Understanding the Cloud

By now pretty much everyone has a general understanding of the cloud. According to IDG, 90% of companies will be using a cloud model in 2019. Whether you’re looking to save money, recognize operational and management efficiencies, or want to improve your archival or disaster recovery process, the cloud has matured in security and reliability, accelerating adoption across industries.

In theory, moving to the cloud sounds simple, in practice, it is far more complex. There are three models of cloud services, Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Most people are now familiar with SaaS, which are cloud applications delivered through your web browser. The first company to deliver SaaS in a meaningful way was Salesforce, though if you use Dropbox, QuickBooks, Trello, or Zoom, you are using the SaaS cloud model.

Image from BMC

Image: BMC

The SaaS model can be adopted by every department, including sales, marketing, accounting, HR, and others. The next two models are IT based and have less of a direct impact on other departments.

IaaS shifts responsibility for fundamental components of your IT infrastructure to a cloud service provider (CSP). The third-party CSP will handle your hardware needs for servers, storage, and networking, as well as other virtualized services you may need. Your team will still be responsible for your operating system, middleware, data, and applications. This model minimizes the need to maintain hardware yourself, while still maintaining control over the software.

PaaS takes IaaS a step further and outsources the operating system, middleware, and related tools, leaving your IT team responsible for just the data and application layers. The third-party CSP now hosts both the hardware and software components of the infrastructure. This is a highly efficient model if you don’t want to spend time and money managing your underlying IT infrastructure and prefer to have your IT team focus on application development.

One element is clear, you need a CSP to support your move to the cloud. A primary reason to adopt cloud computing is to gain the efficiencies of focusing on your business. IT teams today should not be burdened with management of non-core business functions. Their focus should be on business critical applications, while monitoring and optimization of backend systems can be handled by a third-party vendor.

When referring to the cloud, there are a variety of terms you’ll hear, including private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud, and multi cloud.

Hybrid cloud refers to an environment that uses on-premise and private or public cloud based services. A hybrid cloud set up provides you with flexibility and data deployment options while maintaining an on-premise footprint.

The NIST defines the private cloud as, “The cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization comprising multiple consumers (e.g., business units). It may be owned, managed, and operated by the organization, a third party, or some combination of them, and it may exist on or off premises.” Gartner shortens the definition to, “a form of cloud computing that is used by only one organization, or that ensures that an organization is completely isolated from others.”

The public cloud is what most people think of when they hear the term cloud. The primary players are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). The public cloud provides for scalability and elasticity on a pay as you go model. The vendor owns and maintains the resources and users can access them through the internet. While a company can opt for a dedicated environment, the public cloud is primarily multi-tenant, meaning companies share server resources with other companies, though their data remains highly secure.

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