Cloud services:  How do chose and where do you start?  

In general there are three models of cloud service; Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Each has its own benefits, as well as variances, and it is necessary to understand the differences to know how best to choose the model that is right for your business.

Common Examples
SaaSDropbox, Salesforce, Xero, WebEx, Skype, MS Office 365, DocuSign, Slack, HubSpot
PaaSAmazon Elastic Beanstalk, MS Azure, Google Apps Engine, Magento Commerce Cloud, Apache Stratos, Force.com
IaaSDigital Ocean, AWS, MS Azure, Google Compute Engine (GCE), IBM SmartCloud, Apache CloudStack

SaaS: Software as a Service

Software as a Service is the most common use case and entry point to the cloud computing market. SaaS utilises the internet to deliver applications to end users. The vast majority of SaaS applications run directly through a web browser (e.g. Internet Explorer), which means they do not require any downloads or software installations on your own desktop or server hardware.

SaaS Delivery

Due to its web delivery model, SaaS eliminates the need to have IT staff download and install applications on each individual computer. With SaaS, vendors manage all potential technical issues, such as data, middleware, servers, and storage, typically resulting in streamlined maintenance and support for the business.

SaaS Advantages

SaaS provides many advantages to employees and companies by greatly reducing the time and money spent on tedious tasks such as installing, managing, upgrading & supporting software. This frees up the time of your internal technical staff to focus on more value adding work for the organisation.  SaaS applications can be deployed quickly as there are generally fewer customisable options nor any infrastructure to build out and test.  SaaS applications can be reached from anywhere so mobile users with tablets or smartphones can remain productive on the go.

SaaS: Limitations & Concerns

Interoperability. Integration with existing apps and services can be a major concern if the SaaS app is not designed to follow open standards for integration. In this case, organisations may need to design their own integration systems or reduce dependencies with SaaS services, which may not always be possible.

Vendor lock-in. Vendors may make it easy to join a service and difficult to get out of it. For instance, the data may not be portable–technically or cost-effectively–across SaaS apps from other vendors without incurring significant cost or inhouse engineering rework. Not every vendor follows standard APIs, protocols, and tools, yet the features could be necessary for certain business tasks.

Lack of integration support. Some organisations require integrations with on-premise apps, data, and services. The SaaS vendor may offer limited support in this regard, forcing organisations to invest internal resources in designing and managing integrations. The complexity of integrations can further limit how the SaaS app or other dependent services can be used.

Data security. Large volumes of data may have to be exchanged to the backend data centres of SaaS apps in order to perform the necessary software functionality. Transferring sensitive business information to public-cloud based SaaS service may result in compromised security and compliance in addition to significant cost for migrating large data workloads.

Customisation. SaaS apps tend to offer minimal customisation capabilities. Users may be limited to specific functionality, performance, and integrations as offered by the vendor. In contrast, your on-premise solutions may have been built specifically for your unique business processes.

Lack of control. SaaS solutions involves handing control over to the third-party service provider. These controls are not limited to the software–in terms of the version, updates, or appearance–but also the data and governance. Customers may therefore need to redefine their data security and governance models to fit the features and functionality of the SaaS service.

Feature limitations. Since SaaS apps often come in a standardised form, the choice of features may be a compromising trade off against security, cost, performance, or other organisational policies. Furthermore, vendor lock-in, cost, or security concerns may mean it’s not viable to switch vendors or services to serve new feature requirements in the future.

Performance and downtime. Because the vendor controls and manages the SaaS service, your customers now depend on vendors to maintain the service’s security and performance. Planned and unplanned maintenance, cyber-attacks, or network issues may impact the performance of the SaaS app despite adequate service level agreement (SLA) protections in place.

PaaS: Platform as a Service

Cloud platform services, also known as Platform as a Service (PaaS), provide cloud components to certain software while being used mainly for applications. PaaS delivers a framework for developers that they can build upon and use to create customised applications. All servers, storage, and networking can be managed by the enterprise or a third-party provider while the developers can maintain management of the applications.

PaaS Delivery.

PaaS delivery is similar to SaaS, except instead of delivering the software over the internet, PaaS provides a platform for software development. The platform gives developers the freedom to concentrate on building software without having to worry about operating systems, software updates, storage, or infrastructure.  PaaS has built in software components, sometimes called middleware, that are scalable and highly available.

PaaS Advantages

For small and medium sized businesses needing to develop their own software, using PaaS offers numerous advantages, including; a simple, cost-effective development toolkit and deployment process for your applications, scalable and highly available components and resources, developers can customise apps without the headache of maintaining the software, provides the tools & services for testing and deployment of apps, automation of your development, testing and deployment policies & procedures, developers from multiple organisations can collaborate in the same environment without compromising your internal security, and full integration with other web services and databases.

