Feature

Options for cloud computing

Cloud computing is an increasingly popular IT solution, but the choice of cloud services can be confusing. Breakthrough Technology Editor Marcus Austin presents a simple guide to the three main options: Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, and In

More and more businesses are turning to cloud computing, but there’s more than one type of cloud. The one that’s best for your business depends on what sort of problem you are trying to solve, and the level of IT competence you have in the business. In this article we’ll look at three basic types of cloud solution and consider the pros and cons of each.

But first let’s go back to basics and look at the fundamentals of cloud. What is cloud and what benefits can it bring? Cloud is a way of outsourcing a business problem to the internet, where that problem can be tackled by a remote service, which is charged on a per-user, per-month basis. It can be installed and be up and working in seconds, and it’s available 24/7. With cloud there’s no upfront capital expenditure and there are no hidden costs. Whereas a normal internal solution has many unseen overheads, such as heating, lighting, maintenance, backup, and security.

Once you have grasped the cost and time-saving benefits of the cloud, it’s time to then decide on what type of cloud you require. Here there are three basic choices:

  1. Software as a Service (SaaS)
  2. Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  3. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

The type of cloud service you choose is really all about shifting control and responsibility from your business to the cloud provider.

With a traditional (so-called ‘on premises’) IT solution delivered by your IT department, you will run an application on your own hardware, with your own software, or on tailored versions. You will have responsibility for the applications, data, operating system, networking, servers and storage.

Cloud table of responsibilities  (You control, Cloud provider controls)

On-Premises

SaaS

PaaS

IaaS

Applications

Applications

Applications

Applications

Data

Data

Data

Data

Operating System

Operating System

Operating System

Operating System

Networking

Networking

Networking

Networking

Servers

Servers

Servers

Servers

Storage

Storage

Storage

Storage

Software as a Service

With a SaaS solution you no longer take responsibility for the application and the data that application uses. For example, a cloud-computing provider could run your customer relationship management (CRM) service in the cloud, using a copy of your customer data, which is also held in the cloud. The application will be accessible to any user who has a password and a login, and you only pay for the application when you need it. If a new version of the system appears then your IT department no longer needs to update each individual desktop or laptop, and there are no devices running one version of the system while others run a newer version. Also, your IT department will no longer need to back up the data, or be responsible for its storage, or make sure the applications are running the latest security patches, as all support issues will be handled by the SaaS cloud provider.

There are many upsides to SaaS, but there are a few downsides. The application is likely to be the same as the one your competitors use, and, depending on the company that runs the SaaS, your data could be stored anywhere in the world. This may be an issue if the data you are storing is sensitive, or required by law to remain in the UK or Europe.

“The type of cloud service you choose is really all about shifting control and responsibility from your business to the cloud provider.”

Platform as a Service

While SaaS is an obvious starting point for cloud, the next stage – PaaS – is where businesses can start to see some real benefits. With PaaS you can either host conventional on-premises applications or develop and run your own applications. A PaaS solution effectively gives you a PC in the cloud, one that can be supplied with your favourite operating system and applications. It can be up and running in minutes, and then shared by anyone within the business.

Compare this to getting an on-premises system. If you wanted to install a new accounts package, IT would have to first specify, order and build a server, then attach it to the network and install all the correct software. The server would then need to be constantly backed up and updated.

With PaaS you have a guaranteed system protected by the latest anti-virus software and backed up by your cloud supplier. If your application starts to run too slowly on your PaaS server, or runs out of storage, then you can swap to a bigger, better server with more storage and you won’t be left with an old server that’s now out of date.

Infrastructure as a Service

IaaS is the biggest step into the world of cloud computing and the one that gives you complete control. You can specify everything from the speed of the network to the speed and type of storage. However, unlike the on-premises solution, what you don’t have is responsibility for maintaining, backing up and securing your solution.

With IaaS you can create infinitely flexible solutions that scale as the business scales. You no longer need to keep an eye on disk space or worry about connectivity, or the speed of your server’s processors like you do with PaaS. If you need additional processor speed or a faster connection, you just dial it up. Equally, if you no longer need as much disk space then you can dial it down. It’s instantly flexible.

The cloud solution you choose depends ultimately on the skills of your IT team and how much you want to differentiate your business from the competition. If you’re technically minded and prepared to experiment, then IaaS is probably the best option; if you’re just starting out then SaaS may best suit your needs.

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