Last Updated on March 23, 2022 by Josh Mahan
In the increasingly complex realm of technology, different words and unique terminology often get thrown around and interchanged with little consensus or regard to their singular meaning. This issue causes many problems for many people, from seasoned industry professionals to newbies trying to educate themselves on critical industry vocabulary. Terms like “cloud” are particularly frustrating in this way, primarily because it encompasses a massive technological concept rather than a single thing.
Thankfully, our team of trusted tech and IT experts here at Alterum Technologies are eager to help clarify the meaning behind this term and resolve any confusion you may be experiencing. Please continue to find out everything you need to know about the cloud and the different types of cloud computing services available for your business. And if you’d like access to even more tech industry know-how, please consider exploring our range of other educational articles.
The Cloud: What is it, and How Does it Work?
While the term “cloud” often gives a somewhat mystical-sounding connotation to many elements of the modern world of technology and computing, it’s not that different from more traditional forms of computing architecture. The two are relatively similar because the cloud relies on the same types of server hardware that serve as the foundation of any computer network. The primary distinction is that cloud architecture makes storage capacity and processing power available to users over the internet, allowing cloud providers to use servers around the globe to form a robust, consolidated computing network. Said network can be easily accessed by users anywhere as long as they have access to a stable internet connection.
Put more generally, the cloud can be thought of as an IT environment that can pool, abstract, and share a massive range of scalable resources across a network that’s accessible through any internet connection by different users. Over the past several years, the rapid advancement of cloud capabilities and technology has led it to become an essential element of many business operations, especially in tech or data-heavy industries.
What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing is a complex and widely encompassing term that can refer to various technological elements, especially when phrases like “as a service” are regularly tacked onto it. These factors can make cloud computing as a whole somewhat challenging to understand, especially for those who are new to the IT or technology industry. In short, cloud computing is an act that refers to the function of running workloads within the cloud through the use of different pieces of modern technology. That said, cloud computing and the cloud (or clouds) are not technologies in and of themselves. Instead, technologies are things- like software and hardware- built deliberately to construct and utilize different cloud capabilities. At present, many new forms of technology are deliberately constructed with the intention to inherently provide or support different types of cloud services.
The Four Types of Cloud Computing & Deployment
Cloud deployment is a term that describes how specific cloud platforms are implemented and hosted by providers and who has access to them. All types of cloud computing deployments operate using the same basic principle of virtualizing the computing power of servers into segmented, software-driven applications. Said applications can provide users with a range of storage and processing capabilities. To provide you with a better, more thorough understanding of cloud computing as a whole, let’s take the time to explore the four different types of cloud computing and deployment services that cloud providers currently offer. We’ll also explore some of their distinct benefits and drawbacks.
A single organization typically utilizes private clouds (also commonly referred to as on-premises cloud infrastructures) to serve their needs. Private clouds are typically protected behind a firewall or other technical security measures. Completely on-premises cloud services are generally preferred solutions for businesses and organizations utilizing strict regulatory requirements. However, many private cloud services implemented through colocation providers have grown popular. Unlike public clouds (explored in more detail below), private clouds can only be accessed by authorized users, who can utilize and store data in the private cloud from anywhere.
What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Private Cloud Services?
Private clouds provide a highly secure and regulated environment, making them an essential tool and solution for businesses that value privacy and total control over their data. These higher levels of management and privacy allow providers to more thoroughly restrict access to and protect valuable assets while also allowing them to quickly and easily move their data and applications whenever and wherever needed. Private clouds are also unaffected by the downtimes that can regularly occur within the systems of public cloud providers. However, their users still have access to the disaster recovery and technical support options that public clouds offer.
That said, the above benefits associated with private clouds come at a cost since the company that owns and operates the cloud is entirely responsible for the construction and maintenance of both the system’s software and infrastructure. These factors mean that private clouds are typically less economical than public cloud models. Additionally, private clouds usually lack the same level of versatility that public clouds offer and can only expand through new hardware additions and enhanced storage capacity. This method is costly and can make it more difficult to scale operations rapidly should a business need to do so.
