The Cloud Pyramid

June 24th, 2008 by - 39,082 views

This insightful post on the RightScale blog recently got me thinking. The term “Cloud Computing” is much too vague. People want and need “slots” or “segments” where they can group things. This is how the mind operates through categorization and ordering. So, to possibly help with this, I would like to propose a “Cloud Pyramid” to help differentiate the various Cloud offerings out there.

Cloud Pyramid

There are other ways to display this hierarchy, however I elected to show it as a pyramid. For example, if one were to weight the graphic by the number of providers within each segment, the pyramid would be upside-down. The point here though is to show how these cloud segments build upon and are somewhat dependent upon each other. While they are directly related, they don’t require interdependence (e.g., a Cloud Application does not necessarily have to be built upon a Cloud Platform or Cloud Infrastructure). I would propose, however, that Cloud trends indicate that they will become more entwined over time.

Cloud Application

Within this part of the pyramid, users are truly restricted to only what the application is and can do. Some of the notable companies here are the public email providers (Gmail, Hotmail, Quicken Online, etc.). Almost any Software as a Service (SaaS) provider can be lumped into this group. Most retail consumers use the services within this Cloud. You get pre-defined functionality and you cannot much further than that. Applications are designed for ease of use and GTD (getting things done). SalesForce, a huge Cloud Application/SaaS provider that has led the way for hosted software, falls into this category as well, however, their product does not. Even online banking offerings could be lumped into this group.


  • Strengths
    • Sometimes free; easy to use; lots of different offerings; easy to access; good consumer adoption; proven business models
  • Weaknesses
    • You can only use the application as far as what it is designed for; no control or knowledge of underlying technology

Cloud Platforms

As you move further down the pyramid, you gain increased flexibility and control but your a still fairly restricted to what you can and cannot do. Within this Category things get more complicated to achieve. Products and companies like Google App Engine, Heroku, Mosso, Engine Yard, Joyent or (SalesForce platform) fall into this segment. This category is becoming more congested with competitors, many of whom are trying to leverage the Cloud Infrastructure.


  • Strengths
    • Great for developers with a particular niche target, upload a tightly configured applications and it simply “runs”; more control than a Cloud Application
  • Weaknesses
    • Restricted to the platform’s ability only; hard to work “outside the box”; sometimes dependant on Cloud Infrastructure providers

Cloud Infrastructure

At the bottom of the pyramid are the infrastructure providers like Amazon’s EC2, GoGrid, RightScale and Linode. Companies providing infrastructure enable Cloud Platforms and Cloud Applications. Most companies within this segment operate their own infrastructure, allowing them to provide more features, services and control than others within the pyramid. And at this foundation level, GoGrid offers infrastructure in the form of both Linux and Windows, load-balancing, and storage. Some Infrastructure providers may leverage others within the space in order to provide competitive viability as well.


  • Strengths
    • Offers full control of server infrastructure; not confined to “containers” or “applications” or restrictive instances
  • Weaknesses
    • Sometimes comes with a price premium; infrastructure offerings still being built out

This post is open to discussion! My questions, what do YOU consider to be good examples of each Cloud Category? Can Cloud Computing be broken down into the ones listed above? What segment has been omitted and why do you think it is that way?

Lastly, for a humorous analysis of all of this, take a look a John M Willis’ post “Is Everyone an aaS?” which, in a tongue-in-cheek way, puts it all into perspective.

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Michael Sheehan

Michael Sheehan, formerly the Technology Evangelist for GoGrid, is a recognized technology, social media, and cloud computing pundit and blogger who writes regularly about technology news and trends.

8 Responses to “The Cloud Pyramid”

  1. friarminor says:

    You can also check out Overcast, Mike.



  2. botchagalupe says:

    Sorry I called you guys an aaS :)

    Great article…

  3. Matt Small says:

    Thanks for the mention Mike. This is a very good way to break this down and the graphical pyramid definitely lends to the wonderful simplicity of your analysis. Great article.

  4. Roland Judas says:

    Even though this is a great peace of work, which gives a good overview of the different layers within the world of cloud computing, I fear that our favorite subject is not that easy to describe.

    I hopefully will enrich the discussion in the near future, not only by providing comments.


  5. Michael Sheehan says:


    Agreed. It does only scrape the surface of this evolving technology. For you and I, it probably only scrapes the surface, but to the layperson, it hopefully provides a bit more insight and a way to put one’s head around it a bit better.

    I have read many mainstream articles that over-generalize and lump everything together which does more harm than good to the industry. I only hope that we can build on this idea and help other understand it better.

    Thanks for the note.

  6. Roland Judas says:

    For me beeing a technically involved person, it’s sometimes hard to look at topics with laymen’s view. Escpially an extremely hot hightech topic like clouds, grids and XaaS, which might sustainably influence the future of IT, is not easy to communicate.
    As I said, youve done a good job give a insight for laymen and on the other hand laying ground for discussions with other, more involveld people.

  7. [...] GoGrid and others have embraced this definition as well. Michael Sheehan at GoGrid has created a Cloud Pyramid which I think does a good job at graphically representing these concepts. So, this taxonomy is [...]

  8. [...] * For more details on those cloud levels, read this and this. [...]

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