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Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Buying Guide

Cloud computing infrastructure-as-a-service is redefining hosting, enabling companies to rent computing and networking capability using a pay-as-you-go model.
Posted October 31, 2011
By

Jeff Vance


(Page 1 of 3)

Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is arguably the future of hosting. Traditional hosting companies, carriers and a bevy of service-provider newcomers all have a stake in this new market space.

Meanwhile, enterprises that are stuck managing traditional on-premise infrastructures are losing ground competitively against nimble, cloud-based startups. As data centers grow, so do operational responsibilities for IT staffs, and in these days of tight IT budgets and widespread layoffs, the data center status quo is not sustainable for any but the largest organizations.

The IaaS sector is still an immature and evolving market. Yet, according to a recent survey by F5 Networks, over 65 percent of enterprises are already adopting IaaS and PaaS services.

Since the IaaS model is new and somewhat confusing, I should pause here to define the term. IaaS is a computing model where organizations rent computing resources, including servers, storage and networking, from service providers on a pay-as-you-go basis. In the early phases of IaaS, many organizations still manage their own (rented) infrastructure and use the IaaS platform as the foundation for their applications.

Key features of IaaS include the ability to scale up or down as needed, pay-as-you-go billing, the inclusion of virtualized hardware resources and the automation of burdensome IT tasks, such as patching.

A key advantage of IaaS is that as soon as the service provider patches, updates or innovates, those changes are often immediately and transparently available to customers.

As you investigate various IaaS solutions, here are five questions you should answer before deciding on any specific provider:

1. Is the IaaS model right for you, or are you better off with PaaS, SaaS or other cloud models?

The simplest way to separate out IaaS from PaaS and SaaS is to envision the cloud service provider stack. IaaS starts with the data center plumbing (HVAC, electricity, etc.), moves up to network plumbing (routers, switches, load balancers, etc.) and on up to server and storage hardware, which then typically includes a virtualization layer on top.

That’s where IaaS leaves off. PaaS takes up the next two layers of the stack, operating systems and infrastructure software (MySQL, Azure, Java, Google Apps, etc.), while SaaS delivers hosted applications, such as those from Salesforce.com. Using IaaS and PaaS services, organizations can deliver their own apps in a cloud-based, on-demand fashion.

Of course, the cloud provider stack looks a heck of a lot like the old OSI stack, just wrapped in different nomenclature. That’s true, but there are three key differences: 1) virtualization is the cornerstone of the xaaS delivery model; 2) services are delivered elastically, meaning customers can scale up or down at will and without having to renegotiate contracts, and 3) services are paid for via the pay-as-you-go utility model, rather than the traditional shrink-wrap, per-CPU one.

As with any new technology, the xaaS divisions aren’t set in stone. There will be plenty of spillover from one model to the next and not every service provider will define things consistently.

The question to ask, then, is how do you intend to develop and deploy applications? If your developers need a lot of autonomy to do things their way, IaaS is probably the model for you.

Impact Dialing, as with so many startups, was founded out of frustration. Founder Michael Kaiser-Nyman had previously worked on political campaigns, and making numerous calls to raise funds, persuade people on key issues and get out the vote was a major headache.

Auto-dialing programs were cumbersome and expensive, and trying to train volunteers to use them was nearly impossible. “Legacy auto-dialers are built on legacy computing platforms, all on their own servers in their own data centers. Usability is low and scalability is terrible,” Kaiser-Nyman said.


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Tags: cloud computing, networking, data center, servers, IaaS, buyer guide


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