An organisation’s success is contingent upon the quality of its foundation, which is why a robust infrastructure has long been considered the key to an effective IT strategy.
It would make sense, then, as cloud computing grows in popularity and the landscape moves towards everything ‘as a service’, that an organisation’s first port of call would be Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which pertains to the fundamental hardware level.
More commonly, however, an organisation’s foray in the cloud starts at the opposite end of the spectrum, with Software as a Service (SaaS).
Starting with SaaS
The fact that SaaS apps are hosted in the cloud somewhere, and not on your infrastructure, makes them easy to add incrementally as employee and business requirements demand. They also usually mean quick wins for workplace productivity and collaboration, as they are similar to (or the same as) the consumer technologies employees use outside of work.
By the same token, SaaS apps are also extremely difficult to manage. This consumerisation of technology has caused the lines between professional and personal environments to blur. Staff can easily procure new cloud-based apps to help them complete work tasks without IT’s authorisation, and use their personal mobile devices to check work email, review company data, manage projects, and create content, often using apps that lie outside the corporate firewall.
Company data is no longer protected in on site servers and carefully delivered to well-controlled client devices, and many organisations are facing significant security risks because their traditional hardware infrastructure can’t support the ubiquity of data.
Where you may have been able to get away with sweating your IT assets previously, now it’s critical that your infrastructure is always up to speed and designed for agility.
Putting IaaS first
This used to mean regular, laborious infrastructure upgrades and constant monitoring, but Infrastructure as a Service has changed that.
Rather than building and managing a data centre on site, organisations now have the option to rent space in a virtual data centre from an IaaS provider. In most cases this eliminates the need for an organisation to maintain its own storage, processing, networking, and other IT system components.
The scalable design of IaaS environments makes this approach extremely well suited as a first step towards a full commitment to the cloud model.
More than a cost saver
Shifting IT systems into the cloud means no longer being bound by physical constraints. The ability to quickly and cost effectively add any number of cloud-based servers, within minutes instead of weeks, can be fundamentally transformative for an organisation.
In saying that, IaaS is not just about freeing organisations from the limitations of existing hardware, but enabling them to experience more of what the cloud has to offer. Much of the value of IaaS comes from being able to use it as an agile springboard for other managed cloud services.
To understand this concept, it helps to see IaaS as part of the bigger picture. There are three fundamental layers of the cloud computing ‘stack’:
- The hardware layer: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) – Delivers virtualised computing resources including servers, storage, network, and operating systems.
- The middleware layer: Platform as a Service (PaaS) – Similar to SaaS, except instead of delivering the software, it delivers a dedicated space to develop and run the software in a pre-production environment.
- The application layer: Software as a Service (SaaS) – Rather than purchase software outright and installing it on a device, software and applications are delivered via a web browser.
Since IaaS is at the base level, it’s foundational to any other cloud initiatives. By providing a layer of virtualised hardware that delivers the computing power and data centres required for applications to run, it optimises the environment and primes an organisation for SaaS and PaaS adoption.
As a recent article in The Register states, “We do see a trend toward starting with IaaS and then graduating to PaaS”, and explains that PaaS even enhances IaaS by providing more cost savings and service improvements.
Therefore, moving a business to the cloud becomes much easier – and drives more business value – when IaaS provides the managed infrastructure backbone that enables a company to bend and stretch at will.