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What Is Cloud Architecture? A Guide To Cost-Efficient Design

In this guide, we cover what cloud architecture is, its benefits, how it compares to on-premise setups, and best practices for cost-effective design.

Is your current cloud cost tool giving you the cost intelligence you need?  Most tools are manual, clunky, and inexact. Discover how CloudZero takes a new  approach to organizing your cloud spend.Click here to learn more.

Moving to the cloud offers many advantages vs. on-premise environments — scalability, flexibility, and the prospect of cost-efficiency are among the top reasons companies migrate.

Yet, simply using a “lift and shift” strategy — where you move your application as-is from an on-premise environment to the cloud with minimal, if any, modification — can lead to a number of issues (such as inefficient design, bloated costs, etc.).

It’s often better to consider how you can best architect your software or application for the cloud with best practices in mind. This is where cloud architecture comes in. 

In this guide, we’ll take a look at what cloud architecture is, its benefits, how it compares to on-premise setups, and best practices for efficient and cost-effective design. 

Table Of Contents

What Is Cloud Architecture?

Cloud architecture describes the layout of technologies and their connections to form a cloud environment where you can deploy and run applications. Cloud architecture enables an abstract environment where you can pool and share scalable resources over a network.   

As in an on-premises environment, you have access to a dashboard that enables you to observe and manage your cloud resources according to your needs. It allows you to store, access, retrieve, and modify your workloads and your application from anywhere at any time.

A cloud's architecture is like your home's blueprint. The blueprints show how all the building materials will work together to create a house, which you can then nurture into a home. 

Cloud architecture describes how different cloud technologies and components interact to create an online platform on which applications and workloads can run. Materials or components make up the cloud infrastructure. 

Read our ultimate guide to cloud infrastructure vs. cloud architecture here.

How Is Architecting For The Cloud Different From On-Premises Design?

Cloud architecture emphasizes agility, scalability, and resilience while taking into consideration the unique needs of your users, workloads, and operational costs. Although on-premises and cloud environments share many similarities, you'll also notice many defining differences.

Look around, and you’ll find various cloud architecture diagrams that show different cloud design patterns. But you should be aware of four fundamentals of designing and building cloud environments:

  • Cloud infrastructure components
  • Cloud delivery model  
  • Cloud service model (Cloud infrastructure as a service)
  • Cloud deployment model (types of cloud architectures)

Let’s cover each briefly:

1. Cloud infrastructure components

 The following are the building materials or the fundamentals of cloud architecture:

  • Cloud infrastructure - Similar to traditional computing, this refers to computing power (servers), storage (hard drives and flash drives in a data center), and networking (routers and switches).
  • Virtualization - Virtual representations of physical servers, networks, and storage in cloud environments create an abstraction layer from which multiple applications can run. A cloud environment can thus offer near-limitless resources (scalability). You can select the ideal resources for your business (agility), such as CPUs, RAMs, and storage types. You can also adjust these resources as your needs change (flexibility).   
  • Middleware - This comprises all components that facilitate communication between networked infrastructures, applications, and services. 
  • Management - This refers to governing your cloud environment through a central dashboard to maximize performance while limiting downtime. 
  • Automation software - Software assists in cloud management. It allows you to allocate the right amount of resources despite fluctuating demand to ensure that your cloud performs optimally at all times. As with virtualization, this is yet another key difference between cloud and on-premise architecture.

Cloud deployment models allow clients to access the cloud's resources. 

2. Cloud delivery models 

Here, cloud architecture is two-fold; frontend and backend. The frontend is client-facing and comprises the user interfaces and applications that a client uses to access cloud computing resources. 

Computing resources are in the backend and include applications, services, cloud runtime, and storage. Clients can connect directly to some clouds. The term "bare-metal cloud" refers to these options.

Now, we did mention that architecting a cloud computing environment is simpler than building a house from scratch. Here is why.

3. Cloud service model

Building a home requires a lot of site inspections before you can lay the building's foundation. It starts from scratch, from leveling the ground and pouring the foundation to completing rough framing and installing plumbing. 

Building cloud architecture does not have to be a start-from-scratch project. 

You only need to consider your current and future computing needs so you can choose the suitable cloud architecture model to serve in your cloud migration strategy

You can begin quickly and affordably using a cloud service provider's infrastructure. Cloud services are available in three principal models:

  • An infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model allows your organization to rent scalable server space from a cloud provider monthly. While the vendor provides the hardware, you handle your environment’s applications, middleware, and configuration. 
  • A platform-as-a-service (PaaS) is when the vendor assists in more than just virtualizing infrastructure but also offers cloud infrastructure management and the computing platform for testing applications. 
  • With Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), your organization can use pre-built applications and software via remote servers, either immediately through web interfaces or after customizing it via APIs.  

