The term “cloud” has evolved over the years from a vague collection of computer systems interconnected for research and collaboration to a multifaceted and lucrative service platform used to host anything and everything that one can imagine. In addition, there isn’t just one cloud anymore, there are now many clouds in existence, both public and private. To go even further, these cloud computing platforms provide different levels of service depending on client needs. Let’s take a look at some of the options when talking about cloud services.
Cloud Services Options
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): At the lowest level, this is the basic components of a functioning computer environment (whether it is physical or virtual). Many cloud providers made their way into the industry offering this level of service before the word “cloud” was really associated and were primarily providing IT staff and hardware for businesses to host their infrastructure on. This level of service can provide resources such as virtualization technologies, raw storage, firewall options and other network connectivity infrastructure as needed. Once provisioned, the client can install their own software and maintain it on the infrastructure according to their specific needs.
Platform as a Service (Paas): Building upon the IaaS level, this service not only provides the necessary IaaS components, but also includes operating environments. These can be as simple as having an Operating System (OS) installed within the platform to having fully ready database systems, web servers, rendering farms, software development environments and more. In addition, the client can bring in and manage supporting applications that might be needed in the environment. The goal here is to not have the client be concerned with the underpinnings of the platform, but rather focus on the specific software needs. In well-developed PaaS environments, the platform can scale up or down seamlessly as demand for resources changes without any interaction from the client.
Software as a Service (SaaS): At the top of the stack, this service provides a specific software package for use. Unlike IaaS and PaaS, which are usually allocated for use by a single entity, SaaS can provide services for a multitude of non-related entities. This multi-tenancy can introduce some unique situations that have to be addressed based on the complexity of the software and how user data is stored. SaaS has gained much popularity over the last few years as an option for providing what can be complex software environments with little overhead to the client. All required maintenance, configuration and updates for the system are handled by the service provider. With this hands-off approach to the hardware and software, the client does need to be comfortable with the data they are leaving in the cloud and how it is protected. Cloud security is a topic at the top of the list for many providers and as such being familiar with the security requirements that a client needs (ISO 27001, SOC 1 & 2, PCI, HIPPA, etc) and how they line up with the cloud provider is important.
Given the growth and maturation of cloud computing platforms over the last several years, these services are not something that can be ignored or put aside as a fad. The use of private clouds within organizations that can manage the platforms are growing and the market on the public front is heating up with many big name players taking to the field vying for their share of the pie. This is the evolution of the computing platform that started out as the mainframe of the 50s and 60s and will continue to evolve as the need for more easily achievable computing platforms increases. If you happened to attend the IQMS User Group 2014 in Las Vegas yesterday, you may have heard more about IQMS’ plans for the development of cloud services.