Cloud Infrastructure Definition
Cloud infrastructure is a collective term used to refer to the various components that enable cloud computing, including hardware, software, network devices, data storage and an abstraction layer that allows users to access virtualized resources.
How Does Cloud Infrastructure Work?
The cloud environment is enabled by a process known as virtualization. Put simply, virtualization is the process of making a “virtual version” of a physical asset, such as a piece of hardware or software.
Once created, virtual resources are then abstracted, meaning that they are separated from the physical asset that they are linked to and re-provisioned in the cloud.
Automation software and other tools are then used to create an interface that allows users to access cloud resources on demand via the internet.
Why Use Cloud Infrastructure?
Cloud services have become a necessary component for most organizations’ long-term strategic growth plans. The cloud makes it possible to store, analyze and access huge amounts of data, which are required to enable various intelligent automation technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) applications.
From an IT perspective, shifting to the cloud also offers important cost savings and efficiencies. This is because organizations are not required to purchase or maintain traditional onsite infrastructure elements or dedicate staff to their operation. Further, in many cases, cloud infrastructure is shared by several users, which also drives costs down for each party.
Finally, a cloud-based model is highly scalable, meaning that businesses can easily and quickly add or remove storage or computing resources based on their real-time needs.
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What Are the Components of Cloud Infrastructure?
Cloud infrastructure consists of four main components:
As with a traditional on-premises IT infrastructure, a cloud infrastructure requires physical hardware. Common hardware components include servers, routers, firewalls, endpoints, CPU, RAM, load balancers and other networking equipment. These hardware components can be located virtually anywhere and are networked together within the cloud environment.
One of the most notable components at the hardware level are servers. Put simply, a server is a device that is programmed to provide services to customers. This category includes: web servers, which host digital content online; file servers, which store data and other assets; and mail servers, which provide the foundation for email communication.
Virtualization is the creation of a virtual environment that enables IT services not bound by hardware. In the case of the cloud infrastructure, virtualization software abstracts data storage and computing power away from the hardware, thereby allowing the users to interact with the cloud infrastructure through their own hardware via a graphical user interface (GUI).
Cloud storage services are off-site file servers that take the place of traditional physical data centers. Like on-premises databases, cloud storage services store and manage data; typically third-party data storage services also back up stores. In this model, users can access data through the internet or a connected cloud-based application.
Typically organizations leverage a third-party service provider, such as Amazon Simple Storage, Google Cloud Storage or Microsoft Azure, to host cloud data storage centers and related services.
Because cloud resources are delivered to users over the internet, there must be a networking component that connects those resources to the user. Networking services include hardware components, such as physical wiring, switches, load balancers and routers, as well as the virtualization layer that ensures cloud services are available and accessible to users remotely on demand.
What Are the Types of Cloud Architecture?
There are three main types of cloud architecture:
Public Cloud Architecture
A public cloud model is one in which infrastructure is hosted by a third-party service provider and shared by multiple customers or tenants. While each tenant maintains control of their account, data and applications hosted in the cloud, the infrastructure itself is common to all customers.
The public cloud model tends to be the most affordable, because the cost of the platform is shared among a group of users. However, it is also associated with greater risk since each tenant is responsible for maintaining the security of its data and users. A breach in one account can jeopardize security across all public cloud users.
Private Cloud Architecture
As the name suggests, a private or single-tenant deployment model is one in which the cloud infrastructure is offered via the private cloud and is used exclusively by one customer. In this model, cloud resources could be managed by the organization or the third-party provider.
While this model is generally far more expensive than a public option, it is often leveraged by companies, organizations or government agencies that manage or store sensitive information such as personal data, financial transactions or intellectual property (IP). Using the private cloud grants these organizations more control and enhanced security of their data, as well as the ability to comply with any relevant government or industry regulations.
Hybrid Cloud Architecture
Organizations are increasingly leveraging a hybrid cloud environment that combines elements of a public cloud, private cloud, and on-premises infrastructure into a single, common, unified architecture. This model grants organizations the option to deploy applications and services on a private or public cloud depending on the application use case, presence of sensitive data or regulatory requirements. The hybrid environment grants organizations increased flexibility and cost efficiencies, while also providing enhanced security.
To learn more about the differences between public, private and hybrid cloud deployment, read our related Cybersecurity 101 article: Public vs. Private Cloud
Cloud Infrastructure Delivery Models
There are three delivery models for cloud services:
- Software as a service (Saas)
- Platform as a service (PaaS)
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
Software as a service (SaaS) is a cloud-based delivery model that allows users to access a software application through an internet-connected device.
In the SaaS model, a third-party vendor manages all aspects of the software application, including coding, hosting, monitoring, updating and security, as well as the purchase and maintenance of the associated hardware, such as servers and databases.
Since SaaS solutions are delivered over the internet, customers generally do not need to download or install the software to use the service. This means that users can access the application or their data from virtually anywhere with an internet connection, assuming all other system requirements and security protocols are met.
Platform as a service (PaaS) is a cloud computing model in which a third-party cloud provider maintains an environment for customers to build, develop, run and manage their own applications.
In a PaaS model, the vendor typically provides all infrastructure, including hardware and software, needed by developers. This allows the customer to circumvent costly IT infrastructure investments, as well as the need to purchase software licenses and development tools.
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is a cloud computing model in which a third-party cloud service provider (CSP) offers virtualized compute resources such as servers, data storage and network equipment on demand over the internet to clients.
In the IaaS model, each computing resource is offered as an individual component or service and can be scaled up or down according to the organization’s needs. This significantly reduces or negates the need for physical servers, as well as an on-premises data center, and grants the organization much-needed flexibility to manage variable business needs quickly and cost effectively.
IaaS vs. PaaS
The key difference, technically speaking, between PaaS and IaaS is that the PaaS vendor will provide and maintain the software, hardware and tools used on the platform, while in an IaaS model, these components are the responsibility of the customer.
Another critical distinction is related to how the PaaS or IaaS solution is used. The PaaS environment is used almost exclusively for software and application development. It is essentially an interface for developers to access software and development tools in a remote setting.
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