While the dedicated server environment still maintains substantial market share, it is becoming increasingly difficult for medium size and enterprise level companies to ignore the significant opportunities presented through the cloud. Third party service providers facilitate the accessibility of data, applications and web related activity in a highly interactive and flexible environment. They also provide multiple options that allow for rapid expansion and contraction of data facilities based on current levels of sales activity and economic dynamics. This helps avoid unrecoverable capital investments in data centres, equipment and personnel, when the need may have been temporary or seasonal.
As stringent regulations for data centre energy efficiency continue to be implemented, managers and administrators are under increasing pressure to control power consumption and overall asset performance. The cost of implementing complex data centre infrastructure management tools while upgrading deficient assets provides another incentive to migrate key IT responsibilities into the cloud.
Advantages of Cloud Hosting
Service providers offer a variety of cloud hosting solutions including, public, private and hybrid cloud environments (what is a hybrid cloud). The architecture and framework that defines each category affords different levels of vertical integration based on the varying performance characteristics of each model. This allows the client to prioritise specific security requirements based on the sensitivity of the data and potential loss consequences.
Within that context, the cloud presents substantial benefits in several industry critical areas when compared to traditional data centre configurations.
Flexibility: Rapid provisioning of VM’s in the cloud provides exceptional flexibility and scalability that allows the client to accurately match actual needs to required capacities. VM’s can be effortlessly engaged and disengaged through the client’s portal. This creates a fluid and adaptable mechanism to accommodate current requirements while avoiding the costly and time-consuming process of reconfiguring infrastructure.
Redundancy: Sever malfunction is an IT reality that often results in extended downtime, corrupted data, website inaccessibility and lost sales opportunities. By its compositional nature, the cloud accommodates multiple layers of redundant operations. This dynamic virtually assures a business that continuity of data operations will be consistently maintained, while disruptive incidents are largely eliminated.
Security: For medium and enterprise level data centre environments, hybrid and private clouds allow the client to maintain a precise level of control over sensitive applications. Technology for enhanced security in the cloud continues to evolve rapidly as hosts employ a variety of security measures to assure hypervisor integrity and the reliability of virtual guest operating systems.
The Cloud Computing Stack
As various models of cloud computing continue to emerge, the architecture and anatomy of the associated structural components always begin with the “cloud stack.” While newer definitions of the stack often include clients, services and applications, the core always revolves around three crucial elements:
- Platform as a Service
- Infrastructure as a Service
- Software as a Service
PaaS – Platform as a Service
At its core, Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a specific protocol designed to accommodate the rapid development of web-based applications without the need to purchase complex software and utilise the associated infrastructure elements.
In the past, methodologies employed to run in-house applications have always proven to be expensive and relatively complicated. The daunting number of elements required to initiate a project included an operating system, hardware, database, web based servers and a variety of other software components. Substantial expertise from numerous disciplines was needed to organise and execute complicated programming models like J2EE. Various teams of database and systems experts were assembled around conflicting schedules to coordinate, test and deploy. The lengthy nature of the process often lead to frequent project re-evaluation and structural changes brought on by rapidly shifting business dynamics. This is in turn resulted in additional modifications and subsequent delays, and the consequence was a cycle of frustration and confusion for the development team.
PaaS presents an on-demand distribution model where the actual development tools are accessed in the cloud through a web browser. Third party service providers offer a platform where developers construct applications without the requirement for any actual in-house software components. Businesses can then publish the resultant applications online without the need for localised systems or any special skill set. PaaS applications are readily available across the globe via the internet.
In situations where multiple developers are heavily integrated with external designers, PaaS can be especially useful in accommodating collaborative efforts. This is especially true in circumstances where automated testing and deployment is involved. PaaS allows IT departments to redirect time and resources away from fine tuning complicated infrastructure and toward innovating new applications that will help promote the core business.
The on-going development of PaaS is establishing a new frontier in the creation of a myriad of powerful and functional applications. Through a simple internet connection, designers can now collaborate on a global scale to coordinate the introduction of applications based on specific geographic and intellectual requirements. The ability to rapidly scale in order to meet the needs of clients in real-time will continue to result in further enhancements in the rapidly evolving business cycle.
