Cloud Computing: Scaling Traditional SaaS Environment to Futuristic Infrastructure

There are few businesses now who carry out all of their computing needs in-house. Even if the extent of their cloud computing is storing documents in a DropBox folder or using Gmail for communication, most businesses understand that for all its security and privacy benefits, managing everything in-house is too inefficient to be justifiable.

If you have wondered how much of your IT provision could be run in the cloud, the answer is pretty much everything. Upgrading from a traditional SaaS environment to a more futuristic infrastructure is a big step to take though.

Futuristic IT infrastructure

If the idea of the cloud is still a bit of a mystery to you, a great place to start is by comparing the cloud computing stack to a traditional in-house IT set-up.

Understanding the Cloud Computing Stack

Before the arrival of the cloud, bigger businesses (those being the only ones who could afford it) would run their bespoke applications completely in-house. Outside of the IT department, most employees would interact only with the software they needed to do their jobs. They would be considered end users.

How about building and developing the company's apps? With no cloud-based development platforms, all apps would have to be either built by external developers and bought in – at significant capital expense – or built from scratch on an in-house app development platform. Such a platform would sit underneath the operating system and company apps and on top of the in-house architecture, enabling developers to do their jobs.

The bottommost layer of the stack is the infrastructure. This consists of the servers, cables, routers, switches and other hardware and is the domain of the infrastructure architect. The resource expense involved with a full in-house set-up like this is, of course, huge.

The cloud computing stack exactly mirrors these three levels of the traditional stack. The big difference is that everything is maintained and updated by an external provider whose job is to deploy and manage the resources as a service. That is why we now have Software as a service (SaaS), Platform as a service (PaaS) and even Infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

Why Move to IaaS? Balancing Price, Scalability, Control and Security

What are the advantages and disadvantages of choosing a futuristic IaaS deployment?

A parallel can be drawn between SaaS services such as Gmail, DropBox, Basecamp and Salesforce and the IaaS services provided by Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Compute Engine and Rackspace, etc.

The number one advantage for most companies is going to be cost savings. With apps such as Gmail and DropBox, decisions about storage capacity move from capex to opex. Businesses using these services no longer have to worry about ordering in hardware and allocating resources to manage and maintain them. If they want more storage they simply pay for it.

With IaaS, the same principle applies to all computing resources. If you have a surge in business, you simply need to upgrade your service to add more VMs or storage capacity and upscale in response. Likewise, if things slow down you can release unused resources back into the pool and immediately reduce expenditure.

This ties in to the second big advantage of IaaS: scalability. Whereas an in-house deployment might require days or weeks to order in hardware and increase server capacity, IaaS can upscale in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

However, in the same way as you, as a business, are unable to shape the direction of Gmail, Salesforce or DropBox, you are not going to be able to make demands which exceed the customization parameters provided by AWS EC2 or Azure VMs, for instance. These IaaS services are, of course, designed to meet the needs of most businesses but you do have to give up a large element of control.

You also lose a measure of control over security and privacy and this may not fit comfortably with your data security policies. Again, the security measures deployed by Amazon, Microsoft and Google are going to dwarf your company's capabilities anyway but these big players are going to be big targets for cybercriminals and hacktivists and no security fence is invulnerable.

Another issue is where your policies forbid sending sensitive data to third parties. In this case you will need to either rewrite those policies or run a hybrid infrastructure with sensitive data kept in-house and everything else shifted to the cloud.

How About PaaS?

A half-way house between migrating your entire operation to the cloud and spending a lot of money on in-house app development is to opt for a private PaaS deployment such as Azure App Service, Search or CDN; AWS Elastic Beanstalk; Google App Engine;; Apache Stratos or Heroku.

Private PaaS solutions allow businesses to install a third party coding environment and development platform on their own in-house architecture. They can then pay for the resources they need to develop their own in-house applications without compromising on security and privacy.

This can be the best way forward for businesses with an established team of developers and an active application development program.

Of course, PaaS can equally be deployed on top of a cloud (public or private) or hybrid architecture too in order to minimize capital expenditure.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Cloud Consulting Services

As you can see, there is much flexibility when it comes to creating the infrastructure of the future. The flip-side of this is the potential for a lot of confusion. Things can get difficult and expensive, especially if an architecture has been deployed and configured and you suddenly find you haven't included certain important systems or you decide to migrate back to a traditional architecture. It is also possible to spend more than you need on services if you make a bad choice over provider.

This is where quality cloud consulting comes in. With in-depth experience of the migration process and close relationships with top service providers, a good cloud consultant can deliver some serious cost reduction as well as smoothing the entire migration.

Quartsoft can help you with the configuration and installation of backup and storage solutions, setting up of cloud sync services and all other aspects of a cloud migration.

About the Author

Ben Ferguson is the senior network architect and vice president of Shamrock Consulting Group, the leader in technical procurement for telecommunications, data communications, data center, dark fiber procurement and cloud procurement services.

Since his departure from biochemical research in 2004, he has built core competencies around enterprise wide area network architecture, high density data center deployments, public and private cloud deployments and voice over IP telephony.

Ben has designed hundreds of wide area networks for some of the largest companies in the world. When he takes the occasional break from designing networks, he enjoys surfing, golf, working out, trying new restaurants and spending time with his wife, Linsey, and his dog, Hamilton.

Tags: saas, startup, IT