A public cloud (also known as an off-premises cloud infrastructure), in short, is a pool of virtual resources developed from hardware that’s managed and owned by third-party companies, such as Google, Amazon, and Microsoft. Said companies provide services and infrastructure that can be accessed and shared by all of their customers or users via a self-service interface. Public clouds usually possess a massive amount of available space, allowing for quick and easy scalability. Public clouds are also typically recommended for collaborative projects- especially in software development- since most companies often design their applications to be portable. Meaning that projects can be built and tested on public clouds then moved to the private cloud for mass production.
What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Public Cloud Services?
One of the most significant advantages of a public cloud is that it possesses massive amounts of versatility and typically operates on a “pay as you go” structure that allows users to acquire more capacity as they require it. Not only does this factor increase the potential for system scalability, but it also removes the need for large capital expenditures. Additionally, hosted public cloud servers allow users to tap into providers’ security and recovery or disaster plans, ensuring their data is secure.
The downside of public cloud services is that their operating systems and essential infrastructure are under the complete control of the cloud’s provider, so customers must abide by the terms and conditions of the platform. This element can make it difficult to repatriate their assets if they ever change providers, especially if their initial provider goes out of business or makes significant changes to their infrastructure on short notice. Additionally, customers may be at risk of exposure to security vulnerabilities if problematic cloud architecture is left unpatched.
Generally speaking, the best way to understand hybrid clouds is that they are a combination of private and public cloud models. They’re specifically designed to allow the two types of platforms to interact with one another seamlessly. This interaction allows for the smooth movement of data and applications from one cloud type to another. It also serves as the perfect solution for organizations and businesses that need access to benefits that come with both options. However, these benefits depend on the size of the company and the industry in which it’s operating.
Hybrid cloud architecture typically comes in two distinct forms. The first is cloudbursting, which uses a private cloud as its primary cloud environment to store data and house proprietary applications securely. The expanded resources of public clouds supplement the private cloud if it doesn’t have the needed capacity to meet data demand. This method permits companies to handle increased traffic demands without needing to purchase new servers or hardware to expand strictly private cloud infrastructure.
The second hybrid cloud model also houses most data and applications within a private cloud environment and outsources non-critical to public cloud providers, though is slightly different. This tactic makes it a standard solution for organizations that need access to a wide range of programs, like essential productivity software, specialized development tools, and CRM platforms. Multi-cloud architecture (which will be explained later) is often utilized in the second type of hybrid cloud service.
What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Hybrid Cloud Services?
The primary benefit of hybrid cloud computing models is that they can combine the enhanced scalability and computing power of public cloud systems and the security and control of private cloud systems. Said combination means that data is quickly and safely stored behind encryption protocols and firewalls and can be moved securely onto public cloud environments when needed. These features are highly beneficial for businesses operating in big data analytics and in industries that must adhere to strict privacy regulations for their data, such as healthcare. It’s also helpful because it allows for the simple implementation of sophisticated, AI-powered algorithms to provide beneficial insights into massive collections of unstructured data while still offering relative cost-efficiency.
However, it’s important to note that businesses utilizing a hybridized cloud computing model should always ensure they’re working with a service provider with significant experience within the infrastructure of hybrid cloud models. This element is essential because there are a higher level of potential security and performance risks inherent when combining different cloud server types to share and communicate data, especially if the data is sensitive or private.
While not as commonly utilized as private, public, or hybrid cloud infrastructure models, community clouds offer a collaborative, multi-tenant platform that several organizations can collectively use to share the same data and commonly-accessed applications. Users of community cloud services typically operate within the same general field or industry, meaning they share a range of common concerns regarding compliance, performance, and security that can be rapidly resolved by a single provider and their community cloud service. Community cloud solutions are often utilized by healthcare organizations, government agencies, financial service firms, and other professional communities.
What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Community Cloud Services?
Much like hybrid cloud infrastructures, community cloud services offer the benefits of enhanced scalability at cost-effective prices shared across different organizations or businesses. Additionally, due to standard security requirements, companies can be satisfied knowing that their community cloud service provider is fully compliant with any industry regulations or baseline performance and security standards. These systems are also highly flexible, but overall decision-making regarding significant changes is collaborative, ensuring that all modifications conducted are based squarely on the group’s best interest.
All that said, community cloud services do come with a distinct downside. Unfortunately, the shared storage and bandwidth utilized by community cloud services can create significant issues regarding performance and prioritization as the servers adjust to the demands of users. Additionally, because the storage space is shared, data protection and overall security can be a concern for some users, especially those who regularly work with highly sensitive or confidential information. As a result of these potential pitfalls, many businesses operating within a range of different industries don’t consider community clouds to be a practical cloud solution to meet their needs.
