. Shrinking deployment times from weeks to minutes implies much more heavy automation of capacity management and server provisioning for example. In ITIL terms, this implies thorough automation of the CMDB (Configuration Management Database), to name one task.

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