The five cloud characteristics comes from the American Standard institute NIST and has been shown by the Accelerate State of DevOps report to drive DevOps Performance. 
In this episode I cover the characteristics and why they matter.

Sources:

State of devops 2018: https://services.google.com/fh/files/misc/state-of-devops-2018.pdf

Cloud Charateristics: https://csrc.nist.gov/publications/detail/sp/800-145/final

 

Transcript

The Cloud. It is the promised land of IT infrastructure. The magical realm where seemingly infinite resources are available at the click of a button. Where computers appear out of thin air to do our bidding. It is a billion-dollar business, but even those who have invested heavily in using public clouds struggle to reap the benefits. They are still stuck pushing tickets and waiting days, weeks or months for virtual machines. In this episode, I cover the five cloud characteristics and why they matter for our DevOps performance. I’m Johan Abildskov, join me in the dojo to learn.

In this episode, I am going to talk about software infrastructure. In short, computers and connectivity between them. With a few more words it is about getting the compute, memory, storage and network resources that we need to run our applications. There are three categories of infrastructure at this level of abstraction. On-premises, or on-prem as it is called, where everything is hosted inside the organizational perimeter. Public Cloud where everything is hosted externally, at a provider such as AWS, Azure, Alibaba or Google Cloud Platform. And finally, the hybrid cloud where some workloads are hosted in a public cloud, while others are hosted on-prem. Each deployment pattern is valid and has its uses. In the DevOps community, we have a common narrative stating that cloud is superior to on-prem, and sometimes we fall into the trap of forgetting the tradeoffs we are making. My opinion is that while it is difficult to become as high performing on-premises as in the cloud, it is trivial to screw the cloud up, just as bad as on-prem. So let’s look at the cloud characteristics that drive DevOps performance.

I learned about the five cloud characteristics from the Accelerate State of DevOps 2018. They found that those organizations that agreed with all five characteristics were 23 times more likely to be high performers. In 2019 that number had increased to 24 timers as likely.
The characteristics come from the American standards institute NIST. Disregarding the cloud deployment model, they cover the characteristics our infrastructure should have, in order for it to be called cloud. This is very valuable in terms of aligning our vocabulary. Without further ado, and there has been much, let’s move to the characteristics themselves.

The first is “On-demand self-service”. That is, consumers can provision the resources they need, as they need them, without going through an approval process or ticketing system.
This is the first trap of cloud migrations. If we simply lift-and-shift our infrastructure, but leave the processes in place we are not going to maximize our gain. Cloud is a powerful tool to shorten feedback loops, build autonomy and allow the engineers to make the economic tradeoffs that impact their products. But that is only the case if on-demand self-service is present.

The second characteristic is broad network access. This is, to me, the least interesting characteristic, but that might be because I have not been in organizations where this has been a big pain. This refers to the capabilities of our cloud are generally available through various platforms, such that the cloud capabilities are not hidden from the engineers.

The third characteristic is resource pooling. This means that there is a pool of resources, and we as consumers do not control exactly where our workloads go. We can declare properties that we desire for our workloads, such as SSD disks, GPUs or a specific geographic region, but not particular hosts. For on-prem solutions, this can be addressed with platforms such as Kubernetes. One common way that we break this characteristic is manually configured servers, that are not maintained through version-controlled scripts. This leads to configuration drift, and that is a big pain to work with. Remember: Servers are cattle, not pets. Resource pooling also allows us to have higher utilization of our resources in a responsible way.

The fourth characteristic is “rapid elasticity”. This means that we can scale our infrastructure on demand. This often becomes “Oh, we can scale up, as much as we want, at a moments notice. This is however only one side of the equation. This also means that we can scale down unused resources. This allows us to get the biggest Return on investment on our infrastructure spending. Spending extra capital when a surge hits our applications, whether that is black friday, the first of the month, or something we could not anticipate in advance.
This can be obtained in on-premises solutions, but requires some upfront investment in order to be ahead of the utilization curve.

The fifth characteristic is metered service. We only pay for what we use. This allows us to get much more transparency in our cost. The Accelerate State of DevOps report 2019 found that those who matched the characteristics were 1.6 more like to go under budget, and 2.6 times more likely to be able to accurately estimate their costs. This characteristic truly represents the commoditization of cloud computing.

These were the five characteristics of cloud computing. It does not matter where we host our workloads as long as we get on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and metered service. I hope that when you discuss software infrastructure you consider these characteristics and how they enable business agility. Think about where your organization is missing the target, and what you can do to adapt.

This has been the DevOpsDojo on the five cloud characteristics. You can follow me on twitter @randomsort. You can find show notes on the website at dojo.fm . Support the show by leaving a review, sharing this episode with a friend or colleague. Subscribe to the DevOpsDojo on your favourite podcast platform to keep up with the show. In the next episode I will cover Chaos engineering. Until next time, keep learning. Thank you for listening.

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