What is the Multi-Cloud Model, and How Does it Work?
In some cases, a single public cloud and even a hybrid cloud service aren’t enough to meet the specific computing needs of a business or organization. When that happens, they may instead turn to a multi-cloud service, which serves as more complex hybrid cloud examples built to combine multiple public and private cloud services into a single cloud computing environment. While general hybrid clouds are always made of both public and private clouds, multi-cloud environments are more varied depending on the service in question and the needs of individual user companies. For example, if an organization’s IT infrastructure consists of multiple public clouds from different providers, it may access them through a single software-defined network. While private clouds can also be a part of said network, they’re typically more isolated.
Multi-cloud service models offer both versatility and specialization for the businesses that utilize them, especially those operating through multiple departments with different cloud-based needs. For instance, marketing departments need different cloud computing tools than human resources or research and development departments. Rather than attempting to work via a one-size-fits-all solution, companies can choose from existing public cloud services and providers to ensure each department has the tools it needs to work effectively. Additionally, multi-cloud models provide users with more stability and reassurance since they don’t have to remain dependent on a single cloud provider. This factor can allow businesses to avoid the issue of vendor lock-in.
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The Four Types of Cloud Computing Services
Now that we’ve explored the four different types of cloud computing and deployment, let’s take some time to explain the four primary types of cloud computing services that users can access. It’s helpful to know the differences between these services so a business can more fully understand which ones would be most beneficial to meet its unique needs. All public cloud computing services are constructed using the same basic framework of most infrastructure powered by various servers housed and operating within a data center.
Because they are so similar, it can be helpful to think of cloud computing services as a layered pyramid, with each layer being progressively more specialized than the ones below it. However, everything is still built on the same foundational structure. The bottommost layers of the pyramid are broader and represent general concepts like the customizability and versatility of applications. In contrast, the upper levels are more narrow and built to perform specific tasks. Starting from the bottom layer, the critical cloud computing services people should be aware of include:
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)– also commonly referred to as cloud infrastructure service- operates as the foundation layer of the cloud computing pyramid and is, therefore, the most flexible and comprehensive type of cloud service available to users. In short, IaaS provides users with a wholly virtualized form of computing infrastructure that can be managed and accessed via the internet. IaaS providers take care of the physical end of the infrastructure for this cloud computing service in a data center (through servers, data storage, etc.). However, it also allows users to customize their virtual resources to suit their particular needs.
Through IaaS services, users can uninstall, manage, and configure any needed software, including business analytics and development tools, middleware, operating systems, and more. This particular cloud computing service is highly scalable and eliminates the significant expenses required for companies to develop in-house infrastructure. These factors make it an excellent option for smaller and growing companies that don’t currently have the resources to purchase and manage internal hardware and software. Additionally, this service also removes the day-to-day burdens of IT departments, who would otherwise need to spend considerable time managing and troubleshooting the internal infrastructure.
Because IaaS providers constantly update and patch their systems to comply with regulations and meet basic industry standards, it’s also much easier for businesses to acquire new applications and programs. Said providers also diligently offer users the latest in security advancements and data protection to keep their information safe. Additionally, most offer specialized disaster recovery services as an extra form of security so businesses can ensure their data will be accessible, even in the event of a significant system breach or other issues.
Common examples of IaaS include Amazon Web Service (AWS), Google Compute Engine (GCE), Microsoft Azure, and Cisco Metacloud.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
The next level in the pyramid of cloud computing services is referred to as platform as a Service (PaaS). While IaaS provides users with all the tools available throughout the cloud and allows them to build whatever suits their needs, PaaS is slightly more specialized. Instead of delivering a pure infrastructure, PaaS offers users access to a framework that can be utilized to build, test, deploy, update, and manage specifically designed applications and other kinds of software products. While it utilizes the same general infrastructure as IaaS, it also includes various other valuable tools. Said tools range from operating systems, development tools, middleware, and even database management systems that can be utilized to develop new types of unique software applications.
PaaS can be a beneficial service for companies that actively develop software and different web-based applications for internal business use and to sell to consumers. A significant benefit of this particular cloud computing form is that a wide range of specialized tools needed to develop different platforms (browsers, applications, computers, and mobile devices) are costly. But through PaaS, users can access a massive assortment of advanced development tools when and where they need to without having to spend enormous amounts of money.
