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What Is Cloud Infrastructure? Here's Everything You Need To Know

Discover what cloud infrastructure is, the benefits and disadvantages of moving to the cloud, how to choose a cloud provider, and more.

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Cloud infrastructure refers to the combination of virtual tools and resources which are packed together, giving users a means of connecting remotely to a central network, and supporting the delivery of a cloud-based service or product to the end customer.

Most cloud infrastructures are created and accessed through the internet rather than through a physical data structure, with cloud infrastructures based within the premises of the cloud service provider (e.g., AWS, Azure, GCP, etc.) rather than each individual organization — moving everything the business and its customer base needs access to — online.

This article is designed to unpick the power of the cloud, looking at:

What Is Cloud Infrastructure?

In order to understand what cloud infrastructure is and how it works, a good starting point is to think of a physical business structure and what the IT set-up in an office looks like — both in supporting employees and delivering your product or service.

In an office, you need computers, storage, hardware, servers, and plenty of space in which to store all of these different components. 

All of this demands a physical presence which translates to cost, limited access in terms of geography, and plenty of personnel resources — all of which then need to be maintained, powered, and kept operating efficiently and effectively. 

Cloud infrastructure takes all of that and places it in a virtual space that is unlimited, more cost-effective, and infinitely flexible in the way it works and provides scalable operations. 

Through cloud infrastructure, organizations can create their own backend set up that supports their operations and requirements, bringing resources together remotely in a flexible and efficient way. 

Additionally, they can also provide a seamless trail of information that passes from the operational backend system of a business, through to the frontline customer-facing data presented online: for example, the stock levels of a specific product, pricing structures for various package deals, and updated information on a content-driven site.

This is what is known as cloud architecture, taking each of the basic cloud infrastructure components and pooling them together to create the perfect blueprint for a business 

and its end customer. 

What Are the Components That Make Up Cloud Infrastructure?

The main components that make up cloud infrastructure break down into four key groups:

  • Hardware
  • Virtualization
  • Storage
  • Network

Hardware

Composed of physical equipment which can be stored at any location, hardware includes the equipment necessary to link machines to a single cloud. 

Hardware components include servers, power supplies, memory and storage, processing units, and more — all of which are responsible for the performance, security, and availability of services and information for both a business and an individual user.

Virtualization

The foundation of cloud computing, virtualization is what connects all the hardware together and ensures that devices can work without a physical connection to the hardware. 

It separates the service itself from its physical location or PC, allowing users to access services and applications remotely. One of the key benefits presented by the use of virtualization is the scale of growth that an organization or cloud network can employ, based on need and consumption.

Storage 

Storage ensures that data is constantly backed up, retaining the most recent version of any file or data entry, and connecting everything together as required for remote access.

Virtualization resources are again responsible for providing the link between hardware and cloud storage, with three main storage solutions available: 

  1. Block Storage -  placing data into blocks that can be saved in chunks rather than individual data pieces. This is the ideal solution for those saving data that is static and not subject to regular change. 
  2. File Storage - most commonly linked to the file manager storage system on a regular PC. 
  3. Object Storage - suitable for saving data that needs to be able to change. 

Network

The network starts with a physical presence and then adds a layer of virtual support and communication on top to permit cloud resources to be shared by users who are listed as part of the same network. 

In a business setting, it is this that allows all employees to log into a single intranet server and access all the relevant files for their job from a remote working location — with the network (public or private) creating the link between the hardware, data, and the device from which it is being accessed. 

Cloud Infrastructure Vs. Cloud Architecture

The way that these different components (hardware, virtualization, storage, and network) are configured is called cloud architecture. Cloud infrastructure includes the tools themselves, used to design and build that architecture. 

An organization can design and build its own cloud architecture based on its services, applications, communications, and management tools. The finished architecture is unique to the business, using the tools laid out as part of the cloud infrastructure. 

Infrastructure is what allows a company to continue to grow, scale-up, and develop without constantly expanding the physical requirements of the business. 

The Benefits Of Using Cloud Infrastructure

Migrating from a physical reliance to one in the cloud means lower costs both in set up and in the long term — primarily because you no longer have to rely on the physical download of software and applications that bring business operations and services to life. 

