What – in simple terms – is the cloud? How to easily decide if you need SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS? What are the main advantages and disadvantages? Here you’ll find answers to all of these questions in a short, easily digestible form. Welcome to our new cycle:
Cloud guide for business owners – everything an entrepreneur needs to know
Cloud – the basics
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What is the cloud?
What these resources are depends only on a company’s needs. It may be an entire infrastructure, a platform for developers (like Google App Engine, where web applications can be built and hosted), or even just an application (like Microsoft Office 365).
What are the options? IaaS – PaaS – SaaS
The cloud is usually used as the opposite to “on-premise” solutions, which means installing and using applications loaded into the hardware existing on the premises of a company. However, it isn’t enough to say that cloud applications are installed and used on servers belonging to a cloud provider and accessible via the Internet. There are three main ways in which a company may use the cloud. Here comes the distinction between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, and how this distinction affects the cloud’s pros and cons.
IaaS, Infrastructure as a Service, means that you don’t have to maintain or configure storage, servers, or network monitoring. You are outsourcing an infrastructure. You can control the operating system, middleware (which lets data communicate with a database), runtime, you can also build and install applications, and add data. You are getting a server (virtual machine) loaded on hardware located in a data center, and you can control everything about that virtual machine – but nothing about the hardware.
In short, that means you don’t have to worry about the well-being and efficiency of physical hardware. Instead, you can develop apps, use them, and also optimize the whole infrastructure to fit your exact needs. Such maintenance takes time and effort, but a lot of IT engineers demand that level of control.
PaaS, Platform as a Service, means you are outsourcing only a platform for the developers: a space in which you are setting data and developing applications. Everything below, every item that allows this environment to work is managed by someone else – in the case of a cloud, by a cloud provider. You are using an environment that enables you to work – you don’t have control over it and don’t maintain it, so you can (or even have to) focus all your efforts on creating, testing, and using apps.
In short, with PaaS all optimization happens without you. In terms of the cloud’s pros and cons: this limits your possibilities – but also provides you with a ready-to-go development environment. It does not require as much skills as IaaS, because thanks to automation it is much less prone to mistakes. It saves time for developers because they don’t have to worry about maintenance.
SaaS, Software as a Service, is the most limited option. You are outsourcing software only – for example, an application or service, such as Microsoft Office 365, Netflix, or Gmail. You cannot modify it, you don’t even know on what infrastructure is it based – you just use it. If you are an end-user – which basically means someone interested in creating documents in a text editor or transfer payments through a transfer application – that is all you need. After all, you don’t usually write code or optimize programs to make them work better, you just use them.
As you can see, the cloud isn’t about choosing between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. For most companies it is quite obvious which one is the best option – the answer depends on your role and on the way your company uses applications. If you – as a company – need only software, such as applications or an e-mail client, you choose SaaS. If your company creates and deploys apps, you have to reach for PaaS. And if scaling, controlling, and managing infrastructure is important, and your team has the necessary skills to pull it off, IaaS is the most powerful machine for your big data, large volume analysis, and storage. As such, considering the cloud’s pros and cons must be based on the company’s business needs.
Why should you even care? Advantages of the cloud
The way a company works when using the cloud is different than in the case of on-premise solutions. The main differences, and the most important pros of the cloud, are:
Scalability – if your company deploys applications for the public or faces huge variations in traffic and data usage, the cloud can help in managing the capacity of servers. In simple terms: when the traffic is higher, the cloud will use more servers. When the traffic goes down – it will use less.
Subscription-based payment instead of paying up-front – if your company plans to buy more servers or just sets its own infrastructure, it has to face huge costs (hardware, space, cooling systems, server optimization, and so on). With the cloud, you pay a subscription for the resources you use. It isn’t an investment, but operational costs.
Time efficiency – with the cloud your IT team does not have to deal with hardware maintenance or optimization. The time saved on server optimization (more in PaaS, a bit less in IaaS) can be devoted to the development and deployment of applications.
Shorter time-to-market – if your company creates and deploys applications than with cloud solutions their development becomes much faster. Your IT team won’t waste time optimizing servers, they will just use whatever space and capacity they need – cloud automation takes care of the best settings.
Availability – out of all cloud’s pros, this is one of the most frequently mentioned. With the cloud, you can access your apps from any place and any device – if you have the Internet connection, you’ll always be able to reach your data.
Drawbacks of the cloud to consider
Despite all the marketing, the cloud isn’t a flawless solution. It isn’t a solution for everyone. Here are the cons you have to consider:
Security – with on-premise solutions, all data is stored on servers under your control. With the cloud, it is stored on the hardware you’ll (most probably) never see in your life. If there is a problem, you won’t be able to do anything about it. You’ll have to wait until the cloud provider fixes it.
Costs – the cloud isn’t a cost-effective solution in each and every case. If your company has constant traffic and data usage (for example if applications are used only by a constant number of workers), and company servers are well-optimized and not outdated, the overall costs of your infrastructure might be lower than with the cloud.
It takes time and effort – with the cloud it is easy to connect applications, integrate them, and manage them quickly and with ease in the software development environment. But you have to make a lot of preparations to get to such a state. Sometimes your company’s applications have to be rewritten or even built from scratch so they can use the full potential of the cloud. Nothing comes easy – especially when you want to achieve the highest quality available.
Now you have a general idea about the cloud and its pros and cons – you can start considering its adoption in your company.
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