Find out more about IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS here.

4. Types of cloud architectures (Cloud deployment models)

Here are the dominant four you should know:

  • Public cloud architecture involves a single cloud provider servicing the hardware needs of several organizations. As such, public clouds have multi-tenant architectures compared to single-tenant architectures to serve many customers concurrently and effectively.
  • With private cloud architecture, your organization develops an ideal cloud service model internally. You dedicate it to the needs of just one tenant, so it is private.
  • A hybrid cloud architecture refers to an organization adopting aspects of both public and private cloud architectures to optimize costs and performance. The architecture uses VPN links to switch workloads between public and private clouds.
  • A multi-cloud architecture lets an organization take advantage of two or more cloud providers' services to meet regulatory requirements, maximize vendor lock-in, and use best-in-class solutions.     

These cloud architecture fundamentals help make clear the advantages it holds over on-premises architecture. You can see them more clearly in the next section.

What Are The Benefits of Cloud Architecture?

Cloud architecture can provide several tangible benefits, including:

  • You can quickly scale your computing resources up, down, out, or in - You have to buy extra hardware when scaling up an on-premises environment or idle hardware when scaling down — at your expense.
  • High-availability - Applications and workloads are hosted online on high-performance servers and databases, ensuring continuous running despite fluctuating loads.
  • Data backup - Besides offering data security options by default, cloud architecture also protects your data if your on-premises environment is damaged physically.
  • Cost-effective - You only pay for the resources you use.
  • Data security - Cloud providers are constantly updating their security defenses to detect malicious attacks, and their predefined protocols identify anomalies, report, and fix them automatically.
  • Managed services - Cloud providers relieve engineers of the burden of designing, building, and optimizing cloud environments, so they can concentrate on improving service delivery.
  • Integrations - Cloud architecture allows organizations to access and use best-in-class solutions in one place.
  • Automatic updates - The cloud provider continuously upgrades the architecture and infrastructure.
  • Work from anywhere - It also enables distributed teams to collaborate remotely.

This is not to say that all of these advantages are automatically available. The following are some cloud architecture best practices that you can use to optimize your gains.

10 Cloud Architecture Best Practices

Here are some ways you can architect for the cloud to maximize its advantages:

  • Make sure you pick the cloud deployment and service model that reflects your current and foreseeable future needs by conducting an end-to-end assessment.  
  • Ensure your cloud architecture contains self-healing and recovery capabilities because everything that can go wrong may go wrong. 
  • Decouple applications into a collection of services to increase scalability, performance, and cost-efficiency. 
  • Optimize data storage costs, availability, performance, and scalability using vertical, horizontal, and functional data partitioning. 
  • Use batch processing for workflows and tasks. Utilize your cloud provider to host the tasks. Then trigger tasks based on schedules and events, returning results to the calling task.    
  • Implement cloud architecture security best practices at every layer. Security in the cloud is a shared responsibility between you and the vendor. Understand what your role is and take action accordingly. Data partitioning, multi-factor authentication, role-based access control (RBAC), and backup are all part of your role.   
  • Enhance cloud visibility by using cloud monitoring tools that help increase observability. 
  • Automating as much as you can enables your applications and workloads to respond more quickly to user demands. 
  • Maintain consistent governance of the cloud by establishing relevant policies, accountability, and protocols that ensure regulatory compliance at all times. 
  • Make sure your cloud costs do not spiral out of control and eat into your gross margins over time.

What Next: Optimize Your Cloud Architecture With CloudZero

Cloud architecture isn't without challenges. For example, many engineering and finance teams find monitoring cloud costs in rapidly scaling, hybrid, or dynamic multi-cloud environments challenging. 

Without a robust tool to monitor cloud costs, you can quickly overspend on AWS services. CloudZero's cloud cost intelligence platform automatically detects and reports cost anomalies to the right people in advance, so they can take timely action to avoid overspending.

You can also use CloudZero to measure the metrics that matter most to your business like unit cost, COGS, and cost per customer. With detailed cost insight, you can make informed engineering and architecture decisions that ensure profitability. 

Request a demo today to see how CloudZero can empower your organization with cloud cost intelligence.   


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