The term ‘cloud computing’ refers to resources that are shared, rather than controlled by individual servers and devices. Cloud services include data storage, virtual networks, application hosting and more; because they are shared between multiple users they often deliver significant economies of scale and help companies reduce capital expenditure and operating costs.
Before you embark on selecting a cloud computing solution there are several questions to consider:
What are your computing, storage and networking requirements?
What are your business processes and goals?
What kind of application architecture do you need?
What about critical data?
Where is it housed, how do you use it to make decisions and drive success?
How sensitive is your information?
What level of support do you require?
What is your budget?
Armed with the answers to these, you’re ready to take a more in-depth look at what’s on offer.
Cloud Computing Service Types
Cloud computing services are grouped into three types, each of which addresses a different set of business IT requirements:
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
IaaS provides organisations with off-site hardware (such as computer infrastructure, storage and networking capacity) on demand. Clients rent what they need on a per-use basis and run their own software and applications.
IaaS offers quick and cost-efficient access to additional computing infrastructure. Because the external provider bears the cost of buying, housing, running and maintaining any equipment, clients minimise both their capital and operating expenditure.
Good for: Start-ups with limited funds for upfront capital investment; businesses that need temporary infrastructure for bandwidth extension or to relieve pressure on an internal network.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Generally laid over an IaaS arrangement, PaaS providers offer their clients a platform on which to develop, test and manage custom software and applications.
Using the provider’s operating system, hardware, databases and server, developers can work on new initiatives without impacting their own company’s IT environment. Projects conducted using PaaS can often be completed and deployed in less time, with the associated productivity saving.
Good for: developers and IT teams focussed on customised software development.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
This type refers to software and applications delivered through any internet-enabled device. Customers use services on an ongoing, pay-per-use basis without incurring any set-up, installation or support costs.
Flexible and cost efficient, this model enables smaller organisations and individuals to access the latest technologies and unlimited storage capacity with no investment in additional hardware, development or implementation.
Good for: non-differentiated applications like email, payroll, CRM, HR, finance and accounting software.
Cloud Computing Deployment Models
How you access these different cloud computing service types will depend on the characteristics of your business and type of data you work with. There are four common deployment models to consider:
In a public cloud, services are delivered over a network that is open for use by anyone. Because capital and operating costs are shared between multiple users, this is the most economical way to access the cloud; providers generally charge on a monthly or annual basis and some public cloud services are free (think Google, Apple and Amazon for example).
For small businesses and start-ups, the public cloud deployment model offers a good way to reduce overheads and expenditure in the early days, as there is no need for significant spending on internal IT equipment or expertise. It also gives users access to new technology without high development and implementation costs, and provides immediate access to data storage and other services as and when they are required.
On the flipside, public clouds offer far less scope for customised security options, applications or performance measures. Customers have no control over the physical location of their infrastructure and data.
Good for: Partial or full outsourcing of the IT function – especially commonly used applications; organisations with minimal regulatory or compliance requirements.
Also known as an ‘internal cloud’, a private cloud is a secure environment located behind a firewall that permits authorised users only. Designed, built and operated for a single client, it is usually governed by that client’s own internal IT team but can also be managed by a third party.
A private cloud is intended to support specific, client-centric functions. The organisation in question retains complete control over its data and avoids the security risks and compliance issues associated with public clouds. However, private clouds offer none of the economies of public or shared cloud services as all associated costs are borne by the client.
Good for: businesses with mission critical data and processes or high level security and performance requirements.
In a community cloud, services are shared by organisations with similar data processing requirements and a common approach to privacy. Information is available to all parties within the community and is disseminated amongst them securely.
Community clouds can be hosted on- or off-site and are managed by one or more of the participating organisations or by a third party provider. Costs are shared across the group, so those involved get some of the benefits of a private cloud at a lower price. In this model, responsibility for governance of the cloud can prove challenging.
Good for: joint ventures, tenders, research and other collaborative projects.
This integrated model incorporates two or more of the models explained above and offers businesses a way to tailor their cloud services more closely to their operations.
In a hybrid cloud, workload is spread across different cloud platforms. Typically, non-critical functions might be hosted in the public cloud whilst sensitive information is stored and manipulated in an internal, private cloud. This arrangement gives businesses security where it is needed alongside the opportunity to generate cost efficiencies, thereby offering maximum benefit from cloud infrastructure.
Hybrid clouds can be managed in-house or by an external provider. They are highly scalable and flexible, giving users the freedom to add or remove capacity or services as demand fluctuates.
Good for: businesses with security and compliance restrictions that also have a need for price and performance efficiencies.