Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): The Complete Guide

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) has revolutionized the way organizations build and manage their IT infrastructure. By providing on-demand access to computing resources, storage, and networking over the internet, IaaS offers unprecedented flexibility and cost-efficiency. This definitive guide provides an in-depth look at everything you need to know about IaaS.

What is Infrastructure as a Service?

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a form of cloud computing that delivers fundamental compute, storage, and networking resources to users on-demand, over the internet. With IaaS, businesses can spin up virtualized infrastructure resources as needed without having to build and maintain expensive on-premises hardware.

The key technology enabling IaaS is virtualization. Hypervisors and other software abstract the physical infrastructure in data centers into virtualized pools of resources. These can then be provisioned rapidly using self-service portals and APIs. Customers pay for IaaS on an on-demand basis, allowing optimal flexibility and cost-efficiency.

IaaS differs from other major cloud computing models:

Software as a Service (SaaS) – End applications delivered over the internet

Platform as a Service (PaaS) – Managed development platforms for building cloud apps

With IaaS, underlying infrastructure is delivered as a service. This gives maximum flexibility for deploying workloads as needed.

Components of an IaaS Platform

An IaaS platform consists of virtualized infrastructure resources delivered from large-scale data centers:

Servers and Compute Power – Various configurations of CPUs, memory, networking

Storage Systems – Object storage, block storage, file storage

Networking – Virtual switches, routers, firewalls, load balancers

Data Center Facilities – Physical buildings with power, cooling, and security

Management Software – Tools to provision and monitor resources

These components are owned and managed by the IaaS provider. Users can provision infrastructure on-demand through a self-service portal or APIs.

Benefits of Infrastructure as a Service

IaaS offers compelling advantages for organizations:

Flexibility – Scale resources up and down on-demand to meet needs

Cost Savings – Pay only for what you use instead of overprovisioning

Efficiency – Deploy faster without lengthy hardware procurement cycles

Resiliency – Leverage cloud provider‘s built-in data backup and disaster recovery

Focus – Devote more resources to core business initiatives rather than IT management

Additional benefits include ubiquitous access, high scalability, and being able to leverage cloud providers‘ innovations.

Common Use Cases for IaaS

The on-demand nature of IaaS makes it suitable for a wide variety of workloads:

Test and Development Environments

  • Quickly stand up infrastructure for quality assurance, load testing etc.
  • Tear down when done and avoid high costs of dedicated non-production infrastructure

Web and Mobile Applications

  • Host the application servers, databases, etc. underpinning apps
  • Geo-distribute infrastructure to locate it closer to users

Big Data Analytics

  • Analyze vast datasets using scalable compute and storage
  • Leverage services like machine learning to uncover insights

High Performance Computing

  • Access specialized hardware like GPUs for scientific modeling, simulations
  • Tap into virtually unlimited capacity

Storage and Backup

  • Utilize cloud object storage for cost-optimized long term retention
  • Replicate data to cloud for disaster recovery

And More…

  • Gaming backends, ecommerce stores, streaming services
  • Anything needing flexible, instantly available infrastructure

Top IaaS Providers

Many technology vendors offer IaaS solutions. The top global providers include:

1. Amazon Web Services (AWS)

The most widely-adopted IaaS platform, used by organizations of all sizes across all industries. Capabilities include:

  • EC2 – vast selection of virtual machine types
  • S3 – scalable object storage
  • Other Services – managed databases, analytics, machine learning, etc.

AWS offers the richest capabilities among commercial IaaS providers. It operates the world‘s largest cloud infrastructure.

2. Microsoft Azure

Cloud platform from the Windows and Office giant. Strengths:

  • Tight integration with Windows ecosystem
  • Powerful PaaS capabilities in addition to IaaS
  • Leadership in hybrid cloud environments

Azure is growing quickly, leveraging Microsoft‘s enterprise customer base.

3. Google Cloud Platform

IaaS from the tech titan behind Search, Android and Gmail. Key features:

  • Excellent price-performance, especially for data-intensive workloads
  • Cutting-edge analytics and machine learning baked-in
  • High-speed global fiber network interconnecting data centers

Google‘s engineering expertise makes its cloud very appealing for modern applications.

4. IBM Cloud

Enterprise-grade IaaS solution combining IBM‘s hardware and consulting strengths:

  • Strong on security, compliance, SLAs for mission-critical workloads
  • Lots of options for bare metal servers and private cloud
  • Emphasis on emerging technologies like AI, blockchain, quantum

IBM Cloud brings a focus on enterprise needs lacking in some rivals.

5. Alibaba Cloud

The leading Chinese public cloud aims to compete globally:

  • Rapid growth and massive scale in Asia-Pacific region
  • Price-competitive with leading cost efficiency
  • Architectural innovations in areas like serverless computing

Language and data sovereignty concerns exist outside China. But inside one of the world‘s largest domestic markets, Alibaba Cloud dominates.

Architecting Optimal IaaS Solutions

Well-architected IaaS solutions balance performance, scalability, security and efficiency. Here are some best practices:

Leverage Multiple Cloud Providers

Avoid vendor lock-in via multi-cloud or hybrid cloud approaches combining IaaS platforms.

Plan for Data Security & Compliance

Use encryption, network segregation, role-based access controls and data loss prevention to protect data.

Design for Reliability

Utilize fault tolerant designs across regions and availability zones.

Cost Optimization

Right size workloads, automate shutdown of unneeded resources, leverage reserved capacity pricing models.

Comparing IaaS to Other Cloud Computing Models

It‘s important to understand IaaS in context of other major cloud computing approaches:

Infrastructure (IaaS) – Access to fundamental compute, storage and network resources to deploy software

  • Flexibility to configure platforms to suit your needs
  • Requires technical expertise for implementation and management

Platform (PaaS) – Managed development, integration and deployment environment for applications

  • Fast time-to-market by leveraging prebuilt components
  • Some constraints on supported languages, frameworks, etc.

Software (SaaS) – Ready-to-use cloud-based application

  • Fastest setup as fully turnkey solution
  • Limited customization capabilities

IaaS sits in the middle – more flexibility than PaaS or SaaS but more hands-on than the higher level abstractions.

The Future of Infrastructure as a Service

IaaS adoption is growing even faster than the broader public cloud services market – which is saying a lot. IaaS offers tremendous advantages in flexibility, innovation pace and economies of skill. Emerging IaaS capabilities include:

Containers & Serverless Computing

Virtual machines are being augmented with containers and serverless platforms for greater portability and auto-scaling.

Edge Computing

Processing data closer to users by distributing IaaS resources to points of presence in metro areas rather than just centralized mega-data centers.

Cloud-Native Functionality

Core infrastructure services designed from scratch specifically for cloud rather than being based on legacy on-premises architectures.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

IaaS has revolutionized IT infrastructure by making compute, storage and networking resources available on-demand over the internet. The key points to understand are:

  • IaaS allows businesses to scale required infrastructure up and down to precisely meet needs
  • Avoiding overprovisioning saves money while increased flexibility accelerates innovation
  • Leading IaaS providers offer rich capabilities for all types of workloads
  • Architect cloud-based solutions properly for optimal ROI
  • IaaS sits in the middle between highly customizable IaaS and fully packaged SaaS
  • Ongoing technology improvements will further expand IaaS capabilities

For any organization looking to achieve maximum speed, agility and cost-efficiency with technology infrastructure, IaaS is likely to play a pivotal enabling role. Mastering this important cloud computing model opens up tremendous opportunities.