The quick answer: It depends. The type of cloud services you select might be dictated by your IT budget, the core competencies of your IT staff, and your IT strategy and tactics (meaning which applications you keep in-house, versus which ones you selectively outsource).
To begin, let’s look at the three main “as a Service” layers that make up the cloud computing model: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).
- Infrastructure as a Service includes all of the systems and services that make up the foundation layer of the cloud — the server, computing, operating system, storage, data backup, and networking services — virtualized and delivered as a service. IaaS is popular in the data center, where virtual servers are purchased as a fully outsourced service and usually billed based on usage. This is in contrast to the traditional method of buying equipment outright. IaaS supports the PaaS and SaaS layers. Common examples of IaaS include VMware virtualization software and EMC storage technologies.
- Platform as a Service delivers a computing platform and/or a solution stack as a service. This includes the development tools you use to build, modify and deploy cloud-optimized applications — application design, development, testing, deployment and hosting, as well as application services such as Web service integration and database integration. Often consuming cloud infrastructure and sustaining cloud applications, PaaS facilitates the deployment of applications without the complexity of buying and managing the underlying hardware and software layers. Salesforce.com’s Force.com is a development platform at the PaaS layer.
- Software as a Service delivers software (for example, customer relationship management and sales force automation systems, unified communications, email and collaboration) as a service over the Internet. SaaS eliminates the need to install and run an application on a business’s own computers, simplifying maintenance and support. It, too, is typically offered in a “pay as you go” model. Salesforce.com and Google Apps are two widely used examples of SaaS.
It All Starts With the Foundation
While what constitutes IaaS is pretty straightforward, there are some key areas in which you need to ask questions. Specifically, you’ll want to look into resiliency, restoration, disaster recovery and security.
- Resiliency refers to the stability of the foundation and whether it is built to enterprise standards.
- Restoration refers to the ability to restore your data quickly after, say, the release of an application software update that damages data.
- Disaster recovery refers to the ability to get your business operations back online following a catastrophic event. This can be a natural disaster or an errant backhoe cutting through power lines somewhere on the electrical grid.
- Security refers to the architecture for monitoring the access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, and destruction of data by users and programs. It also refers to whether those security capabilities are “baked in.”
Different providers offer different levels of service in these areas, so it is wise to define your needs carefully.
Characteristics and components of IaaS include a utility computing service and billing model; automation of administrative tasks; dynamic scaling; desktop virtualization; policy-based services; and Internet connectivity.
The Right ‘as a Service’ for Your Business
Start your foray into cloud computing by looking at the infrastructure layer. From there you can examine the platform and applications that meet your business’ unique needs, and select those that would make sense to selectively outsource and layer on top.
You might decide to dabble in all three as as Service layers from the beginning. Each organization’s mileage will vary based on budget, IT staff and strategy.
You might want to start with technologies that are not mission-critical as a proof of concept. If the initial technologies that you choose to outsource pass muster with your chosen service provider, you will become more comfortable in moving other applications and technologies to the cloud. At that point, you might want to look at the items on which you are going to spend your next IT budgetary dollar or your biggest problem areas and transition them to the cloud.
Shades of Gray
Like all advances that represent a sea change, thorough due diligence will ensure the proper technologies are secured to meet the needs of the business and IT organization. Make sure you enlist the help of a credible cloud-based technology provider that can offer real-world customers that have experienced tangible results to demonstrate the value “as a Service” offerings can bring your organization.
Three things are for sure: The cloud is here, “as a Service” is real, and you need to decide how and when to make your business ready to hit the cloud running.