Five characteristics of cloud computing

Cloud computing's characteristics and benefits include on-demand self-service, broad network access, and being very elastic and scalable.


As cloud computing services mature both commercially and technologically, it will be easier for companies to maximize the potential benefits. Knowing what cloud computing is and what it does, however, is just as important. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as it is known today through five particular characteristics. 

1. On-demand self-service

Cloud computing resources can be provisioned without human interaction from the service provider. In other words, a manufacturing organization can provision additional computing resources as needed without going through the cloud service provider. This can be a storage space, virtual machine instances, database instances, and so on.

Manufacturing organizations can use a web self-service portal as an interface to access their cloud accounts to see their cloud services, their usage, and also to provision and de-provision services as they need to.

2. Broad network access

Cloud computing resources are available over the network and can be accessed by diverse customer platforms. It other words, cloud services are available over a network—ideally high broadband communication link—such as the internet, or in the case of a private clouds it could be a local area network (LAN).

Network bandwidth and latency are very important aspects of cloud computing and broad network access, because they relate to the quality of service (QoS) on the network. This is particularly important for serving time sensitive manufacturing applications.

3. Multi-tenancy and resource pooling

Cloud computing resources are designed to support a multi-tenant model. Multi-tenancy allows multiple customers to share the same applications or the same physical infrastructure while retaining privacy and security over their information. It's similar to people living in an apartment building, sharing the same building infrastructure but they still have their own apartments and privacy within that infrastructure. That is how cloud multi-tenancy works.

Resource pooling means that multiple customers are serviced from the same physical resources. Providers' resource pool should be very large and flexible enough to service multiple client requirements and to provide for economy of scale. When it comes to resource pooling, resource allocation must not impact performances of critical manufacturing applications.

4. Rapid elasticity and scalability

One of the great things about cloud computing is the ability to quickly provision resources in the cloud as manufacturing organizations need them. And then to remove them when they don't need them. Cloud computing resources can scale up or down rapidly and, in some cases, automatically, in response to business demands. It is a key feature of cloud computing. The usage, capacity, and therefore cost, can be scaled up or down with no additional contract or penalties.

Elasticity is a landmark of cloud computing and it implies that manufacturing organizations can rapidly provision and de-provision any of the cloud computing resources. Rapid provisioning and de-provisioning might apply to storage or virtual machines or customer applications.

With cloud computing scalability, there is less capital expenditure on the cloud customer side. This is because as the cloud customer needs additional computing resources, they can simply provision them as needed, and they are available right away. Scalability is more planned and gradual. For instance, scalability means that manufacturing organizations are gradually planning for more capacity and of course the cloud can handle that scaling up or scaling down.

Just-in-time (JIT) service is the notion of requiring cloud elasticity either to provision more resources in the cloud or less. For example, if a manufacturing organization all of a sudden needs more computing power to perform some kind of complex calculation, this would be cloud elasticity that would be a just-in-time service. On the other hand, if the manufacturing organization needs to provision human-machine interface (HMI) tags in the database for a manufacturing project, that is not really just-in-time service, it is planned ahead of time. So it is more on the scalability side than elasticity.

Another feature available for rapid elasticity and scalability in the cloud is related to testing of manufacturing applications. If a manufacturing organization needs, for example, a few virtual machines to test a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system before they roll it out in production, they can have it up and running in minutes instead of physically ordering and waiting for hardware to be shipped.

In terms of the bottom line, when manufacturing organizations need to test something in the cloud, they are paying for what they use as they use it. As long as they remember to de-provision it, they will no longer be paying for it. There is no capital expense here for computer resources. Manufacturing organizations are using the cloud provider's investment in cloud computing resources instead. This is really useful for testing smart manufacturing solutions.

5. Measured service

Cloud computing resources usage is metered and manufacturing organizations pay accordingly for what they have used. Resource utilization can be optimized by leveraging charge-per-use capabilities. This means that cloud resource usage—whether virtual server instances that are running or storage in the cloud—gets monitored, measured and reported by the cloud service provider. The cost model is based on "pay for what you use"—the payment is variable based on the actual consumption by the manufacturing organization.

Goran Novkovic, MESA International. This article originally appeared on MESA International's blog. MESA International is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media,

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