The building blocks of the cloud

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To borrow a turn of phrase from research and advisory firm Gartner, cloud computing is the new norm.

But the question that seldom gets a straight answer is what exactly is cloud computing?

The cloud is comprised of various aspects that work together to accomplish a goal. For example, the combination of hardware and application development has allowed anybody with a smartphone to store data off-site. Businesses are able to deploy applications based in the cloud easily thanks to infrastructure and software stacks that allow for an open development platform.

There are various other applications for the cloud but they all rely on a common factor – infrastructure.

Infrastructure is the building block of any cloud solution. The trouble is that hardware is costly and keeping up with advancements in technology can prove to be a full time job. This means that a company would have to invest huge sums of capital to just dip a toe into cloud computing, or at least it would have to in the past.

Infrastructure is a rather wide term which encompasses hardware, connectivity, end points and even – in some instances – software. As relates to software, many IaaS providers offered managed services for hardware. For instance, if your firm has a bring your own device policy, a service provider could ensure that the software on those devices is up to date and the required security protocols are being adhered to.

These days there are a number of firms that offer infrastructure for cloud computing as a service. This makes accessing the latest technology easier and more cost effective because you are simply renting the required infrastructure.

To put it as simply as possible, being able to “rent” infrastructure means that startup costs for cloud projects are cheaper as a business doesn’t need to go out and physically purchase equipment.

There are three different ways that IaaS can be deployed:

  • Cloud – all aspects of this deployment are deployed and run virtually in the cloud.
  • Hybrid – this deployment connects cloud resources with an existing on-premises solution.
  • On-premises – this deployment is often used when dedicated resources are required on-premises but it often lacks the benefits of the other deployment options.

Many businesses feel as if moving to the cloud requires surrendering control but this is not the case. Trusted IaaS providers take great care in providing the highest level of service that meets the needs of customers because it is in their best interest. Of course this isn’t always the case which is why a business needs to do its homework before signing contracts.

Transforming CAPEX into OPEX

Perhaps the biggest reason so many businesses have turned to infrastructure as a service is its ability to transform capital expenditure into operating expenses.

In the past companies would have to pay huge sums of money every year for incremental upgrades to its technology capabilities. These days a firm can make use of IaaS to improve these capabilities but a company shouldn’t just go with the cheapest option.

As many companies are making the move to cloud computing it’s important to assess the needs of your firm from an IaaS provider.

“The biggest mistake is investing in cloud infrastructure with the main purpose of driving down bottom line costs. This typically results in businesses seeking out the cheapest solution in the market that invariably runs on cheap unreliable hardware and software. We call these sticky-tape solutions and they lead to unnecessary downtime or poor performance, giving businesses the impression that cloud technology isn’t there yet,” says Andrew Cruise, CEO of cloud infrastructure firm Routed.

So while cloud computing can help lower costs that should not be the reason a firm opts into this technology. As Cruise puts it, mistakes regarding IaaS can be just as costly as mistakes made with a firm’s own infrastructure.

“It’s not the same thing with a different flavour, it requires a shift in mindset and a different approach to planning, implementing and supporting. Unfortunately, this often leads to businesses over investing and wasting money, and as a result, tainting their view of cloud and cloud providers,” adds Cruise.

Bills in all sizes

What makes IaaS such an attractive model for startups in particular is that there is no need to own infrastructure and – by extension – hand over large sums of money to put it into place.

This is vital for firms operating on an agile basis where the ability to scale operations on-demand can mean the difference between failure and success.

On the opposite end of the spectrum firms can use the predictability of IaaS billing to their advantage. Some IaaS providers will offer discounts if a year-long contract is signed with them

By far and away the most popular IaaS payment model is pay-as-you-go. This helps a firm plan more effectively while pushing away the threat of bill shock. This has the added benefit of allowing a business to switch IaaS providers should the need arise.

As cloud computing has evolved over the years so to have providers. There are various solutions available as regards infrastructure with multiple pricing models. While this might prove confusing given the wide degree of choice, this is why planning a transition to the cloud is so vital.

There are myriad types of IaaS offerings because every business is different so be sure to conduct extensive research to find the solution that meets your needs.

Take your service everywhere

IaaS is accessible from practically everywhere. From servers to storage to hardware your staff might use there are multiple providers who can meet your needs.

These providers can often offer managed IaaS solutions. This means that maintenance, updates and upgrades are conducted by the provider rather than by your firm. This often comes paired with a service level agreement. For this reason it’s vital to consider whether your business needs managed services or whether it will manage infrastructure internally.

The truly wonderful thing about IaaS is that there is no need to “rip and replace” hardware should you need to move premises. While you might need to inform the provider of notebooks and other end-points that you are using as a service that you are moving, remote servers and the like are an internet connection away.

This means less – or no – downtime.

With managed services companies one can also get additional value in the form of backup services, disaster recovery and security at a far lower cost than if it was done internally.

There is also the benefit of being able to spin up infrastructure as and when you need it through virtualisation. This allows for scaling at pace and in a world that has adopted an agile mentality being able to expand services as and when needed is vital.

There are many ways to implement IaaS and while it might be tempting to just dive right in, it is vital that planning is done correctly or mistakes could end up costing your business a lot of time and money.

IaaS has numerous benefits for your business from both a financial and operational perspective. South African businesses have access to a variety of IaaS providers and with Microsoft bringing an Azure data centre to South Africa before the close of 2018, cloud computing is set to grow exponentially. If there was ever a time to consider how IaaS can help your business it is now.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]


Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.