Because PaaS platforms are accessible via the internet, remote development teams can access the same collection of tools and assets to help expedite the speed of product development. Additionally, most PaaS tools offer users a range of pre-coded applications built explicitly into the platform. This element can significantly reduce the need for new coding and limit the time needed for companies to develop, test, and deploy new products onto the open market. It also allows for increased scalability and more easy migration of new applications and software.
Common examples of PaaS include Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and Apache Stratos.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
The next layer of the cloud computing services pyramid is also considered the most widely familiar to users and is referred to as software as a Service (SaaS). SaaS is well-known as a fully-developed software solution that’s ready for users to purchase and utilize over the internet via a subscription with a SaaS provider. Said provider is responsible for managing the overall infrastructure, middleware, operating systems, and all of the data necessary to deliver the program and ensure it functions properly.
The software involved is designed to be available to subscribed consumers wherever and whenever needed, as long as they possess a sufficient internet connection. Because many SaaS applications run directly through internet browsers, they eliminate the need for excessive installations or program downloads that consume massive amounts of storage space. This feature can significantly reduce the work of consumer IT teams while also allowing companies to streamline their operations more effectively.
SaaS applications are specifically designed to help companies get up and running as quickly as possible while also allowing for the rapid upscaling of operations without the need to purchase expensive new hardware or software to deliver services. Even more sophisticated, enterprise-level tools and applications- such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM) programs- can be easily accessed even by small organizations with minimal financial resources. This provides them with all of the tools they need to grow their business rapidly, effectively, and in a cost-effective way.
Common examples of SaaS include Google Apps, Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Office 365, and Salesforce.
Function as a Service (FaaS)
The final type of cloud computing services that businesses should be aware of includes functions as a Service (FaaS), also commonly referred to as serverless computing. FaaS allows consumers to execute specialized code responsively without allocating specific processing resources ahead of time to allow for the successful completion of operations. Cloud providers of FaaS handle the foundational infrastructure involved with the service, allowing users to focus specifically on developing and deploying their unique application code. Functions can be automatically scaled, creating an excellent fit for different dynamic workloads that fluctuate in terms of their overall resource consumption over time.
Users only have to pay for the specific resources they utilize via the service, making FaaS the most direct form of “pay-as-you-go” cloud computing. This factor makes it an excellent option for businesses that want to pay only for the specific applications and other resources they regularly use, rather than all possible resources provided by a service. This is a significant financial advantage of FaaS, alongside the fact that most FaaS applications are straightforward and can be developed and deployed relatively quickly to consumers for more rapid revenue generation. FaaS is also exceedingly easy for consumers to utilize because all they need is to upload the relevant function code and instruct the platform to provide specific resources when the program is executed. Additionally, when the function is at rest, no resources are consumed, and new instances or versions of the process can also be quickly and easily scaled on-demand based on the specific needs of users.
Despite these numerous benefits of FaaS cloud computing, it does come with some distinct drawbacks that users should be aware of before selecting this particular type of cloud service. The primary issue with this service is that FaaS requires longer execution times than other services since functions need to provide resources every time they’re run. Additionally, there can be performance lads if the application requires significant computing power to operate, especially if programs are executed at peak usage times. Additionally, applications must be stateless to function correctly, meaning they cannot store any data locally. Finally, one last key disadvantage of FaaS is that most services are available only through major cloud providers, such as Azure or AWS. This element significantly increases the risk that users may become stuck with their initially chosen service due to vendor lock-in.
Common examples of FaaS include Azure Functions and AWS Lambdas.
The Bottom Line: Final Factors For You to Consider
We currently operate in an era where technological advancement, system scalability, and cost-effective solutions to data storage and processing are growing increasingly important by the day. As such, businesses need to know the ins and outs of their digital needs and how to select a quality provider to make sure those needs are satisfied. Now that you more fully understand the fundamental elements of the different types of cloud computing and the various cloud computing services available on the market, your business should be able to make an optimal choice when selecting the best possible service provider. And if your business currently has plans to expand through the development of a new data center, or if you require the services of a data center cleaning team, please don’t hesitate to reach out and contact our range of trusted experts here at Alterum Technologies today.
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