In recent times, cloud computing has dramatically changed the way enterprises around the world manage and organize their IT systems and resources. This also means that the traditional on-premise IT infrastructure has been replaced by a cloud infrastructure allowing especially small and medium-sized businesses to increase their IT capabilities without having to invest large sums into computer equipment, data centers, and in-house development.
But what does a cloud infrastructure actually encompass and how does it work in practice? Instead of establishing their own IT infrastructure, companies can simply rent cloud infrastructure components and capabilities on an as-needed basis. This offers flexibility, scalability and reduces up-front costs.
A cloud infrastructure consists of both hardware software elements and includes components like network equipment, computing power, servers, data storage, and an interface that allows users to access their virtualized resources.
Learn about the role of each component, the difference between cloud infrastructure and various cloud architectures, and the benefits of cloud computing.
The term cloud infrastructure refers to all the components needed for cloud computing. These components consist of network resources, storage as well as abstracted hardware resources for visualization. In simplified terms, a cloud infrastructure holds all the tools that are needed to build a cloud and host services and applications within the same structure.
Cloud infrastructure is a virtual infrastructure that is delivered and accesses via the internet or a network. However, there is more than just one delivery model.
A company can opt for various on-demand services or products while IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) is the most basic one. It means that all three components, network, storage, and virtualization capabilities are delivered to the customer who only needs to provide a software platform. With IaaS, services are mostly managed and maintained by a company while offering maximum in-house control.
Next to IaaS, there is also SaaS (software as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service). SaaS delivers an application through a web-based portal and is the most widely used model. It eliminates downloading an application to store its information on a hard disk.
PaaS on the other hand is more comparable with IaaS. This delivery model includes the four cloud infrastructure components as well as a software platform with middleware, runtime, and operating systems. This allows customers to develop, deploy and test their own applications in the cloud.
Cloud computing has revolutionized how businesses of all sizes manage their information technology resources and systems. At this point, it has grown from a trend to a core component of a flexible and integrated IT ecosystem.
Cloud computing allows companies to stay competitive and adopt new applications without having to invest in physical hardware. And instead of maintaining a data center in-house, cloud providers like Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, or Google Cloud offer enterprises a flexible cloud infrastructure that is scalable and easy to manage and maintain.
In order to provide computing functionality as a service, there are certain components required to create a cloud infrastructure in the first place.
Generally speaking, there are three categories that need to collaborate with one another: computing, networking, and storage. While computing is delivered by server racks, the networking or the transfer of data relies on routers and switches, and the storage portion usually requires a combination of hard discs and flash storage that is located off-premise just like the servers.
But what are the single components? In IT, there are three different components that make up a functioning cloud infrastructure: network, storage and virtualization. They all fall in one of the categories outlined above.
When an enterprise purchases computing services under the IaaS delivery model from a cloud vendor, it is leasing all four capabilities and thus a “ready-to-use” infrastructure. Each component helps to successfully deploy and deliver services and applications and can be defined as follows:
Since cloud resources are typically delivered over the Internet, there need to be communication channels that allow for information to travel from backend cloud systems to the front-end devices of the user. Typically, these networking capabilities are not provided by the cloud vendor but by a third-party Internet provider.
Cloud centers provide scalable storage to their customers, so they don’t have to invest in hardware on-site. There is a variety of storage types and devices that can be used to keep data and backups secure and accessible including block storage, object storage, or file storage.
Since the cloud service is decoupled from its hardware resources, the hardware functionalities need to be made accessible to the user by the use of virtualization. This means that the end-user gets a virtual version of the available hardware resources including storage, platform, processing, and networking.
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The different delivery models for a cloud infrastructure are linked to three different types of architecture. But what exactly is an IT architecture? Broadly speaking, it is the development of IT specifications, models, and guidelines needed to organize, oversee and modify IT resources throughout the enterprise.
When it comes to a cloud infrastructure, an IT architecture describes how individual technologies are integrated and how scalable resources are pooled and shared across a network. In simplified terms, cloud architecture serves as a blueprint for the cloud infrastructure that holds all the materials and tools.
