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There isn't a "Cloud Layer" ... Oh wait, maybe there is?

We're all familiar with the 9-layer OSI model - 7 layers of technology + Politics and Religions. This is the stack that makes up the Internet. Cloud Computing uses the same underlying technologies, but is often discussed in the context of the IaaS, PaaS and SaaS stacks.

Nowhere in the OSI stack do you see a "cloud layer". As my colleague and noted cloud computing expert James Urquhart likes to say (paraphrased), "There is no cloud layer (in a technology sense), it's all about new operational models."


For a while I accepted that statement without giving it much thought or rebuttal. But some activities over the last couple months have gotten me thinking that maybe this isn't actually true. Let me try and explain.

One could argue that the OSI model (the technical stuff, Layers 1-7) defines all the layers that make up the Internet. But as we all know, the Internet evolved in ways that the DARPA's founding fathers never intended or envisioned back in the 1960s. Things like NATs, or VPNs, or L3-over-L2 technologies, 4-to-6 tunnels, or other overlays like MPLS. Those technologies use the layers of the OSI model, but in reality they add new "layers" to the Internet stack to deal with either legacy designs or new usage models. Sometimes they solved problems and other times they created new problems and added more additional layers (eg. NAT traversal technologies for multi-media)

All of those "additional layers" of the Internet were focused on new ways to route packets, address or hide networks, manage legacy network transitions. Very network-centric issues.

In cloud computing, the more central issues are focused on APIs, mobility of workloads (or VMs), obfuscating layers of complexity, making workloads "dynamic" in scale or availability, and transitioning from legacy architectures to new architectures. Some of these involve new operational models (DevOps, "built to fail", etc.) as James Urquhart pointed out. But within that context, we're already starting to see some new layers emerge to be able to actually make the technology more useable or provide greater levels of flexibility. Let's take a look at a few examples:
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More Stories By Brian Gracely

A 20 year technology veteran, Brian Gracely is VP of product management at Virtustream. He holds a CCIE #3077 and an MBA from Wake Forest University.

Throughout his career Brian has led Cisco, NetApp, EMC and Virtustream into emerging markets and through technology transitions. An active participant in the virtualization and cloud computing communities, his industry viewpoints and writing can also be found on Twitter @bgracely, on his blog Clouds of Change and his podcast The Cloudcast (.net). He is a VMware vExpert and was named a "Top 100" Cloud Computing blogger by Cloud Computing Journal.

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