For many companies and organizations, the cloud is the preferred way to deliver their IT services and products. Cloud solutions have many benefits that affect large parts of an organization, from enabling a well-planned expansion of its infrastructure to a rapid launch of new and innovative solutions. Therefore, it is not uncommon for some conceptual confusion when talking about the cloud and cloud solutions. Here we sort out some of them so you can navigate more easily through the cloud.
The use of the cloud for IT operations is often viewed from two perspectives. The most common perspective is IT environments’ operation over the Internet, which takes place in a commercial cloud supplier’s data center and is sometimes called the “public cloud” model. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and Microsoft Azure are at the forefront of public cloud service providers.
The second perspective focuses on how the cloud works: a virtualized pool of resources, from raw computing power to pre-packaged services such as databases and web servers available on demand.
When customers buy cloud-services, the provider fulfills these requests using automation rather than manual provisioning, which is the traditional way. The most important advantage here is the flexibility and the ability to use common interfaces to computing, storage, and network resources as needed and use the supplier’s own services for development.
Today, many companies use a so-called multi-cloud approach, which means that they use more than one public or private cloud service. This is different from so-called private clouds, which we will get in later in this post.
Read our article about multi-cloud in Dagens Industri.
The public cloud allows customers to get new features or performance without investing in new hardware or software. Instead, they pay their cloud provider the equivalent of a subscription fee or just for the resources they actually use. The customer can easily change a configuration and create accounts and start-up virtual machines or gain access to new applications and services through their own login.
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The range of available cloud services and types of environments is large, but most fall into one of the following categories:
SaaS, Software as a Service
This type of cloud service delivers services and products directly over the internet, in most cases via a web browser. The most popular SaaS applications for companies are found in collaboration software such as Google’s G Suite and Microsoft’s Office 365. But many enterprise applications, including traditional ERP suites from major vendors such as Oracle and SAP, have adopted the SaaS model.
Typically, SaaS applications offer various configuration options and development environments that allow customers to encode their own modifications and extensions. This can mean, e.g., access to APIs to facilitate integration with other systems and enable third-party developers to create and share extensions that enhance functionality. Examples of possible integrations are connections between Slack and a CI / CD pipeline to directly announce an integration pipeline’s status or automatic handling of attachments in the email client. This makes it particularly interesting for those customers who are not ready to invest in operating their own infrastructure in the cloud.
PaaS, Platform as a Service
PaaS provides a set of services and workflows specifically targeted at developers. It may be the option to use shared tools, server services, and APIs to accelerate the development, testing, and distribution of products and services. Using PaaS, the customer ensures that its developers have access to resources, a certain set of services, or follow certain processes. At the same time, cloud providers retain responsibility and maintenance for the underlying infrastructure.
IaaS, Infrastructure as a Service
At the basic level, this service model offers, for example, network, server, storage, and other infrastructure services on a usage basis, e.g., one or more file servers, applications, or web servers connected to a virtual network of a cloud provider. But the range of services offered by all major public cloud providers includes much more than that: scalable databases, big data and analytics services, developer tools, application monitoring, and more. This service model is good for customers who want more control.
A private cloud is built on the same principles used for IaaS in public clouds, but with servers, operating systems, and software that can be distributed and operated in a customer’s own data center. As with a public cloud, internal customers (e.g., different departments) can operate and build their own virtual resources to develop, test, and run applications, with monitoring to manage resource consumption and the like. For system administrators, the private cloud is a convenient way to work with data center automation, minimizing manual provisioning and management. Examples of software that can be used to build private clouds are VMware and its offering in the Data Center Stack suite and OpenStack, which are industry leaders in private cloud solutions based on open source.
However, it is good to keep in mind that the “private cloud” does not always fully conform to the definition used in public cloud services. Cloud services are, as the name suggests, a service. A private cloud requires an organization to build and maintain its own underlying cloud infrastructure. It is (usually) only internal end-users or customers of a private cloud that experience it as a cloud service.
A hybrid cloud is the combination of a private cloud with a public cloud. The hybrid cloud provides the ability to create parallel environments where applications can be easily moved between private and public clouds. For example, databases can stay in their own data center and be integrated with public cloud applications. Virtualized environments through products such as VMware can be replicated to the cloud during periods of high load. The types of integrations between private and public clouds vary widely, and it is sometimes difficult to define what is a hybrid cloud and what is not. It simply depends on the conditions.
Benefits of cloud computing
Developers are increasingly drawn to the cloud due to easy access to advanced new services that can be integrated into applications, from machine learning to the Internet of Things (IoT). It also reduces the time for applications that need to be scaled up dynamically or need extra capacity.
Although companies sometimes migrate older applications to the cloud to reduce the demands on their own data centers, the real benefits of new applications that take advantage of cloud services from the start and are “cloud-native.” Cloud-native means new approaches and solutions that can be part of either public or private clouds and enable efficient DevOps-style workflows. This includes, for example, microservices and container solutions with Kubernetes to improve application portability.
The cloud, public or private, has become the premier development platform for large and small applications, especially consumer-oriented services that need to be changed frequently or scaled up dynamically. Other advantages worth mentioning are that the large cloud suppliers are often leaders in the development of cutting edge technology and entering the market with new products before they appear elsewhere.
Please read our continuation of definitions of service models that handle new products and services.
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