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What Is IaaS? Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is a cloud computing service model in which computing resources are hosted in a public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud. Businesses can use the IaaS model to shift some or all of their use of on-premises or collocated data center infrastructure to the cloud, where it is owned and managed by a cloud provider. These cost-effective infrastructure elements can include compute, network, and storage hardware as well as other components and software.

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In the IaaS model, the cloud provider owns and operates the hardware and software and also owns or leases the data center. When you have an IaaS solution, you rent the resources like compute or storage, provision them when needed, and pay for the resources your organization consumes. For some resources such as compute, you’ll pay for the resources you use. For others such as storage, you’ll pay for capacity.

How does IaaS work?

In a typical IaaS model, a business—which can be of any size—consumes services like compute, storage, and databases from a cloud provider. The cloud provider offers those services by hosting hardware and software in the cloud. The business no longer needs to purchase and manage its own equipment, or space to host the equipment, and the cost shifts to a pay-as-you-go model. When the business needs less, it pays for less. And as it grows, it can provision additional computing resources and other technologies in minutes.

In a traditional on-premises scenario, a business manages and maintains its own data center. The business must invest in servers, storage, software, and other technologies, and hire an IT staff or contractors to purchase, manage, and upgrade all the equipment and licenses. The data center has to be built to meet peak demand, even though sometimes workloads decline and those resources stand idle. Conversely, if the business grows quickly, the IT department might struggle to keep up.

IaaS Cloud Computing—What is the difference?

At a minimum, cloud infrastructure includes core compute, storage, and network resources. More recently it has come to also include higher-level services (sometimes known as platform as a service [PaaS]) such as relational and NoSQL databases, real-time and batch data processing, developer pipelines and services, containers, and functions. Unlike software as a service (SaaS), IaaS is not for the typical end user. IaaS is for applications IT, IT operations, DevOps, system and database administrators, and full-stack developers.

Benefits of IaaS

Infrastructure as a service provides four core benefits that enable businesses to move faster and achieve their digital transformation goals.

  • Cloud infrastructure reduces the time and cost of provisioning and scaling environments for DevTest and production. This gives developers and DevOps teams more freedom to experiment and innovate.
  • By making computing services available on demand, businesses can scale their infrastructure up or down as needed, paying only for what they use on an hourly, daily, or monthly basis, while handling greater peak scale than possible in most on-premises environments.
  • IaaS can give businesses access to new and improved equipment and services—such as the latest processors, storage, networking hardware, and container orchestration—that many businesses could not afford to acquire on-premises or would not be able to access as quickly.
  • IaaS is available in most geographies, with a regional presence near large population centers, which enables businesses to grow their online footprint more quickly.

Shifting to an IaaS model can be transformational for businesses, especially for their IT departments. Instead of focusing much of their time on managing and supporting on-premises infrastructure, IT staff can devote more hours to high-value activities that make the business more efficient and productive. The pay-as-you-go model also reduces forecasting errors and keeps costs aligned with actual needs.

IaaS increases stability, reliability, and supportability

Businesses are choosing IaaS for their mission-critical workloads because of its unmatched stability, reliability, and supportability. When compared to on-premises systems, IaaS offers more uptime, redundancy built in at every layer, better security and disaster protection options, and a scale that on-premises environments can’t beat.

Who uses IaaS solutions?

IaaS is becoming increasingly popular across all industries, and its range of uses is expanding. The core infrastructure cloud user base includes IT operators, applications IT, DevOps teams, systems and database administrators, and full-stack developers at businesses that build and run applications. It is also used by businesses that want a flexible cloud infrastructure to support their ERP, financial, supply chain, and other internal applications.

Initially, IaaS was used primarily by cloud native organizations for workloads that were temporary, experimental, or that might change unexpectedly. Today, many large enterprises, drawn by the benefits of IaaS, are increasingly moving to the model to support their mission-critical back-office, systems of record, and other workloads.

When it comes to innovation, IaaS is also becoming a favored solution. Companies that still maintain their data centers on-premises find it very difficult and expensive to extend beyond just keeping things running. To innovate and stay competitive in the marketplace, forward-looking organizations are moving their data centers to the cloud. By taking advantage of IaaS, they can free up their talent and resources to deliver the innovation they envision and grow their business.

Advantages of IaaS

IaaS offers multiple advantages over traditional on-premises data centers. With IaaS, organizations can:

Reduce expenses Businesses that have switched to IaaS don’t have to buy, manage, and maintain their infrastructure, and they pay only for what they use—even over five-year or longer depreciation periods.
Improve business continuity Cloud infrastructure typically provides a higher degree of uptime and more disaster recovery options than on-premises deployments because it has redundancy built in at every layer, offers multiple fault domains, and geographically distributed locations, and is run at massive scale by operations experts.
Accelerate innovation IaaS makes it fast, easy, and affordable to test new products and ideas. Instead of having to develop detailed forecasts and invest in new infrastructure, businesses can ramp up their cloud infrastructure in minutes, then scale up or down as needed.
Take advantage of the latest technologies Many cloud providers package and deploy new hardware and software—including artificial intelligence and machine learning frameworks—long before businesses can implement them on- premises.
Speed provisioning Even virtualized on-premises infrastructures suffer from long provisioning times of weeks or even months. With IaaS, entire application environments can be provisioned in minutes.
Focus on core business IaaS frees IT departments from spending as much as half of their resources on managing and maintaining on-premises hardware and software. With IaaS, organizations can also enable DevOps and other teams to access the infrastructure themselves, so they can run and test without delay.
Scale faster Businesses need more resources during peak workloads—such as during monthly reporting periods. With IaaS, the infrastructure can scale in minutes, so reports can be run quickly and staff can focus on more business-critical activities.

Future for IaaS and cloud computing

Your cloud provider is in the business of making sure your IT environment is as good as it can be. They often have bleeding-edge hardware, so you don’t need to research and purchase it yourself. And you don’t need to go through specialized training and long provisioning cycles to upgrade your infrastructure. Instead, you have the time and resources to focus on your business.

IaaS examples

Businesses are using IaaS in a variety of ways.

Test and development With IaaS, DevOps teams can set up and take down test and development environments quickly and at low cost, so they can get new applications to market faster.
Traditional applications IaaS supports both cloud native applications and traditional enterprise applications, including ERP and business analytics applications.
Website hosting and apps Many businesses run their websites on IaaS to optimize costs. IaaS also supports web and mobile apps, which can be quickly deployed and scaled.
Storage, backup, and recovery Storing and backing up data on-premises, as well as planning for and recovering from disasters, requires a great deal of time and expertise. Moving their infrastructure to the cloud helps businesses reduce costs and frees them up to focus on other tasks.
High performance computing With its pay-as-you-go model, IaaS makes high performance computing (HPC) and other data-intensive, project-oriented tasks more affordable.