Beyond data centers, cloud computing has been a revolutionary technology trend for businesses of all sizes across virtually every industry, and it's become a core component of a modern ecosystem and application integration strategy. Instead of investing in costly hardware while having to manage and maintain a data center in-house, companies are turning to cloud providers like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure for flexible cloud infrastructure to provide modernized computing, networking, and storage resources.
But what does an organization need to consider when selecting and implementing a cloud computing infrastructure that’s the best fit for its business ecosystem while meeting workflow requirements and providing ideal results?
This blog will cover the answers to these important questions and a whole lot more you need to know about cloud computing.
What is Cloud Infrastructure?
Defining exactly what a cloud infrastructure is can be broad and complex. But when it comes down to it, a cloud-based infrastructure has several key components, including, but not limited to a combination of:
- Network devices, and
- Other storage resources
It is these components, all of which are necessary to create applications that are then accessed via the cloud. These apps can be retrieved remotely over the internet, telecom services, WANs (wide area networks), and other network means.
For example an EDI provider might offer their services using a cloud EDI software model, allowing clients to access the platform without having to maintain the required physical infrastructure on premise.
How is Cloud Infrastructure Categorized?
Cloud infrastructure generally is categorized into three parts that all collaborate to create a cloud service:
1. Computing: The computing portion of the infrastructure is delivered by server racks in order to deliver cloud services for various services and partners.
2. Networking: To transfer data externally as well as between computer and storage systems, this part of the infrastructure relies on routers and switches.
3. Storage: A cloud infrastructure will likely need considerable storage often using a combination of hard disks and flash storage.
Cloud Infrastructure vs. SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS
There are generally three models when it comes to cloud services: SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service), and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service). Each service has varying levels of benefits and differences.
SaaS: Software as a Service (aka cloud application services), is the most widely used type of cloud service. Popular for business as SaaS companies deliver strong customer experience through information exchange and services, SaaS takes a large part of the IT burden off the hands of a business. SaaS employs the internet to provide distributed applications and services, eliminating the need for clients to download any software. With SaaS, a cloud vendor fully manages the entire offering: applications, data, runtime, middleware, operating systems, services, storage, networking, and virtualization.
PaaS: Platform as a Service is somewhat comparable to SaaS, but instead offers a platform to create software. The PaaS method is delivered via the internet, giving IT teams the ability to design software without bothering with other aspects. With PaaS, the cloud vendor shoulders a majority of the service, including runtime, middleware, operating systems, servers, storage, networking, and virtualization. The company therefore only needs to worry about managing its applications and data.
IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service offers the most in-house control, allowing access and direct maintenance to most cloud resources. IaaS is extensively automated and scalable, as clients are able to buy resources as-needed without relying on in-house hardware. With IaaS, the cloud services are mostly managed by a company, including applications, data, runtime, middleware, and operating systems. But the cloud vendor is responsible for the services, storage, networking, and virtualization.
Difference between Private, Public and Hybrid Cloud Architectures
A cloud infrastructure is offered in three methods: private, public, and hybrid. Each offers a varying amount of security, control, and management.
Private: With a private cloud architecture, the service is done in-house and on-premise. Resources are shared internally among gated users for a high-level of control and security for sensitive data. This method is often better executed when a company is big enough to effectively operate its own cloud data center and has the budget to finance it. A private cloud makes sense, for example, if a company’s business revolves around an application and its data.
Public: A public cloud architecture is a service provided, managed, and maintained off-site via the internet. This method can help streamline workflows and collaboration on applications with many users (email, for example), making sharing resources more efficient. However, there is a higher risk of vulnerability with a public offering. A public cloud makes sense, for example, if a company is working on an ad-hoc software development project with a PaaS offering.
Hybrid: A hybrid cloud architecture includes a combination of private and public cloud offerings. This offering provides efficiency with a public cloud and security with a private cloud, but a company must manage numerous platforms at once while ensuring seamless API integration. A hybrid cloud makes the most sense, for example, if a company wants to enable a SaaS app while prioritizing security. Therefore, the SaaS provider would create a private cloud within its firewall.
Cloud Infrastructure as a Service
A cloud infrastructure as a service (IaaS), just like with all cloud technology, is accessed via the internet through a cloud vendor’s data center, which is responsible for maintaining and managing traditional on-premise hardware like servers and other storage devices as well as networking and visualization. That means the customer has the freedom and control to manage application, data, middleware, and other operating systems.
With a cloud IaaS solution, there are important infrastructure services such as network monitoring, security, billing, disaster recovery, and load balancing. There is also advanced automation and orchestration to simplify application performance and management as well as make it easier to install operating systems, deploy middleware, launch virtual machines, and create workload storage and backups.
Cloud Infrastructure Management
The main purpose of cloud infrastructure management is to provide business scalability while consolidating IT resources and enabling a variety of users to share the same infrastructure without compromising each other’s data. In the long run, this lowers operating costs.
