NIST Guide Helps Dispel Cloud Mysteries

By Robert Gelber

May 31, 2012

Cloud services have increased accessibility to high power resources that were typically available only to large enterprises and government facilities. While the financial and technological advantages may be obvious, underlying structures that form cloud services can be mystifying to the end user. The confusion has prompted the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to release Special Publication 800-146, “Cloud Computing Synopsis and Recommendations.” The document, a follow up to the official NIST cloud definition published last October, provides additional insight and guidance for the community. To follow is an overview of the NIST report, including charts sourced from that publication.

Definition and Terms of Service

According to NIST:

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.

The definition is rather wide, but there are certain traits encompassed by all cloud services, which include:

  • On-demand, self-serving access
  • Network accessibility
  • Resource Pooling
  • Rapid Elasticity
  • Measured Service

Most providers assure minimum levels of availability and agree in advance to repercussions if those levels are not met. They also discuss data preservation and privacy practices, usually promising not to sell or disclose private information.

Cloud services may experience a number of events, which affect overall user experience. Some examples include security breaches, scheduled outages, changes to service agreements, network failures or natural disasters.

Users are often subject to a use policy, guaranteeing third-party software conforms to license terms and timely payment for services rendered.

Deployment Models

Cloud environments are defined based on hardware location and owner. Private clouds are accessible only to a respective customer residing either on-site or be outsourced by a third party.

The same scenarios apply to community clouds as well, where on-site implementations are spread across the user base.

Public clouds are hosted off-site and owned by a third party.



Finally, hybrid clouds consist of multiple cloud models residing both on-site and off the premises.



Environments – IaaS, PaaS, SaaS

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers give users access to virtual machines, network storage and services such as firewalls. Billing is usually based on hourly usage of CPU cycles, data storage and bandwidth consumption. Other options may be added to this model, including monitoring and scaling services.

Cloud providers retain control over hardware and the hypervisor while users control the application layer.

The Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model allows the provider to retain further control of the environment. Users no longer have operating system control, but they can utilize an interface in the middleware layer to access compute power and storage. Application developers are common users of this type of service.


At the highest level, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers usually deliver Web-based services. Users have limited access at the application layer, giving the service provider almost all control of the environment. Examples include Dropbox and SoundHound.

Potential Issues

While cloud services can provide unique benefits to the user, they are susceptible to a number of issues. Some of these challenges are not exclusive to cloud technology.

Performance can be hindered by high latency, loss of network connectivity and unexpected downtime. The technology relies on networks, thus its capabilities can be augmented or diminished depending on bandwidth to the end user. Even if the network is functioning, service providers may experience an outage due to a number of reasons listed earlier. Cloud users may benefit from implementing an alternative course of action if such an outage were to occur.

Another point of concern regards the physical location of data. Providers typically choose where to locate data based on a number of factors. These include local infrastructure, labor costs, energy costs, as well as legal requirements.

NIST pointed to Web browsers as a major security concern. Most cloud providers require users to register or access their services through a Web browser. While the process if fairly common, browsers have become susceptible to a number of security flaws. If a user’s browser has been compromised, data passed between their workstation and a cloud service, could be captured by an outside party.


The authors of the report supplied a number of general recommendations ranging from cloud management to software and applications.

Users were encouraged to identify services that would benefit from cloud migration. Common examples include email, shared documents and virtualized systems. NIST suggested that any mission critical applications and services remain local to the user unless a provider is willing to pay for pre-defined damages.

To avoid “lock-in” the report prompted users to verify data portability prior to adopting a cloud provider. Suggestions were also made to ensure data integrity, including separation of sensitive information.

Security and reliability was another area the report focused on. Users could hold providers accountable by providing necessary benchmarks prior to migration. If these benchmarks are acceptable and a decision is made to adopt a cloud provider, browser security and strong encryption are necessary to reduce vulnerabilities.

The specifics of cloud services typically mystify most users, as providers and infrastructures exist in a number of forms and combinations. The NIST report has made a concentrated effort to deliver more awareness to the range of services, benefits and barriers surrounding the technology as a whole.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

RSC Reports 500Tflops, Hot Water Cooled System Deployed at JINR

April 18, 2018

RSC, developer of supercomputers and advanced HPC systems based in Russia, today reported deployment of “the world's first 100% ‘hot water’ liquid cooled supercomputer” at Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JI Read more…

By Staff

New Device Spots Quantum Particle ‘Fingerprint’

April 18, 2018

Majorana particles have been observed by university researchers employing a device consisting of layers of magnetic insulators on a superconducting material. The advance opens the door to controlling the elusive particle Read more…

By George Leopold

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’s introduction of an ARM-based system (XC-50) last November. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Hybrid HPC is Speeding Time to Insight and Revolutionizing Medicine

High performance computing (HPC) is a key driver of success in many verticals today, and health and life science industries are extensively leveraging these capabilities. Read more…

Hennessy & Patterson: A New Golden Age for Computer Architecture

April 17, 2018

On Monday June 4, 2018, 2017 A.M. Turing Award Winners John L. Hennessy and David A. Patterson will deliver the Turing Lecture at the 45th International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA) in Los Angeles. The Read more…

By Staff

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’ Read more…

By John Russell

IBM: Software Ecosystem for OpenPOWER is Ready for Prime Time

April 16, 2018

With key pieces of the IBM/OpenPOWER versus Intel/x86 gambit settling into place – e.g., the arrival of Power9 chips and Power9-based systems, hyperscaler sup Read more…

By John Russell

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cloud-Readiness and Looking Beyond Application Scaling

April 11, 2018

There are two aspects to consider when determining if an application is suitable for running in the cloud. The first, which we will discuss here under the title Read more…

By Chris Downing

Transitioning from Big Data to Discovery: Data Management as a Keystone Analytics Strategy

April 9, 2018

The past 10-15 years has seen a stark rise in the density, size, and diversity of scientific data being generated in every scientific discipline in the world. Key among the sciences has been the explosion of laboratory technologies that generate large amounts of data in life-sciences and healthcare research. Large amounts of data are now being stored in very large storage name spaces, with little to no organization and a general unease about how to approach analyzing it. Read more…

By Ari Berman, BioTeam, Inc.

IBM Expands Quantum Computing Network

April 5, 2018

IBM is positioning itself as a first mover in establishing the era of commercial quantum computing. The company believes in order for quantum to work, taming qu Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

FY18 Budget & CORAL-2 – Exascale USA Continues to Move Ahead

April 2, 2018

It was not pretty. However, despite some twists and turns, the federal government’s Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget is complete and ended with some very positi Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Momentum Builds for US Exascale

January 9, 2018

2018 looks to be a great year for the U.S. exascale program. The last several months of 2017 revealed a number of important developments that help put the U.S. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This