It is important to note that a cloud infrastructure can be dedicated to individual users who have isolated access to cloud resources, or it can be shared among multiple users. And since the deployment models are quite flexible, an enterprise can also have a combination of both.
In a multi-cloud infrastructure, an organization is using more than one cloud platform to achieve its end goals. The three most common deployment models can be split up into the following three groups:
A public cloud consists of a pool of virtualized resources that are not owned by the end-user and entirely maintained and operated by the vendor. The service is based on a pay-as-you-go model and distributed on an as-needed basis. Since the cloud resources are shared with other tenants, this model tends to be cost-effective.
In the private cloud deployment model, the cloud environment is dedicated to a specified end user only who can access the cloud resources through their own firewall. Sometimes, the private cloud is even deployed as an on-premise data center but has a virtualized infrastructure and a high level of automation.
As the name already suggests, a hybrid cloud consists of both a public and a private cloud. This allows enterprises to create a cloud environment tailored to their needs. It allows them to use the public cloud for cost-sensitive workloads and the private cloud for confidential workloads that require more data security.
Cloud computing has introduced a variety of new terms that are now being used by the IT industry, developers, and enterprise architects across the globe. That’s why it doesn’t come as a surprise that cloud infrastructure and cloud architecture often get confused. But even though they are closely related, they describe two different things.
Cloud architecture can be seen as the layout for the cloud environment. It determines how the various cloud components need to be built and relate to one another so specific requirements for applications and other services can be met. Just like a blueprint in physical architecture, it gives IT experts a conceptual view of what needs to be built. The fact that there is a cloud architecture also explains the emergence of new IT job descriptions like enterprise architect, solution architect, or technical architect.
A Cloud infrastructure on the other hand is the actual representation of this theoretical outline. It represents the integration of operating systems and virtual resources to deliver services for cloud computing, storing, networking, and more. If cloud architecture provides a city plan, then cloud infrastructure can be compared to the city’s transportation systems, communication networks, sewage, water, and electric systems.
And when implementing a cloud infrastructure through a third-party provider, customers need to decide which architectural type works best for their needs in regard to performance, reliability, and security: a public cloud, a private cloud, or a hybrid cloud.
Using a cloud infrastructure holds many benefits for companies of all sizes which is why more and more enterprises are moving from an in-house infrastructure and the one-premise approach to cloud computing, accessing their resources in a more abstract and virtual way.
But what are the main advantages and most compelling arguments that speak for working with a cloud provider?
Flexibility: While an on-premise infrastructure is rather rigid and difficult to down- or upscale, cloud infrastructure provides resources that can be easily adjusted to the individual needs of the customer. This means that all resources are utilized in the best way possible and the infrastructure can organically grow with the business without extra delays or capacity issues.
Reliability: On-premise data centers bear a certain performance risk that is mitigated by relying on third-party cloud providers. Thanks to their expansive infrastructure and redundancy options, outages or system failures are less likely to occur. Automatic backups and tried-and-tested capabilities make cloud infrastructure more reliable than one that is privately owned and managed.
Cost: One of the biggest benefits that cloud infrastructure offers especially to small businesses and start-ups, is the fact that it requires no large upfront capital costs like an on-premise infrastructure. The pay-per-usage model is a predictable operational expense and allows companies to stay within their budget, outsource maintenance and not waste any resources.
Security: Even though companies were initially concerned about data security when cloud computing became an industry trend, these worries have largely disappeared. Cloud providers are constantly improving their abilities to effectively protect their infrastructure from potential security threats and provide better security measures than a poorly maintained in-house infrastructure.
With digitalization and artificial intelligence changing the way we live and conduct business at lightning speed, it is only a matter of time until most organizations have switched over to a cloud infrastructure. Not only does it offer cutting-edge IT solutions that are easily accessible via virtualization, but it also helps companies to save on unpredictable IT costs.
Cloud service providers are also quick to incorporate technological innovations and offer a competitive advantage to their customers who get to adjust the service offerings to their individual workload.
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