Tristan Gwinnell, Cloud Solutions EMEA, Avnet, takes a look at what cloud really means
The term cloud means different things to different people. For consumers the cloud might be where they store their music and photographs. For others it might be Google Apps or Office365. If you’re a business user it could be a cloud-hosted application. If you run a datacentre it could be a way of optimising hardware. The list goes on.
All of these are types of cloud – essentially a means of providing computer hardware and software via the internet. In ‘technology years’ the cloud has been around for a long time. Salesforce launched in the 1990s with a mission to end software. Recently the technology has come in to its own and there has been a rapid increase in the types and number of cloud services and suppliers.
Often the different types of services are all referred to under the term cloud which can lead to confusion as to exactly what is being offered. Broadly speaking there are 6 types of key services and models. Here are the different types of Cloud and some guidance on how to choose the right one for you.
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is software that is accessed via the internet through a standard web browser. That software could be anything from common office applications or email to bespoke business applications. The vendor hosts the software so the user doesn’t need to worry about hardware costs or keeping the software up-to-date.
Salesforce and Office365 are good examples of SaaS products. With each you get a fully functioning application – with Salesforce a CRM, and Office365 email and office applications – but without the need to own and maintain the software or the servers they are hosted on. You choose how many users you require and, for a monthly fee, you get access to the products with no additional maintenance costs.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is computing resources – processing, storage, networks and other resources – provided by the vendor to the customer through the internet. These can be used in the same way as traditional resources such as customer-owned datacentres, but without the need to manage the infrastructure. Capacity is scaleable and charged on a per-usage basis providing flexibility, particularly when demand is variable.
The most well know IaaS service is arguably Amazon Web Services (AWS). With AWS you choose how much computing capacity you need, what operating system you require and its configuration and you’re up and running. You can increase, decrease or switch off your instance as your demand changes, only paying for what you use.
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is a type of cloud computing that allows customers to develop, run and manage applications and services over the internet. The vendor provides both the computing capacity and the tools for customers to build and manage applications. This complete offering can dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of developing applications as well as the on-going costs of delivering them to users.
IBM BlueMix is a good example of a PaaS. Hosted in the cloud it provides the computing resources and development tools needed to quickly create and deploy applications. Also included under here are other well-known IBM products available as services such as WebSphere MQ. With these PaaS applications you no longer need to purchase, deploy, configure and maintain a messaging infrastructure.
Public cloud provides computing resources that are shared amongst all users. Often you can choose the location of the datacentre you use but you don’t have control over the resources or who else is using them. This provides a very low cost option and has been beneficial for smaller companies.
Some providers just offer computing resources while others offer IaaS and PaaS technology in addition to their core service. Most vendors have some form of public cloud offering.
Private cloud, as the name suggests, is computing resource that isn’t shared by anyone else. This is a more expensive option as it is much like having your own data centre, but compared to public cloud, private cloud offers increased security and performance. For regulated industries and larger corporations running business critical applications in a private cloud is often the preferred option.
Hybrid cloud is increasingly being used to offer the best of both worlds. To save costs only applications that are considered business critical or contain highly sensitive data are run on the private cloud. Non critical applications that don’t contain sensitive data are run on the most suitable and cost effective public clouds. This model is particularly useful where development and testing is done in a public cloud and then transferred onto a private cloud as it moves into production with live data. The hybrid model requires significant thought around how applications, data and security policies will be managed to ensure consistency across the different environments, though automation can help with this.
Choosing Your Cloud
No ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to cloud. What’s best for you will be dependent on your existing resources (both technology and people), your applications (some will translate to the cloud, some will not), your current objectives, and your future plans.
The goal of moving to the cloud is often increased flexibility and reduced cost. To achieve that goal you need to make sure the route you choose is the right one for you. If that’s a journey you’re about to embark on, then get in touch with me at tristan.gwinnell[at]avnet.com.
Tristan Gwinnell is a technology sales professional with 10 years' experience of helping businesses select the right solutions to help them address challenges and embrace new opportunities. Working in the Cloud Solutions team, he is supporting customers in creating business solutions from Cloud technology.