What is Cloud Infrastructure?
Over the past two decades, the cloud computing model has changed the way that most enterprise organizations manage their information technology systems and resources. In the past, a company that wanted to develop IT capabilities was required to establish its own on-premise IT infrastructure. That meant leasing a data center, bearing the up-front capital costs of new computer equipment and developing in-house capabilities to develop and maintain applications. For many small and medium-sized organizations, the massive technical and financial requirements of building and maintaining IT infrastructure were cost-prohibitive.
Cloud computing has created the opportunity for organizations to access the data storage and computing capabilities that they require, on an as-needed basis and with a significantly reduced up-front cost. Instead of establishing their own on-premise IT infrastructure, a company can pay to rent cloud infrastructure and the related capabilities and components from a third-party cloud service provider such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure.
Cloud infrastructure consists of all hardware and software components that are needed to support the delivery of cloud services to the customer. The main physical components of cloud infrastructure are networking equipment, servers and data storage. Cloud infrastructure also includes a hardware abstraction layer that enables the virtualization of resources and helps to drive down costs through economies of scale.
Cloud Infrastructure in Three Cloud Architectures
Cloud infrastructure is not the exclusive domain of third-party public cloud service providers. In fact, all three of the most widely adopted cloud architecture models use the same basic components of cloud infrastructure to deliver computing services.
In the private cloud architecture model, the cloud infrastructure is accessed by just a single organization. Private cloud architecture may be developed and maintained by on-site IT staff or it may be delivered by an external service provider.
The public cloud consists of third-party cloud service providers who offer cloud resources to paying customers over the internet. Public cloud providers use a multi-tenant environment model to leverage economies of scale and lower the cost of computing power and data storage for their customers. The multi-tenant environment is effective at lowering the overall cost of computing resources, but it may also create privacy concerns for companies that deal with sensitive data.
Hybrid cloud computing environments are defined as private and public cloud systems interacting with each other in a separate, but connected system. Organizations that deal with sensitive data may choose to maintain data privacy by storing some sensitive information in on-site servers while hosting less sensitive applications and other resources in the public cloud where the cost may be lower. Organizations that use hybrid cloud maintain their own private cloud environments but may leverage public cloud services for additional capacity or computing tasks on a flexible basis.
Three Cloud Infrastructure Delivery Models
Public cloud service providers deliver cloud infrastructure and related services in three main delivery models: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). The three delivery models vary in terms of which parts of the technology stack are outsourced and which aspects the customer will provide.
In the IaaS model, a cloud service provider delivers networking, data storage, servers, and virtualization capabilities. The customer gains access to as much data storage and computing power as they need, but will be required to provide their own software platform to run on it. This includes operating systems, runtime, middleware, data, and applications.
In the PaaS model, a cloud service provider delivers the full cloud infrastructure (networks, servers, data, virtualization) along with a software platform that includes operating systems, middleware and runtime. The PaaS model is meant to provide customers with the capability to develop, test, deploy and operate their own applications in the cloud, without the typical expense and complexity of building on-site IT infrastructure.
In the SaaS model, a service provider delivers an application through a web-based portal. This removes the need for the customer to store any information about the application on their local hard disk - all of the data storage is located on the servers of the service provider. SaaS companies are responsible for every aspect of the technology stack, from maintaining the cloud infrastructure that supports the application to the application itself.
Cloud Infrastructure Components Explained
When an organization purchases cloud computing services under the IaaS model, they are renting or leasing access to computing power, data storage, networking and virtualization capabilities that are owned by another company. Each component of cloud infrastructure plays a role in helping these organizations successfully deploy and deliver applications and other services:
Cloud resources are typically delivered to users over the internet, so there is a need for third-party service providers to build and maintain the networking infrastructure that makes this possible. This infrastructure includes physical wiring, switches, load balancers and routers that help ensure cloud infrastructure is always available for customers when needed.
A server is simply a computer or device that has been programmed to provide a service to a customer or user. There are web servers that serve HTML or PHP files using the HTTP protocol, file servers that store large volumes of information, mail servers that send e-mail over the internet and several other types. In private cloud deployments, organizations may use dedicated servers to store information, while public cloud providers use the multi-tenant model and may use the same server to provide services for more than one customer.
Cloud storage services allow organizations to store and manage data on off-site file servers instead of building their own physical data centers. Third-party cloud storage providers like Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Storage can manage and maintain data along with remote back-ups. Data that is stored in the cloud can be accessed via the internet or queried by other applications that are deployed in the cloud. Cold data (data that is not actively being used) can also be stored in cloud infrastructure.
Virtualization may be the most important aspect of cloud infrastructure. Virtualization software abstracts the available data storage and computing power away from the actual hardware, enabling users to interact with their cloud infrastructure through a graphical user interface. Computing resources and data storage are often virtualized in cloud computing, making it easier for users to leverage these resources with added simplicity and less waste.
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