What is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)?

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS for short) is the backbone of cloud computing. Rather than purchasing an expensive datacenter, labor, real estate, and all of the utilities to maintain it, users rent space in a virtual data center from an IaaS provider. They have access to the virtual data center via the Internet, known as the cloud. This segment of cloud computing provides the raw materials for IT, and users only pay for the equipment they use, including (but not limited to) CPU cores, RAM, hard disk space, and data transfer; think ProfitBricks, Amazon EC2, or Rackspace Cloud. All three providers allow users to rent virtual servers.

When renting from a cloud IaaS provider, users are renting the hardware. In most cases, since the hardware functions as a backbone only, individuals must manage their platform and applications. This includes maintaining the software environment. The IaaS provider takes responsibility for the hardware and performs all the maintenance to ensure the servers run correctly. Because a variety of custom applications can be coded and run on IaaS, it becomes impossible for a team to manage and troubleshoot all of the software and hardware.

Currently, there are three main IaaS cloud types:

  1. Public IaaS Cloud: in the public cloud, provider(s) rent(s) out hardware resources to the general public using virtualization technology. This allows multiple users to share server resources. The public cloud is a prime example of the cloud computing model: easy to set up, highly scalable, and users will only pay for the resources that they use.
  2. Private IaaS Cloud: the private cloud employs virtualization technology and delivers cloud-computing services to a single organization. All of this is provisioned privately, and sits behind the firewalls of the individual business. Servers and resources are specifically dedicated to the business, and cannot be used by others. Access can be limited in a number of ways as well. The private cloud is best suited for businesses that rely on security, fueled by the need to have a more conscious control over their computing environment(s).
  3. Hybrid IaaS Cloud: the hybrid cloud is two or more conjoined clouds—public or private. For example, a company may choose to manage some servers in a private cloud while outsourcing other servers to a public cloud. The hybrid cloud idea allows companies to take advantage of scalability with cloud technologies, all while managing sensitive company data and/or applications.

For businesses—especially SMBs—Infrastructure as a Service is a reasonable alternative to purchasing and maintaining traditional hardware. It simply makes financial sense. Before IaaS options were readily available, startups and SMBs in the technology space would purchase their own servers, racks, and other equipment. Then, a space would be needed to house the hardware. In order to keep everything running and prevent servers from overheating, the combination of installed cooling systems and 24x7 electricity would generate large utility bills. Whenever servers crashed, the business would need to hire professionals to fix the problem. Cloud IaaS distributes those expenses among all of its end users to maintain low costs for anyone signed up.

History & Trending

Infrastructure as a Service was catalyzed by the 2008 U.S. financial crisis. Although IaaS services were available at the time, many businesses chose to maintain their data and mission-critical applications in-house. Following the housing crisis, companies were forced to cut back on budgets and find cheaper alternatives for maintaining business continuity. Companies were, at first, reluctant to migrate sensitive data to a third party provider through the Internet.

Initially, the push for IaaS was mainly for cost-cutting purposes. Pure-play IaaS providers started to emerge around mid-2008 to deliver only IaaS services. By 2010 however, IaaS providers were ready to take a further step in development. At the time, many services still turned to cloud computing as an inexpensive alternative to IT. As the potential for IaaS started to expand, businesses began to emphasize other important features in the space, including high scalability and security. These security features would begin to ease the concerns of enterprises looking to deploy a cloud network.

Throughout 2010 and 2011, the Infrastructure as a Service industry grew despite the economy and is predicted to grow, hitting a €9.5 billion ($12.5 billion) industry by 2014, according to Gartner. Users place high expectations on cloud security from providers, and as a result, IaaS providers usually deliver a bevvy of security features to compensate. These include, but are not limited to, physical datacenter security, 24x7 monitoring, and compliance with datacenter security standards such as HIPAA.

Businesses that are expanding and evolving look to IaaS providers to host their infrastructure and IT services as an inexpensive alternative, especially for an SMB/SME. Businesses can now save thousands of dollars per month by utilizing the “rental service” structure that IaaS employs, obtaining high-end computing resources with business-capable security at a fraction of the cost.