3 min read

What is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and who should use it?

11 February 2021

Businesses have an increasing number of IT options on the menu, often with vague names. Take ‘the cloud’ as an example. We’re all guilty of talking about the cloud as if it was one type of IT provision when the reality is that cloud services are many and varied, and come with equally confusing names like Infrastructure as a Service.

[Watch our video to learn more about IaaS, SaaS and PaaS]

pizza dough flour cloud representing IaaS

You can hand over all your IT management responsibilities to a cloud provider, or just some of them. These different service levels can be described as:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)

You might opt for all or none or some combination of these for all or some of your workloads, giving you – to return to the menu analogy – a drool-worthy IT smorgasbord.

How is Infrastructure as a Service different from PaaS and SaaS?

With IaaS, you effectively rent the IT infrastructure that supports your business. This includes the servers and everything that makes them operational – storage, networking, virtualization, etc.

With Platform as a Service you also get middleware, development tools, database management systems, etc. all of which speeds up the process of development. Software as a Service then goes even further and delivers ready-to-use applications for you to use, like Office 365 and Salesforce, meaning you can skip the development process and start using the system straight away.

So, the defining characteristic of IaaS is that you start of with the basic ingredients (the infrastructure your providers handles) and you have to build the system up from there, totally bespoke but without many tools to help.

Google’s Albert Barron uses a helpful pizza analogy to explain the difference. IaaS is like buying a pizza base and adding your own toppings. Whereas PaaS is a take-away pizza, and SaaS is the dine-in version. ‘In each case you’re still having pizza,’ he writes, ‘however in some cases you do all of the work and [in] others you have other people do the work for you.

What are the advantages of IaaS?

Even though IaaS requires an IT team to build programmes from scratch and without much programming support, a lot of companies use it since you still get the benefit of your provider’s expertise and their flexibility to scale up or down as you need to save costs. You also have the advantages of getting rid of the day-to-day running costs of housing on-premises server storage and the stress of ensuring resiliency with things like power, cooling and connectivity.

IaaS enables you to eliminate the capital costs of IT infrastructure in exchange for a more affordable pay-as-you-go system. Your IaaS provider takes over the power, cooling and connectivity costs, and because you are leasing the infrastructure from them, they also bear the responsibility for managing and maintaining the servers. (Bear in mind these costs are measured not just in hardware, but also in human hours, which is one reason why they can be quite high.)

The advantage IaaS has over PaaS and SaaS is that the user maintains responsibility for all the software (e.g. application, data, runtime, middleware and operating system) that lies on top of the infrastructure. This gives your company a greater degree of control over your applications, which is valuable for a number of reasons:

  • Build applications bespoke for your specific needs
  • Quicker to launch solutions when new business problems arise
  • Keep all your software and data under your control for increased security

What other value can IaaS bring to a business?

As well as servers, storage, networking hardware and the virtualization layer, IaaS providers will often include additional services in their offer. Things like billing, monitoring, log access, security, backup and disaster recovery give you the reassurance that:

  1. You’re getting the best possible value from your IaaS package.
  2. Your data is protected from both cyber-attacks and real-world events, such as fire or flood damage.

We’d also advocate for choosing a provider that you know will support your goals, whether by offering a sounding board for your IT plans or brainstorming the best ways to use IT to grow your business.

Who should use IaaS?

For businesses without ‘mechanical’ IT knowhow, or those struggling to dedicate enough resources to managing infrastructure, IaaS presents a huge cost saving, while still equipping companies with the infrastructure they need to develop their IT systems and a scalable solution ready to adapt to you demands.

The main reason businesses choose the Infrastructure as a Service model is to enable them to focus their attention and their capital on their business, free of the burden of IT infrastructure maintenance and support.

  • No more being distracted by server upgrades or a power outage in the server room.
  • No more outlaying big money to increase server capacity only to find that capacity becomes redundant six months down the line.
  • IaaS is flexible, so you can add or remove capacity in line with your current needs.
  • Typically, IaaS users pay per user or per hour/week, which is a more manageable cost than a big capital investment.
  • Because the IaaS provider is doing it on a large scale, their costs for power, cooling and connectivity will be much lower, a saving they pass on to you.

If your company needs to be developing bespoke applications and programmes but you’re not equipped to handle the expanded infrastructure this requires, IaaS is the solution for you.

Of course, as with all such things, the level of service provided varies from one provider to another, so do your research. Look for a provider that offers excellent resiliency, maximum uptime and first-class connectivity. You can see our record for all these things here (spoiler alert: we’ve never had a power outage). If you would like to explore the idea of outsourcing your infrastructure management to 4D, check out our services, or get in touch to discuss your requirements with one of our cloud experts.

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