Explaining cloud with PLAY-DOH

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Sometimes technical topics need a layman-friendly explanation before the power of that topic is grasped. I have had family and others ask about the cloud or assume since I write about cloud topics I can help them when they have a problem with their cloud. In these times I find that breaking it down to some of the simplest concepts helps them to best understand exactly what is going on.

First, I want to address what is marketed as the cloud in many items like the iCloud or Amazon Cloud drive. These items are geared more towards a consumer than that of a business organization.

While they are still an implementation of the cloud, many are much more limited in the scope of what they provided, with good reason. These often act like an extension of your existing computer/device. These work just like storing items on your computer, except now it is stored on someone else’s computer that you can access. This storage is usually with an ID, and you can access it from any computer (tablet/device/whatever) that has Internet access. At its most basic level, cloud is just a hard drive at a remote location.

The other piece that is referred to as cloud is what we often talk about on this blog: the IaaS/PaaS/SaaS offerings. With those in mind I will try to break it down to its simplest terms: lets think about PLAY-DOH. When you are playing with this wonderful modeling compound you first pull out one color. You use that color and make many things, like a ball, or a snake, or figures, whatever you might want to do with that. This is like getting an IaaS solution from your vendor – very bare bones; you build it how you want.

Next, instead of just buying a container of PLAY-DOH you buy a kit, such as the old Star Wars kits they used to sell (I remember one for the Hoth battle). They provide molds, several containers of PLAY-DOH and usually a mat or some kind of backdrop to play with these specific items on. So now you can create your PLAY-DOH Luke, and your PLAY-DOH Vader and have your wars and reenact your favorite scenes or make new ones. You could even combine different colors to make a rainbow Vader. This is like a PaaS solution. You have a set of tools to build with and place to deploy them to, but you are limited to what is provided for you. You can make some changes and build what you want within a certain scope.

Finally, imagine if you only had the output of the previous level, such that you had the figures in PLAY-DOH but they were baked so they were hard. You had the mat and the other items to play on, but no tools with which to build. You are free to play with the figures and other accessories as you see fit. This last item is akin to the software as a service. You are provided a software stack such as WebSphere Commerce, you manage it remotely via the web and you can set up your stores and customize the look and feel. You will not be rebuilding the stack or changing filesystem-level items. If you have need of that your vendor will do that for you.

All of these taken together show how PLAY-DOH can easily mimic the different levels of service you can purchase from your vendor. All of these blocks can fit together in different ways to provide what your business needs. I hope this clears things up for you. If you have any questions leave a comment, or connect with me on Twitter @JimBarnesRTP.

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James Barnes

About James Barnes

Jim is currently a consulting software engineer with the IBM Business Partner Asponte, INC. He has more than 12 years of J2EE development and server administration experience, having worked with both customers while at IBM and having worked directly for others. His focus has been on commerce since August 2011 and transitioned onto the Commerce as a Service team as the Level 3 team lead. Before that he was with WebSphere Portal since 2003. Jim is also an IBM Portal Certified Developer for 7.0 as well as an Oracle Certified Professional, Java SE 6 Programmer. Jim worked on the team for "IBM WebSphere Portal for Multiplatforms V5.1 Handbook" and has written several articles for developerworks on the areas of portals and commerce.
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