A cloud infrastructure management interface (CIMI) is an open standard API requirement for handling cloud infrastructure and allows users to manage it in a simplified manner with homogeneous communication between cloud ecosystems. This attains interoperable management among cloud vendors, developers, and customers.
Requirements for Building a Cloud Infrastructure
When building out a cloud strategy, there are several in-depth steps that must be taken to ensure a robust infrastructure.
Requirement 1: Service and Resource Management
A cloud infrastructure virtualizes all components of a data center. Service management is a measured package of applications and services that end users can easily deploy and manage via a public and/or private cloud vendor. And a simplified tool to outline and gauge services is vital for cloud administrators to market functionality. Service management needs to contain resource maintenance, resource guarantees, billing cycles, and measured regulations. Once deployed, management services should help create policies for data and workflows to make sure it’s fully efficient and processes are delivered to systems in the cloud.
Requirement 2: Data Center Management Tools Integration
Most data centers utilize a variety of IT tools for systems management, security, provisioning, customer care, billing, and directories, among others. And these work with cloud management services and open APIs to integrate existing operation, administration, maintenance, and provisioning (OAM&P) systems. A modern cloud service should support a data center’s existing infrastructure as well as leveraging modern software, hardware, and virtualization, and other technology.
Requirement 3: Reporting, Visibility, Reliability, a Security
Data centers need high levels of real-time reporting and visibility capabilities in cloud environments to guarantee compliance, SLAs, security, billing, and chargebacks. Without robust reporting and visibility, managing system performance, customer service, and other processes are nearly impossible. And to be wholly reliable, cloud infrastructures must operate regardless of one or more failing components. For to safeguard the cloud, services must ensure data and apps are secure while providing access to those who are authorized.
Requirement 4: Interfaces for Users, Admins, and Developers
Automated deployment and self-service interfaces ease complex cloud services for end users, helping lower operating costs and deliver adoption. Self-service interfaces offer customers the ability to effectively launch a cloud service by managing their own data centers virtually, designing and driving templates, maintaining virtual storage, networking resources, and utilizing libraries. Administrator interfaces present better visibility to all resources, virtual machines, templates, service offers, and various cloud users. And all of these structures integrate by way of APIs for developers.
Advantages of Using Cloud Infrastructure
The arguments in favor of using the cloud are only getting stronger as the technology continues to improve. So, there are some obvious key benefits to migrating to a cloud infrastructure that helps companies streamline business processes.
Cost: First and foremost, the cloud removes or greatly reduces the operating expense of a company setting up and managing its own data center. Taking on this process begins to add up with all the various hardware, software, servers, energy bills, IT experts, and the updates that come along with this multi-faceted set-up. With cloud infrastructure, a company simply pays for it all to be managed while paying only for as-needed services.
Agility and flexibility: Most cloud service infrastructures are offered as self-managed, where service changes can be made within minutes. This improves the uptime and efficiency of business systems while allowing off-site coworkers and partners to access shared data on mobile devices whenever and wherever. And with a cloud infrastructure managing processes, a company becomes more business-focused than IT-focused.
Security: There’s a common misconception that cloud services are generally not secure and that data can easily be compromised. There is some truth in that, however, the risks are often blown out of proportion at least in terms of enterprise-level cloud infrastructure and services. Cloud infrastructure technologies and providers are always improving protection against hackers, viruses, and other data breaches with stronger firewalls, advanced encryption keys, and a hybrid approach that stores sensitive data in a private cloud and other data, even apps, in a public cloud.
Disadvantages of Using Cloud Infrastructure
That being said, not all cloud infrastructures are perfect. And while there are far more advantages, there are still some drawbacks.
Vendor overturn: The cloud is still an evolving, albeit improving, technology that rapidly fluctuates. Meaning, some cloud services companies get it right and some don’t. If a company goes out of business or sees a massive overhaul, that could be destructive to a business that relies on just one infrastructure for its entire database.
Connection reliance: A cloud infrastructure is only as good as its network connection. Therefore, the cloud can’t stay afloat without a dependable connection. Any glitches in an internet or intranet connection due to a technical outage or storm mean the cloud goes down along with all the data, software, and/or applications in it. A reliable network means business promises and SLAs are delivered.
Control: Since a company’s cloud infrastructure is generally controlled by its service provider, there are times organizations have limited access to data. And business customers have even less control than they might want, with limited access to applications, data, and tools stored on a server.
The Frontline of Digital Transformation
As cloud integration platform technology continues to evolve and improve, it will become even more of a boon for companies looking to less hands-on with maintaining and managing its own servers and other storage tools. Whether an organization turns to a single cloud infrastructure or a multi-cloud infrastructure, the progression of the cloud overall and its accompanying services enables a company to be on the frontline in the age of digital transformation.