IaaS- Infrastructure as a Service
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a methodology that serves as a conduit for delivering cloud computing infrastructure to clients in the form of an on-demand service. Resources are purchased as they are needed and called up according to demand. This eliminates the need for servers, storage facilities, networks and operating systems.
As a consequence of IaaS implementation, the traditional data centre has come under increasing pressure to justify continuing capital investment, escalating operating costs, maintenance requirements and regulatory compliance. Since IaaS services are cloud based, they are scaled to the needs of the client and adapt quickly to changes in the business cycle. The need for perpetual reinvestment in assets and infrastructure is virtually eliminated, while cyclical obsolescence is avoided. IT departments can be streamlined, and fixed employee costs can be substantially reduced. For enterprise level facilities, data centre build-outs can be drastically scaled back or eliminated altogether.
Clients utilising the IaaS platform benefit from the seamless integration of applications across a variety of virtual infrastructure elements. This tends to provide a “smoothing out” effect for services regardless of the fluctuating volatility of demand. Spikes and troughs are handled effortlessly without loss of functionality or performance.
IaaS implementation can give an organisation the ability to transfer IT related budgetary appropriations to sales or operations where tangible benefits translate to top line revenue growth. Expanding companies recognise the advantages of IaaS in terms of the rapid scaling of services where the introduction of hardware assets within a limited timeframe would prove to be problematic.
Service providers who specialise in IaaS solutions can offer assistance in establishing cloud environments that will facilitate the growth of any business with current load deficits and future growth expectations. As operating expenses are reduced, control over IT infrastructure is actually enhanced. IaaS application tools simplify the business process and offer efficient scaling to meet demand without investing capital in servers and other hardware components that will inevitably experience accelerated obsolescence.
SaaS- Software as a Service
SaaS- Software as a Service is widely used in distribution models where on-demand software is hosted in the cloud rather than on the client’s servers. Providers extend license agreements to their clients either contractually or through pay-per-use models. In fact, some providers offer hosting services for free when there is an opportunity to generate revenue from user-list sales or other forms of advertisement.
The SaaS market is growing rapidly and on-going implementation is expected to become commonplace. In instances where applications are non-critical, SaaS can offer significant benefits. Email and email campaigns are examples of applications that offer no competitive advantage in the event of a breach, but provide attractive benefits in terms of scope and associated cost.
Access to SaaS based applications is available through any remote computer, and the inherent structure is particularly well suited for mobile devices. Since the highly familiar web browser interface is the preferred method for accessing SaaS, there is a low learning threshold a corresponding high rate of adoption.
The reliance on the provider for SaaS services eliminates the need for any upgrades, patches or periodic updates. The cloud host manages availability, so there is no requirement for additional hardwired components, bandwidth or software. Removing these obstacles allows clients to expand or contract their marketplace presence based entirely on the requirements of the user base.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to SaaS implementation is the ability to accommodate customer demand through virtually indefinite scaling. Providers work closely with clients to develop specific strategies, which include customisation capabilities. Most allow integration with many common business productivity systems. This includes many CRM applications that contain modules for email, expense reporting, sales contacts and financial management. The growing popularity of SaaS stems primarily from the ability to simplify the deployment, tracking and maintenance of associated applications. Developers can increase customer exposure with just a single version of a product. Ultra-fast scaling allows businesses to adapt to customer demands rather than degrading service due to infrastructure constraints
Future Evolution of the Cloud
The definition of cloud computing continues to evolve as hosting providers work to develop secure services within an environment that is highly flexible and scalable. Through the continuing adoption of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS protocols, the essential cloud stack offers undeniable advantages for businesses of all sizes.
As the accelerating velocity of cloud computing becomes increasingly mainstream in nature, it will undoubtedly become the method of preference for delivering advanced IT services. As with any new, revolutionary trend, businesses on the leading edge of the technology curve tend to gain a significant and long-term competitive advantage.
Jonathon Linnell is an Internet Marketing Consultant for UKFast.net Ltd, a leading provider of managed cloud and dedicated hosting solutions. He has worked in both independent web agencies as well as industry leading internet service providers, supporting a vast amount of businesses and working in many different industries has given him a great insight in to how technology is affecting online behaviour and commerce.