What is Infrastructure-as-a-Service?

A Comprehensive Guide to IaaS

Written by Kelsey Kinzer on June 10, 2022

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Ever since infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) emerged as a popular cloud computing model in the early 2010s, it has become the standard abstraction framework for multiple workloads. 

Organizations use IaaS for various reasons, including but not limited to:

  • Ease of accessibility
  • Convenience
  • Reduced operational expenditure (OpEx) costs
  • Flexible scaling 

The latter two benefits stem from the fact that virtually all cloud service providers (CSPs) offer IaaS based on a “pay-as-you-go” pricing scheme where businesses only pay for what they consume. 

Learn more about IaaS, how it works, its benefits, and use cases in this post. You’ll also learn how a cloud directory platform can help streamline identity and access management (IAM) in IaaS-based workloads. 

What Is Infrastructure-as-a-Service?

IaaS is a cloud computing system in which organizations lease IT infrastructure for computing, networking, and storage services in the cloud. It’s a scalable alternative to the traditional on-prem data center environments. Organizations can leverage IaaS to avoid the costs associated with deploying and maintaining their own physical IT infrastructure. 

With IaaS, an organization can access various IT resources on demand through the “pay-as-you-go” pricing model. This flexibility allows businesses to increase or decrease resources in response to new user requirements. 

How Does IaaS Work?

Under the IaaS model, the CSP hosts all the IT infrastructure components that you would typically find in on-prem environments. This includes servers, networking, and storage resources, as well as the hypervisor, which creates a virtualization layer. The CSP maintains and delivers such resources to subscribers through virtual machines (VMs) accessible via the internet. 

The CSP can also provide other services such as load balancing, security, clustering, monitoring, and storage resiliency. These services are often policy-driven, enabling subscribers to implement greater levels of orchestration and automation for essential infrastructure tasks. 

For example, IT teams can enforce load balancing policies to maintain workload availability and performance through a virtual interface. CSPs usually deliver the resources using an efficient and cost-effective multi-tenant architecture, allowing different subscribers to share the same computing resources. CSPs can also offer a single-tenant model — at a higher cost — for subscribers that need isolated computing environments. 

Benefits of IaaS

Companies can derive many benefits from using IaaS. This makes it an appealing option to address IT needs.

Significant Cost Savings 

With IaaS, businesses do not have to spend money servicing hardware and networking equipment. They also don’t have to pay annual or monthly fees for IT services they do not use. 

Improved Continuity and Disaster Recovery 

CSPs provide high levels of reliability, with service level agreements (SLAs) that can offer as high as 99.999% uptime. IaaS can also enable disaster recovery solutions that allow businesses to support tighter recovery point objectives (RPOs) and recovery time objectives (RTOs) than on-prem setups. 

Scalable and Flexible Infrastructure

With IaaS, businesses can easily scale up and down based on user requirements. This flexibility enables organizations to respond to any change that may come up. 

Enhanced Security 

Most IaaS providers invest heavily in IT security operations to ensure the data they manage is secure. Some of these measures include strict access guidelines to the physical location of data centers, end-to-end encryption, and multiple forms of authentication. 

Disadvantages of IaaS

Despite the many benefits that IaaS provides, it also has its own challenges. Let’s take a look at a few of these challenges. 

Granular Billing Can Be Challenging and Costly

While cloud billing through the “pay-as-you-go” pricing framework may provide huge savings, it can be complicated to understand. Without a clear breakdown of the costs, your monthly fees can accumulate to unexpected levels, or peak usage may be more than what you’ve budgeted for. 

Resources Can Sprawl

IaaS makes it easy for IT teams to spin up VMs. Without a mechanism to track and shut down unused VMs, an organization can end up with many orphaned instances with limited visibility or control. 

Workloads Can Be Affected by Downtime

While IaaS spreads the enterprise’s data across multiple data centers, downtime can restrict its accessibility. Unfortunately, no IaaS provider can claim its service is free from downtime issues.

Noisy Neighbor

The architecture for virtually all IaaS is based on multi-tenancy, which means that a single architecture can host all subscribers’ applications and data. A “noisy neighbor or VM” can use the majority of all the available resources, causing network performance issues for other subscribers on the shared infrastructure. 

What Are Some of the Use Cases for IaaS?

IaaS is useful in many instances. Below are the most common use cases for IaaS.

