The Cloud Reference Model: Definition & Overview

Instructor: Chris Farquhar

Chris is an experienced technology professional and subject matter/industry expert in AI, Internet of Things and enterprise security. He has a Science Degree (Computer Science/Information Technology).

The cloud reference model is a conceptual model that characterizes and standardizes the functions of a cloud computing environment. It provides a fundamental reference point for the development of cloud computing. In this lesson, you will learn about the principal actors, activities, and functions defined by the cloud reference model.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing enables convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of computing resources. It allows rapid development and release of your services with minimal management effort or any other service provider interaction.

Cloud computing continues to evolve from a market disruptor to the expected approach for IT. It now impacts every aspect of modern businesses. It also serves as the foundation for other disruptive trends including the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI) and the digital business.

Cloud computing enables businesses to focus on their core strengths and delegate non-strategic IT functions to an external partner. This allows companies to improve scalability, agility, increase innovation and reduce costs. Figure 1, illustrates the benefits of cloud computing.

Figure 1: Benefits of Cloud Computing
Benefits of Cloud Computing

The Need for a Cloud Reference Model

With the increasing popularity of cloud computing, the definitions of various cloud computing architectures have broadened. The cloud landscape has many vendors and multiple definitions of offerings making it very difficult to evaluate their services. With such diversity in their implementation, understanding how the cloud works and interacts with other technologies can be a little confusing.

To achieve the potential of cloud computing, there is a need to have a standard cloud reference model for the software architects, software engineers, security experts and businesses. The Cloud Reference Model brings order to this cloud landscape. Figure 2, illustrates various cloud providers and their technologies, within the available cloud service models in the market.

Figure 2: Cloud service models
Cloud service models

The Cloud Reference Model Overview

Standards bodies define the cloud reference models and then vendors map their services to these models. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a US Government body, defines the standard protocol for cloud computing providers. Vendors then develop their cloud platform while following the defined standard guidelines and start their operational engagement with enterprise business systems.

NIST took an early leadership role in standardizing the definitions around cloud computing. This happened as cloud technology was making inroads into the U.S. federal government.

Leading cloud service providers map their services to the NIST reference model. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and Amazon are leading companies in the market which provide cloud service that comply with the NIST reference model. The reference model:

  • Describes the domain and key concepts.
  • Provides a shared vision, understanding, and taxonomy.
  • Reduces complexity to enhance the development of new products.
  • Provides a guide for interoperability and standards.
  • Provides a model for functions and services of cloud implementations.
  • Defines best practices.

The Cloud Reference Model Definition

The NIST cloud computing reference model identifies the major actors, their activities and functions in cloud computing. Figure 3, depicts the NIST high-level model or architecture, which defines the requirements, uses, characteristics, and standards of cloud computing:

Figure 3: NIST Cloud Conceptual Reference Model (NIST Special Publication 500-292)
Figure 3: NIST Cloud Reference Model

Cloud Computing Definition

The NIST definition for cloud computing includes:

  • Essential Characteristics:
    • On-demand self-service.
    • Resource pooling.
    • Rapid elasticity.
    • Measured Service.
    • Broad network access.
  • Service Models:
    • Software as a service (SaaS).
    • Platform as a Service (PaaS).
    • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS).
  • Deployment Models:
    • Public Cloud.
    • Private Cloud.
    • Community Cloud
    • Hybrid Cloud.

Actors of the Cloud Reference Model

Regarding the NIST cloud reference model, the five major actors of the model include:

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