IaaS: Highly scalable IT infrastructure from the cloud
Cloud computing is one of the cornerstones of modern businesses, because renting and using virtualized resources in the cloud not only provides a high degree of flexibility, but also saves the in-house IT department a lot of effort. Those who opt for services such as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) not only benefit from practical scaling and billing models, but also pass on unpleasant tasks such as setting up and maintaining the individual software and hardware components to the provider. Especially with the IaaS model, where you rent a complete IT infrastructure, the advantages of cloud computing become quickly and clearly apparent.
What is IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service)?
Infrastructure-as-a-Service, or IaaS for short, is a service in which a provider rents out its own IT infrastructure and makes it available via the Internet. For this purpose, this cloud provider usually operates its own data centers, where corresponding hardware is stored, administered and maintained. In this way, IaaS providers can grant access to computer computing power (processor, RAM, hard disk storage) and complete network structures (including firewalls, routers and security/back-up systems), the scope of which you as the customer can freely dispose of. Thus, on the one hand, you can choose which infrastructure resources you want to use and, on the other hand, how many servers, routers, firewalls you want to use and, furthermore, what performance data (CPU, RAM, etc.) the various network elements should have.
The rented IaaS resources can be scaled up or down at any time if necessary, for example if you want to integrate another server or throttle the set computing power. With most providers, however, you only pay for the components you actually use. This high degree of flexibility results from the fact that Infrastructure-as-a-Service offerings are generally not tied to dedicated hardware, which means that the provider can optimally divide the resources of its data centers among its customers. In order to be able to guarantee the reliability and security of its service in the long term, the provider also takes care of the maintenance and modernization of the data center hardware and the installation of corresponding security systems and devices. This naturally also includes the replacement of defective parts.
How does IaaS work and how are responsibilities divided?
Infrastructure-as-a-Service works according to the shared responsibility principle. Both the provider and the customer themselves have different areas of responsibility that need to be covered in order to provide or use the cloud resources optimally. The IaaS provider is responsible for the setup, operation and security of the hardware. In this context, we also speak of the physical environment, which the provider must prepare in such a way that it is available to users at all times. The key tasks of the IaaS operator include:
Setting up, maintaining and regularly upgrading the data center infrastructure
Securing the data center against external influences
Provision of computing power (CPU, RAM) and storage space
Provision of server and network structures and databases
Creating a virtualization environment through which customers can access the offered IaaS resources
Providing software that enables customers to control and administer the virtualized IT infrastructure. Based on these hardware and software structures, customers can then assemble and manage their own small data center. However, this not only involves organizing and using this logical environment, but also taking security measures to protect the virtualized IaaS resources used. The tasks that need to be completed on the customer side can be summarized as follows:
Selection and structuring of the desired, virtual infrastructure
Installation, configuration and regular updating of operating systems and any application software required for the customer's own purposes
Administration of the IaaS network and configuration of firewalls
Securing of operating systems and any other installed software (applies of course also to own applications) by security software
Encryption of data and data connections
Setting up authentication mechanisms, identity and access controls
What types of Infrastructure-as-a-Service are there?
Depending on how the service is provided, three different types of IaaS solutions can basically be distinguished:
Public IaaS is the basic variant of the practical cloud service. The designation "Public" (i.e. public) comes from the fact that the resources offered are basically shared by all customers of the provider and accessed via the Internet. However, the shared use of the hardware leads to conflicts, as all resources are virtualized and thus detached from a specific computer.
The concept of Private IaaS deviates from the actual Infrastructure-as-a-Service idea in that an in-house IT department, rather than an external service provider, is responsible for providing and leasing the resources. In this way, the company benefits from the possibilities of IaaS technology without relinquishing control over data and security. However, the advantage of flexible scalability is lost - in addition, the company itself is responsible for the physical environment.
Finally, Hybrid IaaS is a solution that combines public and private IaaS. With this solution, resources are obtained from both an in-house service provider and an external provider. In this way, it is possible to manage sensitive company data on one's own, while the scalable third-party resources are used for other purposes.
Overview of popular IaaS business scenarios
Infrastructure-as-a-Service is not suitable for every company and every purpose. For example, someone who is simply looking for some storage space is likely to find more favorable deals with an online storage service than with an IaaS provider. The situation is similar when it comes to selecting a suitable provider for hosting simple company websites - in this area, classic web hosters usually offer far more favorable deals
The following table shows in which business scenarios Infrastructure-as-a-Service is more than just a simple alternative to classic hosting scenarios or own on-site infrastructure:
Program development and testing
Software companies can benefit greatly from the flexibility of an IaaS solution. With little effort, development and testing environments can be set up, scaled and subsequently dissolved again.
Hosting sophisticated web projects
While Infrastructure-as-a-Service is hardly worthwhile for simple websites, it can form the optimal basis for complex web projects (especially for projects with highly fluctuating traffic, such as online stores).
Setting up complex storage and back-up solutions
Setting up a central file storage and back-up facility for numerous users is a very complex task that can be completed in just a few steps using IaaS.
Web app deployment
A virtualized IT infrastructure delivers everything needed to deploy web applications - whether it's compute power, storage, web servers or application servers. Excellent scalability also means you can respond quickly and easily to the latest access numbers.
Solving complex tasks with several million variables or calculations usually requires the use of supercomputers or clusters. Thanks to the almost unlimited scaling possibilities, IaaS is a good alternative.
Big Data analysis
Collecting huge amounts of user data is one of the most important building blocks of modern marketing. Even more important than collecting this information, however, is processing it, which can demand a lot from the hardware. An optimally tuned IaaS setup can also be convincing in this task.