What is infrastructure as a service?
Infrastructure as a service, or simply IaaS, is a cloud computing model that provides customers with virtualized computing, storage, and networking services. Customers communicate with services over the internet and usually pay per minute, hour, week, or month of using the service in a pay-as-you-go system.
IaaS belongs to the broader cloud as a service category, which also includes the following cloud service models:
- Platform as a service
- Software as a service
- Serverless computing
IaaS allows access to virtual structures that function just as on-premise data centers but eliminates the need for a company to buy, install, and maintain physical hardware.
IaaS platform and architecture
A typical IaaS architecture consists of several layers. Each of these layers plays an important role in providing computing services to customers.
This element refers to the physical components, meaning any machines that make up the IaaS service, such as servers and data centers. IaaS providers use very powerful machines capable of serving multiple clients, making their resources available over the internet.
As a customer using IaaS, you can purchase a virtual machine (VM) that meets your and your organization’s needs. Such VMs use the resources of physical computers managed by the IaaS provider. One powerful physical machine can accommodate multiple VMs, allocating each as much power as it needs and thus providing one of the most important benefits of IaaS – scalability.
The network element in infrastructure as a service is responsible for communication between all the other components and communication with the end user over the web. It includes routers, switches, and other network components.
Networking in the cloud is made possible through network virtualization.
IaaS uses three options for storage:
- File storage
- Block storage
- Object storage
File storage is a traditional type of data storage that you certainly know about because your computer also uses it. It involves organizing and storing data hierarchically, with files existing within each other (e.g., folders containing subfolders containing files).
On the other hand, block storage involves splitting data into blocks and storing them as separate parts that can be kept on different platforms.
The last type – object storage – is the most common in IaaS. It’s a relatively inexpensive storage method and is suitable for storing various unstructured data types.
How does infrastructure as a service work?
IaaS providers make their services available over the internet and act as hosts that maintain all the resources that customers use. IaaS allows you to use virtualized resources as if they physically belonged to your organization. You can use virtual machines to install your own operating systems, create and store databases, or back up data.
IaaS providers offer additional tools to monitor infrastructure usage. These include solutions that support observing and analyzing system performance, tracking costs, troubleshooting, disaster recovery, or automating routine tasks.
IaaS use cases
Cloud infrastructure as a service is a versatile and flexible enough solution to find many applications, including:
A variety of businesses use cloud computing services to host their websites because of the scalability of this solution. They can handle different traffic levels and provide a good customer experience no matter the circumstances.
IaaS solutions work great whenever the amount of stored data is significant, the volume of which may change the future. Scalability allows the infrastructure to match these volumes flexibly.
Program testing and development
Virtualized computing resources provided by the IaaS model work well during program testing and development. They provide security and scalability for deployment of projects of variable complexity.
Big data analysis
Cloud infrastructure resources are also very useful in big data analysis, which is often resource intensive. IaaS services provide the space to store large amounts of data and the computing power to process it.
What are the benefits of infrastructure as a service?
Infrastructure as a service providers are wildly popular for several reasons:
Scalability is one of the main advantages of IaaS that makes organizations eager to choose it. The virtual infrastructure hosted by IaaS providers can be very easily adapted to your current needs.
Physical infrastructure can be expanded, but this is costly, and there’s a risk that the investment won’t pay off if the actual demand for resources turns out to be lower than expected. IaaS allows you to increase and decrease resources as needed, letting your business grow but also saving you money since you don’t pay for the resources you don’t use.
The IaaS environment allows you to test ideas without worrying about them misfiring. In a cloud computing model, you can experiment and test solutions without investing in physical hardware. If the changes are beneficial, you can consider implementing them in a traditional model.
IaaS services are reliable because the providers are the ones who make sure their services are available, provide good customer experience, and are competitive. They build their services to be mostly fail-safe and take care of hardware and software problems and upgrades so you don’t have to worry about it.
IaaS services are usually cheaper than buying and installing hardware and hiring competent staff to maintain it. Costs can be further optimized thanks to the scalability since, in the IaaS model, you pay for what you use rather than for purchased equipment that later collects dust.
What are the challenges of using IaaS?
Cloud computing services have many advantages, but they also have disadvantages that you should be aware of:
Unlike traditional on-premise infrastructure, which is the organization’s responsibility, IaaS security is a shared concern between the provider and the customer.
Infrastructure as service providers are usually very careful to ensure all good safety practices because this affects customer trust. However, entrusting important data to a third party is always somewhat risky.
Cloud services are only as safe as their providers, so as a customer, you should always try to understand the risks and conduct proper research.
Regardless of the provider’s quality, you should also take care of encryption and access control as well as maintain other good security practices yourself.
Industries and markets may differ in their data security and privacy regulatory requirements. Sometimes, cloud services might not comply with these requirements. Before you start using a service, check to ensure you are not exposing yourself to legal complications.
Depending on the quality of the IaaS provider, outages and downtime may occur due to the nature of this solution, which involves multiple customers using the same hardware. If an outage or overload happens on the provider’s side, you, as the customer, may suffer the consequences of slowdowns.
Common IaaS providers in the market
A few infrastructure as a service providers have managed to rise above others in terms of popularity, many of them are on the market. Here are some of the most widely known names:
- Google Cloud Platform. Regarding IaaS, Google offers many computing, storage, and other solutions.
- Microsoft Azure. Azure is eagerly used by many companies around the world. This secure platform provides access to scalable virtual resources, storage space, and other IaaS benefits.
- IBM Cloud. IBM is one of the better-known names in the IT world. The company offers many cloud services, including bare metal servers and storage services.
- Amazon Web Services. Global giant Amazon offers a range of cloud services, providing customers with a virtual infrastructure to store data and analyze it.
IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS
IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS belong to a common broad cloud computing category. Both have points in common with IaaS, but include some additional features.
Platform as a service includes elements of IaaS, but unlike it, it also provides operating systems and all necessary middleware. It provides fewer customization options but is easier and faster to deploy.
Software as a service is a model in which the vendor provides not only the infrastructure but the entire application, which is available to customers after logging in. It can be used without installation. Configuration options are limited, but the provider takes care of the efficiency of the infrastructure and the application.
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