Several months ago, the federal government drafted definitions for cloud computing. It was generally recognized as doing some excellent work.

The definitions are a work in progress. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last updated the definitions on October 7. The latest version is available for download. It's free.

Forrester Research says we need better definitions for cloud computing services. Principal analyst James Staten maintains that vendors are "cloudwashing," providing their own sets of definitions that are just confusing customers.

He outlines 11 cloud computing services that he places in three categories:

  • Rented software
  • Application services that allow developers to build platform
  • Infrastructure services

The problem is that analyst groups like Forrester just make it more confusing when they make up their own definitions that really are only meant for paying customers. It just turns into a circus. We guess Forrester believes that they are helping the process but it feels more like they are looking for a way to put their stamp on how we all define cloud computing.

We do not have access to the Forrester report that has more about these three categories and eleven services. It is available for download. The cost is $1749.

NIST is not super-aggressive about promoting its definitions. And the comment system is pretty archaic. You can subscribe to an email list to provide feedback. If there was a more public face to the process, the definition game would be a bit less confusing for everyone.

In the meantime, for all of our benefit, we'd like to share some of the latest definitions that have been drafted by NIST:

Definition of Cloud Computing:

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models.
Service Models:

Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to use the provider's applications running on a cloud infrastructure. The applications are accessible from various client devices through a thin client interface such as a web browser (e.g., web-based email). The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, storage, or even individual application capabilities, with the possible exception of limited user-specific application configuration settings.

Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created using programming languages and tools supported by the provider. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, or storage, but has control over the deployed applications and possibly application hosting environment configurations.

Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to provision processing, storage, networks, and other fundamental computing resources where the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure but has control over operating systems, storage, deployed applications, and possibly limited control of select networking components (e.g., host firewalls).

Deployment Models:

Private cloud. The cloud infrastructure is operated solely for an organization. It may be managed by the organization or a third party and may exist on premise or off premise.

Community cloud. The cloud infrastructure is shared by several organizations and supports a specific community that has shared concerns (e.g., mission, security requirements, policy, and compliance considerations). It may be managed by the organizations or a third party and may exist on premise or off premise.

Public cloud. The cloud infrastructure is made available to the general public or a large industry group and is owned by an organization selling cloud services.

Hybrid cloud. The cloud infrastructure is a composition of two or more clouds (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability (e.g., cloud bursting for load-balancing between clouds).