Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is one of the three fundamental service models of cloud computing alongside Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). As with all cloud computing services it provides access to computing resource in a virtualised environment, “the Cloud”, across a public connection, usually the internet. In the case of IaaS the computing resource provided is specifically that of virtualised hardware, in other words, computing infrastructure. The definition includes such offerings as virtual server space, network connections, bandwidth, IP addresses and load balancers. Physically, the pool of hardware resource is pulled from a multitude of servers and networks usually distributed across numerous data centers, all of which the cloud provider is responsible for maintaining. The client, on the other hand, is given access to the virtualised components in order to build their own IT platforms.
In common with the other two forms of cloud hosting, IaaS can be utilised by enterprise customers to create cost effective and easily scalable IT solutions where the complexities and expenses of managing the underlying hardware are outsourced to the cloud provider. If the scale of a business customer’s operations fluctuate, or they are looking to expand, they can tap into the cloud resource as and when they need it rather than purchase, install and integrate hardware themselves.
The following are salient examples of how IaaS can be utilised by enterprise:
- Enterprise infrastructure; by internal business networks, such as private clouds and virtual local area networks, which utilise pooled server and networking resources and in which a business can store their data and run the applications they need to operate day-to-day. Expanding businesses can scale their infrastructure in accordance with their growth whilst private clouds (accessible only by the business itself) can protect the storage and transfer of the sensitive data that some businesses are required to handle.
- Cloud hosting; the hosting of websites on virtual servers which are founded upon pooled resources from underlying physical servers. A website hosted in the cloud, for example, can benefit from the redundancy provided by a vast network of physical servers and on demand scalability to deal with unexpected demands placed on the website.
- Virtual Data Centers (VDC); a virtualised network of interconnected virtual servers which can be used to offer enhanced cloud hosting capabilities, enterprise IT infrastructure or to integrate all of these operations within either a private or public cloud implementation.
A typical Infrastructure as a Service offering can deliver the following features and benefits:
- Scalability; resource is available as and when the client needs it and, therefore, there are no delays in expanding capacity or the wastage of unused capacity
- No investment in hardware; the underlying physical hardware that supports an IaaS service is set up and maintained by the cloud provider, saving the time and cost of doing so on the client side
- Utility style costing; the service can be accessed on demand and the client only pays for the resource that they actually use
- Location independence; the service can usually be accessed from any location as long as there is an internet connection and the security protocol of the cloud allows it
- Physical security of data centre locations; services available through a public cloud, or private clouds hosted externally with the cloud provider, benefit from the physical security afforded to the servers which are hosted within a data centre
- No single point of failure; if one server or network switch, for example, were to fail, the broader service would be unaffected due to the remaining multitude of hardware resources and redundancy configurations. For many services if one entire data center were to go offline, nevermind one server, the IaaS service could still run successfully.