3. Web services in the cloud
Closely related to SaaS, Web service providers offer APIs that enable developers to exploit functionality over the Internet, rather than delivering full-blown applications. They range from providers offering discrete business services -- such as Strike Iron and Xignite -- to the full range of APIs offered by Google Maps, ADP payroll processing, the U.S. Postal Service, Bloomberg, and even conventional credit card processing services.
4. Platform as a service
Another SaaS variation, this form of cloud computing delivers development environments as a service. You build your own applications that run on the provider's infrastructure and are delivered to your users via the Internet from the provider's servers. Like Legos, these services are constrained by the vendor's design and capabilities, so you don't get complete freedom, but you do get predictability and pre-integration. Prime examples include Salesforce.com's Force.com, Coghead and the new Google App Engine. For extremely lightweight development, cloud-based mashup platforms abound, such as Yahoo Pipes or Dapper.net.
5. MSP (managed service providers)
One of the oldest forms of cloud computing, a managed service is basically an application exposed to IT rather than to end-users, such as a virus scanning service for e-mail or an application monitoring service (which Mercury, among others, provides). Managed security services delivered by SecureWorks, IBM, and Verizon fall into this category, as do such cloud-based anti-spam services as Postini, recently acquired by Google. Other offerings include desktop management services, such as those offered by CenterBeam or Everdream.
6. Service commerce platforms
A hybrid of SaaS and MSP, this cloud computing service offers a service hub that users interact with. They're most common in trading environments, such as expense management systems that allow users to order travel or secretarial services from a common platform that then coordinates the service delivery and pricing within the specifications set by the user. Think of it as an automated service bureau. Well-known examples include Rearden Commerce and Ariba.
7. Internet integration
The integration of cloud-based services is in its early days. OpSource, which mainly concerns itself with serving SaaS providers, recently introduced the OpSource Services Bus, which employs in-the-cloud integration technology from a little startup called Boomi. SaaS provider Workday recently acquired another player in this space, CapeClear, an ESB (enterprise service bus) provider that was edging toward b-to-b integration. Way ahead of its time, Grand Central -- which wanted to be a universal "bus in the cloud" to connect SaaS providers and provide integrated solutions to customers -- flamed out in 2005.
Today, with such cloud-based interconnection seldom in evidence, cloud computing might be more accurately described as "sky computing," with many isolated clouds of services which IT customers must plug into individually. On the other hand, as virtualization and SOA permeate the enterprise, the idea of loosely coupled services running on an agile, scalable infrastructure should eventually make every enterprise a node in the cloud. It's a long-running trend with a far-out horizon. But among big metatrends, cloud computing is the hardest one to argue with in the long term.
This article, "What cloud computing really means," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.