Now, it can all be accessed through the internet — and that opens business services and products up exponentially. 

It reduces the need for ongoing maintenance ownership of a physical central data center, and instead allows a company to save money on IT requirements, space, and other bills associated with a physical data presence. The pay-as-you-go service model also means that many applications are only paid for as they are used, removing the costs associated with services that aren’t even used. 

Cloud infrastructure also provides organizations more freedom in the way they can operate, grow, and expand in different areas — with Deloitte reporting that a move towards cloud technology allows a company to “better handle constantly shifting business and workforce needs.” 

Some of the key benefits of utilizing cloud infrastructure include:

  1. Flexibility. Aside from making remote working efficient, cloud infrastructure improves optimization of performance across a multitude of services and gives users access to the same data through different devices. 
  2. Efficiency. By ceasing the need for every device to download the hardware and software required to access certain information, every device is relieved of the cost and disk space requirements of all that information — optimizing the efficiency of devices across the organization and beyond. 
  3. Security. Far from being at risk of cybersecurity attacks, a well-built cloud infrastructure can be an effective environment that protects internal and external information for a business. 
  4. Speed. Cloud infrastructure allows a business to grow and scale upwards (or downwards) at the click of a button, to meet and match demand. 

The Limitations Of Using Cloud Infrastructure

As with any technology solution, one of the biggest challenges that cloud infrastructure faces is the constant innovation of the industry. Some of the key limitations include:

  1. Speed of change. The speed of innovation means that some cloud providers quickly become outdated and overtaken by more sophisticated and updated models. Cloud vendors are changing constantly and companies can be left exposed to risk should their central vendor face challenges with their own connection or security.
  2. Networking strength. Operating in the cloud means the network is reliant on a strong network connection in order to operate effectively and efficiently. Those working remotely or accessing the cloud infrastructure as a customer from their own device, will require a connection in order to access the cloud, which can present challenges to those logging in from far-flung locations. 
  3. Loss of control. The cloud service provider is responsible for the overall management of data, rather than the organization’s own internal IT department or third-party team. This means that should a data breach occur, companies can lose the reliability and trust of their customer base. 

Cloud Infrastructure Delivery Models

There are three core delivery models in the cloud infrastructure industry. These are known as IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS, and they each build the service from a different foundation point. 

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) 

IaaS is considered to be the standard in the industry and operates on a “buy as you need” basis. An IaaS infrastructure model gives organizations the flexibility to shrink or upscale the resources they use as required, ensuring that they never pay for unused infrastructure. 

The provider delivers all the networking, data storage, servers, and virtualization that an organization needs, with the business itself handling the software side. 

IaaS is most commonly used by testing and development firms, customer-facing website and application development, analytics, and data storage. For companies that want to manage a large portion of their cloud computing, IaaS is the solution to opt for. You can learn more about IaaS here

Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS is popular because it places all the data in a cloud server and completely removes the need for a business to host or store any of their own information. 

Users can access web-based applications through their cloud portal, by renting use of an app on a pay-as-you-go basis. SaaS providers are responsible for delivering full support which includes the maintenance of both the cloud infrastructure itself and the individual applications used by the business. 

Some typical examples of SaaS in action include email servers that can be accessed by employees or users from remote locations, all logging into the cloud to access their own profile within the internet-based application. 

By only paying for what you use, companies can ensure cost-effective management of their cloud infrastructure. You can learn more about SaaS and its applications here

Platform as a Service (PaaS) 

Through a PaaS system, companies are provided with an entire infrastructure managed by the cloud service provider, covering everything from the operating systems to the ability to test and develop their applications entirely within the cloud. 

Organizations using a PaaS cloud infrastructure can develop and grow their own branches of various applications through the provision from their server. This allows the business to innovate and expand according to market demand much more quickly than if they had to build their own application systems each and every time. 

