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Infrastructure as a service: what is it and how is it used?

12th August 2015

Cloud computing is about more than just storage and businesses are increasingly discovering that outsourcing other resources also has its benefits. Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is just one aspect of the cloud service model, but it promises a wide range of advantages.

Essentially, infrastructure as a service refers to scalable, on-demand infrastructure that is provided and managed by a third party supplier. Businesses receive this infrastructure as a service via a network connection, rather than buying and managing it themselves. The exact nature of the infrastructure provided will vary based on the company’s needs and the contract that they agree with their supplier, but it is likely to include, among other resources:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Servers
  • Storage

As well as the core offering, IaaS providers may also offer their clients a number of bolt-on options such as an operating system and security features.

One of the major differences between infrastructure as a service and traditional modes of computing is the payment model. As with other examples of cloud computing, IaaS is paid for via a subscription model, such as on a monthly basis or based on the amount of virtual machine space that a business uses. This avoids upfront hardware and software costs that can prove prohibitive, particularly for smaller businesses. Similarly, the cost of managing the infrastructure, including issuing updates and dealing with potential issues, is handled by the external supplier.

However, infrastructure as a service offers benefits to businesses of all sizes. In particular, it provides much greater flexibility when compared to on-premise infrastructure. When businesses rely on their in-house hardware they are hampered by self-imposed restrictions. It may be that their own servers do not have the capacity to deal with unexpected increases in demand, or that for the majority of the time they are operating significantly under capacity, representing an inefficient use of company resources. When businesses lease infrastructure from a third-party neither of these issues are present.

Infrastructure as a service is scalable depending on the client’s demand at that particular moment. This means that if an online retailer, for example, experiences an unexpected peak in customer orders, they can seamlessly request increased storage and network capabilities from their provider in order to cope. Once demand reduces, the proportion of computing resources being used can be reduced just as easily. In all cases, the client only pays for the resources that they need at any given time.

As well as flexibility benefits, infrastructure as a service also promises businesses greater reliability. IaaS providers typically spread resources across a multitude of networks, servers and data centres, so that if a particular piece of hardware fails, the service provided remains unaffected. In some cases, infrastructure providers can cope with entire data centres going offline without causing disruption to their customers, because servers located elsewhere can cope with the added demand. By hosting your infrastructure in a purpose-built external data centre, companies may also benefit from a higher level of physical security than would be possible internally.

Security is sometimes viewed as cloud computing’s weak link, but this misconception is now being eroded. The success of IaaS providers and other cloud vendors is dependent on their ability to keep their client’s information safe. They cannot afford to have trust broken by poorly executed security protocols and hence many cloud service providers have more stringent security processes than in-house IT departments. There is no reason, therefore, to assume that infrastructure as a service will introduce more risks into your business, particularly if you choose your supplier carefully.

It may not be right for every business and there may be regulatory reasons why hosting information off-site or in another country may not be possible, but already many companies are experiencing the benefits of this technology. IaaS has enabled:

  • Airline companies to integrate smartphones and tablets into their work
  • Software developers to streamline their work processes
  • Countless organisations to boost productivity by giving their employees the freedom to work remotely

Many companies may be concerned about the difficulties and cost of migrating their on-premise infrastructure to the cloud, but there’s no reason that this process should prove overly challenging. At Sungard we help alleviate the stress associated with cloud migration by making sure your data and applications are secure when transitioning to a third party supplier. If businesses are willing to embrace infrastructure as a service they stand to benefit from added flexibility and reliability, both of which could provide the competitive edge they need.

 

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