The Cloud Defined, Part 4 of 8: Rapid Elasticity

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I am continuing my series of articles where I share my interpretation of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s special publication 800-145. This week the focus is on the fourth fundamental characteristic of cloud computing according to the NIST’s definition:

Rapid elasticity. Capabilities can be elastically provisioned and released, in some cases automatically, to scale rapidly outward and inward commensurate with demand. To the consumer, the capabilities available for provisioning often appear to be unlimited and can be appropriated in any quantity at any time.

Many an IT professional has had to ask the question “Is it scalable?” as part of the purchase process for a new IT solution. The problem is that for many years the words scalable and expandable were interchangeable in regards to the true question being asked. In the not so distant past any IT solution that was purchased was going to be used at near “full capacity” from day one. There was very little chance that a solution would be underutilized, and the emphasis for a “scalable” solution was that it could have its performance increased if it was sized wrong for future workloads. If the solution was more than what was needed some IT professionals would claim that is was “future proofed” which is a pleasant way of saying “wasted money.”

IT professionals need to abandon that old way of thinking. Cloud computing forces IT professionals to deal with truly scalable solutions that can both expand and contract to meet the exact needs of the business. Too much unused potential is just as bad as too few resources. Overprovisioned “future proofed” solutions are inferior to “the right size for right now” solutions.

This means that the monitoring and automation of IT environments are the keys to building solutions that achieve rapid elasticity. Monitoring to not only gauge current performance levels, but to monitor when a system was last accessed and used. Automation to both allow for the quick provisioning of a resource and to easily decommission unused resources.

Is your infrastructure ready for such monitoring and automation? Do you have a service catalog populated with the services that your organization needs in order to do business? Can you rely on your environment to automatically remove unused resources and to keep your environment as lean as it needs to be for work to be done?

If you can answer “yes” to the previous paragraph’s questions you have met one of the essential requirements of cloud computing. If not, be aware that the technologies and products already exist for you to have rapid elasticity as a feature of your infrastructure. Start researching them now.

Be sure to return next week as I cover the last essential characteristic of cloud computing infrastructures, and to continue my interpretation of the NIST’s definition of cloud computing.

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