In this way, changes can hit the market faster and more cost-effectively, building on the existing applications without having to recreate them. You can find out more about PaaS here

Cloud Infrastructure Management Best Practices

Here are five best practices that can help an organization migrate and adopt cloud infrastructure efficiently and successfully:

  1. Changing to a cloud computing infrastructure is a strategic change in your business, and should be approached with the same focus on policy as any other change. This will ensure a seamless transition and bring the entire organization on board.
  2. Research the different cloud solutions and options, and select the infrastructure which best supports your requirements — both in the delivery models explored above and the potential of different cloud networks for different business operations. 
  3. Consider how you can use modern technology to your advantage, for example, Artificial Intelligence. Cloud servers are designed to support the use of these tools, and it is worth exploring whether they can help with automating your services or supporting a global expansion plan. 
  4. Tier optimization to make the most commonly accessed data easier to find on a higher level than that which is rarely searched for and opened. This is a simple hack that can streamline internal and external access within the network, and works in much the same way as a multi-tiered file manager. 
  5. Governance is key to ensuring that your data is always safely secured and up to date. It’s worth having a plan in place in case of disaster. Things can go wrong where technology is concerned, so putting in place a risk mitigation plan is a good way of preparing for the worst and ensuring that should it happen, your employees know what to do. 

Migrating To The Cloud And Choosing A Cloud Service Provider

When it comes to migrating to cloud computing, there are three big cloud providers in the marketplace, dedicated to delivering the services required by organizations of all sizes:

  • Amazon Web Services Cloud (AWS)
  • Microsoft Azure Cloud (Azure)
  • Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

In a comparison between the three, there are a number of advantages and challenges that each presents, whether it be cost usage (per hour in the case of AWS and per minute in the case of Azure and GCP), the delivery model, or the finite details such as the processor and servers used. 

Most organizations will find that all three of the top players provide similar services but in their own cloud stratosphere, which means that the differences between the three are embedded in the way they offer their services rather than what those services are.

For example, GCP focuses on smaller enterprises while Amazon is dedicated to delivering cloud support to the largest companies on a global scale. 

Let’s take a closer look:

  • AWS provided by Amazon is the provider which offers the widest range of service offerings when compared to its competitors. It boasts big clients such as Netflix, Samsung, the Coca-Cola Company, and more. In terms of overarching benefits, organizations migrating to an AWS cloud computing platform find on average that they save around 31% on infrastructure fees, with their IT management 62% more effective and a 43% reduction in security issues over the course of a year. 
  • Azure has the bandwidth to support organizational growth by taking a business global. Owned and developed by Microsoft, it is a big player in the technology business market with over 90% of Fortune 500 companies relying on Azure for their cloud computing. This is because Azure is built to manage complex applications with ease, with the capability to expand user numbers from 20 to 20 million with no additional coding or backend requirements. Azure is also renowned for its hybrid capabilities that allow for a seamless link between on-premise and public cloud computing, and the harmony between the cloud and Microsoft Office applications. 
  • GCP uses its innovation and forward-thinking developmental mindset to support growing enterprises. It is the greenest of the big three and the most likely to be able to support small and medium enterprises rather than big organizations, with the pay-as-you-go pricing model meaning that organizations only pay for what they use. With GCP, this is calculated by the second which allows companies to save money when they’re not using their cloud applications. In terms of industry reach, GCP accounts for just 9% of the world’s cloud-related revenue. However, it attracts small organizations looking to grow and expand, with a key focus on the power of online advertising.  

When comparing the top service providers, understanding how they store data and what they offer in terms of scalability and development is key. 

Migrate To The Cloud With Cost Visibility

Cloud infrastructure includes the components that make it possible to design the cloud architecture that will help your company grow, scale up (or down) quickly, and adapt to business needs.

Migrating to cloud infrastructure can be a huge exercise in cost-cutting, but only when your cloud environment is configured properly, you take advantage of the right services offered by your cloud provider, and you understand how architecture affects your cloud costs.

Having a cloud cost management tool that will help you understand your cloud costs and make informed architecture decisions during your migration can mean the difference between wasting and saving thousands of dollars.

CloudZero has helped companies, like ResponseTap and Validity, successfully migrate their products and services to the cloud, all while helping them save money and visualize their costs. Request a demo today and discover how CloudZero can help you migrate your product or service from your physical data center to the cloud.

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