Traditional software business models are being challenged by cloud-based application and infrastructure service models. There are many claims and jargon flying around the marketplace currently, leading to understandable confusion about exactly what these services entail.
Cloud computing simply refers to delivering hosted IT services over the Internet. It is a way of keeping data flexible and allows companies to expand without investing significant dollars into in-house infrastructure or software. Cloud computing relies on sharing a pool of physical and/or virtual resources, rather than deploying local or personal hardware and software.
Cloud services are different to traditional hosting models in that the service is fully managed by the provider, typically meaning
– the customer requires minimal hardware – just a PC and an internet connection
– they are not geo-locked meaning your business applications and data can be readily accessed anywhere you need it
– they are sold on-demand, typically by the hour
-they are highly flexible allowing the customer to use as little or as much of the service as required eliminating underutilized resources.
Cloud services are broadly marketed in three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
Infrastructure-as-a-Service provides a customer with virtual server instances and storage, as well as APIs that allow the customer to access and configure their servers and storage virtually. The service provider outsources the equipment used to support operations, including storage, hardware, servers and networking components. This is an on-demand, pay-for-what-you-use model so you only pay for as much capacity as is needed.
IaaS can be utilised by enterprise customers to create easily scalable IT solutions where the expense and complexity of managing the underlying hardware are outsourced to the cloud provider. The benefit of IaaS lays in the flexibility offered to business to expand or contract resource usage to fit operational requirements as they need it rather than purchasing and integrating local hardware. Examples of IaaS providers include Amazon Webservices, Rackspace, Google Compute Engine, and VMware.
Platform-as-a-Service is a category of cloud computing that provides a platform of software development tools to enable developers to create applications and services over the internet using a cloud provider’s infrastructure. PaaS services are hosted in the cloud and accessed by users simply via their web browser. Some providers will not allow software created by their customers to be moved off the provider’s platform. Windows Azure, Google App Engine, Force.com, OpenShift, Heroku, VMware Cloud Foundry are examples of PaaS providers.
Software-as-a-Service is a cloud-based software delivery model where consumers are able to access software applications over the internet. The cloud provider supplies the hardware infrastructure, the software product and interacts with the user through a front-end portal. Enterprise users are able to use applications for a wide range of tasks, including accounting and invoicing, tracking sales, planning, performance monitoring and communications (including webmail and instant messaging). Many popular accounting, invoicing, sales, communications and CRM systems being delivered this way. Because the cloud provider hosts both the application and the data, the end user is free to use the service from anywhere. SaaS users pay a subscription for the software rather than purchase it outright. This negatesthe need for software licensing which can limit the number of users and/or devices where the software can be deployed. Applications are typically purchased and used online with files saved in the cloud rather than on individual computers or storage systems. Microsoft Office 365, Gmail, Flickr, Twitter and Facebook, SalesForce, and Netsuite are some well-known examples of SaaS providers.
This figure provides an overview of cloud-based application and infrastructure service models (Source: CIO Research Centre).
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