Cloud Computing Model: Characteristics & Descriptions

Instructor: Muhammad Wannous

Muhammad has been teaching Computer Sci. and Eng. and has a Ph.D. degree in Computer Sci. and Electrical Eng.

With the increasing popularity of Cloud Computing, it becomes necessary to set certain standards for the cloud computing models. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) identifies five essential characteristics of the Cloud Computing environment. In this lesson, we are going to cover these characteristics in addition to other features recognized by industry vendors.

Characteristics of the Cloud Computing Model

The Cloud Computing environment enables service providers to deliver various services and resources to their consumers over the Internet. These might include servers, storage, applications, networks, and other services. With many providers entering the market, it becomes necessary to have a unified way of describing the different features and aspects related to cloud computing, and this is the reason behind the existence of the cloud standards. The standardization body introduced a model for the cloud that has some attributes including: enabling technologies, service models, deployment models, and characteristics as demonstrated in Figure-1. We will be focusing on the model characteristics in this lesson.

Figure-1: The Cloud Computing Model
The Cloud Computing Model

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (U.S. Department of Commerce) identifies five essential characteristics of cloud computing environment, and they are: 1) On-demand self-service, 2) Ubiquitous/broad network access, 3) Location independent resource pooling, 4) Rapid elasticity, and 5) Measured service. Figure-2 outlines these characteristics.

Figure-2: Cloud Computing Characteristics
Cloud Computing Characteristics

On-Demand Self-Service

This characteristic implies that cloud computing meets the following points:

  1. the service consumer can decide the capabilities, reserve and rent/purchase online resources automatically when needed. This process is similar to reserving a room at a hotel after determining the desirable type.
  2. the service consumer can release the resources as necessary.
  3. the service provider does not typically have to interfere in the process.
  4. the service provider makes available the tools essential for reserving and provisioning resources.

Take a look at the consumer console for the Compute Engine cloud service offered by Google as shown in Figure-3; you will see that the consumer has some buttons designed for meeting the on-demand self-service feature such as create instance, start, and stop buttons.

Figure-3: Compute Engine Consumer Console
Compute Engine Consumer Console

Ubiquitous/Broad Network Access

Cloud service consumers usually need to be able to access and use the resources in a cloud computing environment from heterogeneous client platforms ranging from smartphones to workstations. Cloud computing service providers are required to support access from thin and thick platforms to meet the expectations. You can feel the importance of this feature by visiting a cloud service from two different devices to make sure that it is platform independent. Figure-4 and Figure-5 show Google Drive interface as accessed on a personal computer and a smartphone.

Figure-4: Accessing Google Drive on a Personal Computer
Accessing Google Drive on a Personal Computer

Figure-5: Accessing Google Drive on a Smartphone
Accessing Google Drive on a Smartphone

Location Independent Resource Pooling

This feature ensures that a cloud service provider has a collection of computing resources from which consumers can pick physical/virtual resources based on their demands in a multi-tenancy model. The service consumer usually has no knowledge where the resource pool is located at the low level, but might be able to pick a high-level spot for specific services. The consumer interface in Google Compute Engine allows choosing a location for the newly created resources from a set of options as shown in Figure-6.

Figure-6: Resource Pooling and High-level Location Pickup
Resource Pooling and High-level Location Pickup

Rapid Elasticity

The consumer requirements regarding resource capabilities often change, and the cloud computing environment should serve tools that enable the consumer to increase/reduce the capabilities of the resources quickly. In some cases, the consumer can set some triggers for this process, and the cloud computing environment will change the capacity automatically when a trigger initiates. The change can be vertical by increasing the resources capabilities or horizontal by changing the number of resources provisioned. Take a look at Figure-7 to grasp an idea of the auto-scaling feature offered by Google Compute Engine.

Figure-7: Auto-scaling in Google Compute Engine
Auto-scaling in Google Compute Engine

Measured Service

In the cloud computing environment, consumers pay for the resources as long as they are using them. Service consumers and providers monitor and measure the resource utilization which is the metric for determining the payment amounts of the service. CPU cycles, storage capacity, network requests, database reads/writes are used as common metrics to calculate the usage charges.

Additional Characteristics

Besides the five essential characteristics of cloud computing, industry vendors and standardization bodies state other aspects that we will briefly describe in the following points:

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