PaaS: Limitations & Concerns

Data security. Organisations can run their own apps and services using PaaS solutions, but the data residing in third-party, vendor-controlled cloud servers can pose security risks and concerns. Your security options may be limited as customers may not be able to deploy services with specific hosting policies.

Integrations. The complexity of connecting the data stored within an onsite data centre or off-premise cloud is increased, which may affect which apps and services can be adopted with the PaaS offering. Particularly when not every component of a legacy IT system is built for the cloud, integration with existing services and infrastructure may be a challenge.

Vendor lock-in. Business and technical requirements that drive decisions for a specific PaaS solution may not apply in the future. If the vendor has not provisioned convenient migration policies, switching to alternative PaaS options may not be possible without significant cost and risk.

Customisation of legacy systems. PaaS may not be a plug-and-play solution for existing legacy apps and services. Instead, several customisations and configuration changes may be necessary for legacy systems to work with the PaaS service. The resulting customisation can result in a complex IT system that may limit the value of the PaaS investment altogether.

PaaS: Limitations & Concerns

Runtime issues. In addition to limitations associated with specific apps and services, PaaS solutions may not be optimized for the language and frameworks of your choice. Specific framework versions may not be available or perform optimally with the PaaS service. Customers may not be able to develop custom dependencies with the platform.

Operational limitation. Customized cloud operations with management automation workflows may not apply to PaaS solutions, as the platform tends to limit operational capabilities for end users. Although this is intended to reduce the operational burden on end users, the loss of operational control may affect how PaaS solutions are managed, provisioned, and operated.

IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service

Cloud infrastructure services, known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), are made of highly scalable and automated computer resources. IaaS is fully self-service for accessing and monitoring computers, networking, storage, and other devices. IaaS allows businesses to purchase resources on-demand and as-needed instead of having to buy hardware outright.

IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service

Cloud infrastructure services, known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), are made of highly scalable and automated computer resources. IaaS is fully self-service for accessing and monitoring computers, networking, storage, and other devices. IaaS allows businesses to purchase resources on-demand and as-needed instead of having to buy hardware outright.

IaaS Delivery

IaaS delivers cloud computing infrastructure, including servers, network, operating systems, and storage, through virtualisation technology. These cloud servers are typically provided to the organization through a dashboard or an API, giving IaaS clients complete control over the entire infrastructure. IaaS provides the same technologies and capabilities as a traditional data centre without having to physically maintain or manage it. IaaS clients can still access their servers and storage directly, but it is all outsourced through a “virtual data centre” in the cloud.

As opposed to SaaS or PaaS, IaaS clients are responsible for managing aspects such as applications, runtime, OSes, middleware, and data. However, providers of the IaaS manage the servers, hard drives, networking, virtualization, and storage. Some providers even offer more services beyond the virtualisation layer, such as databases or message queuing.

IaaS Advantages

IaaS offers many advantages, including; a flexible cloud computing model with easy to automate deployment of storage, networking, servers, and processing power.  Hardware purchases can be based on current consumption demand rather than future requirements, clients retain complete control of their infrastructure, resources can be purchased as-needed so it is highly dynamic & scalable with costs based on your resource consumption.

IaaS: Limitations & Concerns

Security.  While the customer is in control of the apps, data, middleware, and the OS platform, security threats can still be sourced from the host or other virtual machines (VMs). Insider threat or system vulnerabilities may expose data communication between the host infrastructure and VMs to unauthorised entities..

Legacy systems operating in the cloud. While you can run legacy applications in the cloud, the infrastructure may not have the capability built in for any specific security requirements of your legacy apps.  Therefore modifications may be required before migrating them to the cloud, and these will require rigorous testing for security and performance in the IaaS systems.

Internal resources and training. Additional training may be required for your technical team to learn how to effectively manage the cloud infrastructure. You will be responsible for data security, backup, and business continuity but effective monitoring and management of the resources may be difficult without adequate training and resources available inhouse.

Multi-tenant security. Since hardware resources are dynamically allocated across the vendors user base as it is made available, they must ensure that other clients cannot access your data assets. Similarly, they ensure that VMs are adequately isolated within the multitenant cloud architecture.

How Can The Fractional Group Help?

Migrating to cloud computing services is a very attractive proposition for growing businesses.  A Fractional Group IT executive can cut through the technical jargon and lay out the options in language that you can relate to.  So wherever you are on your cloud computing journey we have the experience, skills and knowledge to help you strategise, plan and deliver the cloud computing model best suited to your business requirements whilst avoiding common hurdles and pitfalls.