Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): What businesses need to know

Like other cloud computing packages, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) delivers virtualised computing resources over a network connection, most commonly the Internet. Infrastructure as a Service is an example of the wide range of cloud services now being utilised by businesses. IaaS packages will vary from organisation to organisation, but typically involve hardware, storage, servers, as well as system maintenance and security features. The breadth of services offered by cloud providers often makes IaaS an attractive proposition for businesses that do not have the resources to effectively purchase and maintain their own hardware. Of course, as with other cloud services, IaaS still comes with its risks so businesses must ensure that they are well versed on the finer details of Infrastructure as a Service before committing to a contract.

The complete cloud package

What with all the cloud acronyms doing the rounds (SaaS, DaaS, PaaS) it is perhaps easiest to understand how Infrastructure as a Service differs to other cloud services. With IaaS, customers generally receive virtualised hardware components from which they can create their own cloud platforms and applications. This focus on hardware differentiates it from other forms of cloud computing, such as Platform as a Service or Software as a Service, where businesses generally maintain and configure their own computer hardware or infrastructure. Hardware can be prohibitively expensive for many firms, particularly those without large IT budgets, and so it is not surprising that Infrastructure as a Service is proving one of the most popular branches of cloud computing. In fact, according to a recent study by IDC, IaaS is forecast to be the fastest growing area of cloud computing between 2014 and 2018.

As with other cloud solutions, businesses that adopt IaaS allow a third-party vendor to deliver their IT resources, shifting the complexities and expense to the cloud supplier. Businesses can then utilise their IaaS as they see fit. Common uses for Infrastructure as a Service include delivering applications, storing data, hosting websites on virtual servers, or creating a virtual data centre. The exact nature of an organisation’s IaaS offering will vary based on the supplier and business needs.

Advantages of IaaS

There are a wide range of reasons why businesses are increasingly adopting Infrastructure as a Service.

  • Cost – IaaS, like other cloud computing packages, works via a subscription payment model. This enables businesses to avoid large up-front costs in favour of monthly or annual payments. Particularly when it comes to IaaS, this can mean saving significant sums of money on hardware expenditure. Of course, businesses should still be careful before signing a cloud contract, making sure that are no hidden costs and assessing how flexible the partnership will be. Also, because the costs of Infrastructure as a Service continue to build over time, it may not work out cheaper in the long run.
  • Scalability – If businesses choose to purchase their own IT infrastructure they must carefully assess how much their business is likely to grow before the hardware will need to be updated. What’s more, even if businesses do ensure that their resources are capable of handling business growth, it means that their hardware will remain underutilised in the meantime. With IaaS, scaling up or down operations is a much simpler process. Should an organisation wish to purchase more computer power or server space, their cloud vendor can supply it as and when needed.
  • Mobility – Because IT resources are accessed via an Internet connection, with IaaS businesses and their employees can be truly mobile. Accessing work resources while on the move is easy, simply requiring online access and the user’s login credentials. The modern world of work demands greater flexibility than ever before and adopting IaaS can help organisations become geographically independent.
  • Reliability – Infrastructure as a Service often provides greater reliability than on-premise IT because of the way in which cloud providers can spread resources across multiple servers and, in fact, data centres. This means that if a particular hardware component fails, or even if an entire data centre goes offline, an organisation’s infrastructure should not be affected.

Security challenges and how to tackle them

Although Infrastructure as a Service will not necessary introduce security risks to your business (many cloud suppliers actually provide more reliable security than would be possible in-house), there are some important aspects for companies to be aware of before they embrace IaaS. Because your infrastructure is being accessed over a wireless connection, there is potential for data to be accidentally or deliberately leaked. Should this occur, businesses may face extensive reputational damage and even regulatory fines. However, there are ways to tackle these security challenges head-on before disaster strikes.

The most important security change a company can make is not technical, but cultural. Every employee must be encouraged to take a proactive approach to security, rather than leaving it to the IT team or cloud supplier. Through staff training and clear company messaging, employees will begin to see encryption and strong authentication as an everyday part of their job.

Businesses can also employ rights management software to mitigate any security risks posed by Infrastructure as a Service. Being able to remotely access critical IT resources is of huge benefit to employees, but it could also be abused by an individual or group acting against the company’s best interests. With rights management software, businesses can create access management policies, restrict access to specific data sets and applications and introduce self-destruct procedures for temporary information. This ensures that company security is reinforced without negating the flexibility benefits provided by IaaS.

Overall, it is easy to see why businesses are embracing Infrastructure as a Service. With many cost and reliability benefits, an effective IaaS partnership can provide the impetus to drive businesses forward. Many technology heavyweights provide IaaS in some form, including Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Rackspace and IBM. With the technology likely to develop further in the future, businesses that adopt Infrastructure as a Service now may yet experience even greater benefits in the years to come.

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