The Different Facets of Cloud Computing
Accessing business services over the internet
The rapid adoption of technology is imperative for businesses at all levels. The past year has accelerated digital transformation plans, driven in part by businesses realizing the benefits and necessity of being able to manage a remote workforce and the related increase in video conferencing.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said companies are “accomplishing two years’ worth of digital transformation in just two months.” Cloud computing is at the center of rapid digitization plans, tapping into software and services that run on the internet, instead of locally on your computer.
Cloud computing allows companies to ramp up quickly, with outside vendors providing networking, hardware, operating systems and software. Cloud service providers take on work like providing procurement, maintenance, and capacity planning, leaving internal IT departments to focus on critical company tasks.
There are different types of cloud computing services and ways to deploy them. The top cloud computing companies are Amazon Web Service (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud (in that order). You can read a 2021 review of each service here.
A word of caution: Despite how rapidly cloud computing is being adopted, platforms are not without security risks and vulnerabilities. It is good to fully understand the different types of services, options for deployment, and how to minimize risks before deciding how to deploy cloud services for your company.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Software as a Service (SaaS) provides a complete software product from a cloud service provider’s network. In most cases, SaaS refers to a software delivery model over the internet which is based on subscription and licensing. Some services are free, some are pay-as-you-go. You likely are already using SaaS in one form- your personal email. Other examples include calendaring apps and office tools, online learning, accounting software and payment gateways, reservation and booking apps, and many more.
With SaaS, software is entirely maintained by the provider, including the underlying infrastructure, middleware and app data, which is located in the service provider’s data center. A service agreement typically covers your use of the service, security of the app and how your data is managed. SaaS provides a way for companies to quickly get set up and access software that someone else maintains, at minimal upfront cost.
According to Statistica, SaaS has grown from $13.4 billion in 2010 to more than $132 billion in 2020.
The advantage of using SaaS is that businesses can gain access to advanced apps, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), at an affordable rate versus building a custom solution, paying only for what is needed. Distributed teams can access the software from anywhere. Providers have done the heavy lifting of making sure the apps run on all different types of devices. Being cloud based eliminates the risk of losing data if a piece of hardware fails.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
As organizational computing needs have grown exponentially, demand for the basic building blocks, including physical servers, networking capability and data storage, have also increased. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), instantly provides this expanded backbone for business computing, accessed over the internet. IaaS allows businesses to scale up or down as needed, and avoid the expense of purchasing servers or building out a data center.
IaaS can be combined with Saas. Alternatively, a company can procure and manage their own software while using IaaS.
Some businesses use IaaS to set up test and development environments, potentially bringing new apps to market quicker. Web apps can also be stored on IaaS servers. In some cases, IaaS provides a more economical solution for website hosting than traditional options. Storage, back-up and recovery of data can be complex, with growing compliance requirements. IaaS management covers growing storage needs without the significant capital outlay of building the infrastructure in house. Similarly, companies can save on the huge processing costs when analyzing big data. Finally, businesses can respond quicker to business shifts, such as an unexpected spike in purchases in a pandemic or seasonal rises and declines.
If designated in the service level agreement (SLA), IaaS can improve business continuity by providing rapid disaster recovery after an outage. The SLA is also an area where better overall security for applications data and can be established, including using automation to mitigate threats. Often, these integrated security services are more advanced than what a company could build on their own.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Platform as a service (PaaS) supports the complete web application lifecycle, from building and testing to deploying, managing and updating. PaaS eliminates the need for organizations to provide and manage hardware and operating systems for these projects, allowing the companies to immediately move into development. Greater efficiencies are achieved by minimizing the resource and capacity planning steps.
PaaS might seem similar to Iaas, but Platform as a Service is distinctly focused on the framework for developers, using built-in software components. PaaS also allows companies to mine and evaluate their data to improve product design and related business decisions.
Advantages to using PaaS include less coding time for developers, being able to develop new apps without adding staff and supporting geographically separate teams. Accessing sophisticated tools, apps can be developed for multiple platforms and efficiently managed throughout the application lifecycle.
Cloud Computing Deployment Models
A cloud-based application fully lives in the cloud and is accessed via the internet. Applications are either migrated to the cloud from a company’s own infrastructure or another service provider, or are entirely created in the cloud. Cloud-based applications can be built on infrastructure that exists within the cloud service provider’s offerings.
A hybrid deployment connects a company’s existing on-premises infrastructure with cloud-based resources. The cloud essentially becomes an extension of company resources, allowing it to expand as needed.
An on-premises deployment keeps infrastructure physically located with the company, providing dedicated resources. They system can tap into some new technologies over the internet to increase that resource utilization. This deployment model is most similar to legacy IT infrastructure, and does not provide all of the benefits of cloud computing.
Security risks and vulnerabilities
Just because a company’s data and or some infrastructure resources are in the cloud does not mean it is secure, even if managed by one of the big three tech companies. If anything, cloud computing has caused greater challenges in cybersecurity. However, risks can be mitigated.
According to the 2020 Cloud Security Report produced by Check Point Software Technologies, “the highest ranking threat was misconfiguration, with 68% of companies citing this as their greatest concern (up from 62% from the previous year). Misconfiguration takes place when a cloud-related system, tool, or asset is not configured properly, thus endangering the system and exposing it to a potential attack or data leak. This threat was followed by unauthorized access (58%), insecure interfaces (52%), and account hijacking (50%).”
Cloud computing is complex, changing rapidly and challenging from a security standpoint. It is important to understand that security is a partnership. Companies must still have their own risk management plan, and work hand in hand with cloud vendors. For a more comprehensive view, marketing research company Gartner has a 2021 Planning Guide for Security and Risk Management that you can download here. It is a good place to start when drafting or updating your own company’s plan.