Application Testing and Development 

IaaS can help run critical business applications with higher scalability due to its SLAs that emphasize reliability and security. Software developers can quickly spin up VMs to accelerate testing and development environments in IaaS environments. 

Web Applications 

IaaS can be an optimal solution for organizations that want to host complex web projects, especially for sites with profound fluctuating traffic. A web application hosted in an IaaS environment can benefit from a massive network of distributed physical servers and manage unanticipated demands. 

Disaster Recovery and Backup Solutions

Developing centralized file storage and backup solutions for many users can be tedious and complex. With IaaS, this process can be done in a few steps.

High-Performance Computing

Because of its scalability, IaaS is a better alternative for companies that want to implement high-performance computing (HPC) tasks that entail the use of supercomputers. Using IaaS to power HPC tasks enables the data to be processed faster without any performance lags.

Big Data Analytics

IaaS is best suited for big data analytics because companies can leverage it to manage large workloads. This allows businesses to generate insights that end users can use to predict current and future trends. 

What Is Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is a technology that allows an organization to rent instead of purchasing IT infrastructure. Rather than investing heavily in hardware, databases, and software, organizations opt for cloud computing services to access computing resources through the internet and pay for them as they use them. 

Cloud computing provides the scalability, flexibility, and speed that allows organizations to develop, innovate, and support IT solutions. 

What Is a Virtual Machine?

A virtual machine is a virtualized computer or a software-defined computer operating within a physical host. Like a physical computer, a VM has its own processor, memory, and storage disks and can connect to the internet if required. However, while the parts that make up a typical computer (hardware) are tangible, a VM uses software to run programs.

A VM offers an abstracted environment that you can use to run your own operating system (OS) and applications independently from the underlying hardware or other VMs on the same host. The VM’s OS — commonly called the guest OS — can be the same as or different from the host’s OS and other VMs.

IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS

IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS are the three common categories of cloud service models. IaaS provides on-demand access to cloud-hosted physical IT infrastructure, including servers, networking, and storage resources. You can think of IaaS as a cloud-hosted backend IT infrastructure that runs applications and workloads. 

PaaS (or Platform-as-a-service) is a cloud service offering where users access a ready-to-use, cloud-hosted platform for building, deploying, maintaining, and managing applications. The CSP hosts and manages all the hardware and software in a PaaS environment, including servers, OSs, databases, middleware, and development tools. The CSP can also offer related security services, such as backups and OS and software upgrades. 

SaaS (or Software-as-a-Service), on the other hand, is a ready-to-use, cloud-hosted application service. The SaaS vendor hosts and manages all the infrastructure required to deliver the application to the subscriber, including servers, networking, storage, middleware, data storage, and the source code. Subscribers, in turn, pay a monthly or annual fee for using the complete software. 

Cloud Deployment Models

A cloud deployment model is a configuration framework that identifies the cloud environment type based on ownership, scalability, and accessibility. It specifies how your cloud infrastructure will appear and what changes you can make. There are four basic types of cloud deployment models:

1. Public Cloud

As the name suggests, a public cloud is a cloud deployment model where CSPs provide cloud-based services to the users via the internet. Examples include Amazon Web Services, Azure, IBM Cloud, and Google Cloud Platform. It is the first choice for organizations with low privacy concerns. 

2. Private Cloud

A private cloud — also called corporate or internal cloud — is a cloud deployment model where all the IT resources are dedicated to a single subscriber. It combines many of the benefits of cloud-based services — including scalability and flexibility — with access control and security of on-prem IT infrastructure. 

3. Hybrid Cloud

A hybrid cloud is a cloud deployment model that combines an on-prem data center (private cloud) with a public cloud, enabling workloads to be shared between them. 

4. Multi-Cloud

A multi-cloud deployment model is one where an organization uses cloud services from more than one CSP. It combines the on-prem operations with workloads running on multiple CSPs, enabling organizations to benefit from each platform while mitigating their downsides.

Bare Metal Cloud vs. IaaS

Bare metal cloud is a cloud-based environment where cloud providers offer a dedicated server that businesses can configure and provision as they wish. Bare metal cloud allows subscribers to gain access to the entire processing power, including networking, storage, and other services they require to manage their workloads. IaaS, on the other hand, allows subscribers to gain access to virtualized resources from where they can install the OS and applications of their choice. 

Using JumpCloud with IaaS

IaaS is a flexible, cost-effective, and proven cloud delivery platform that businesses can leverage to deliver workloads to their employees. However, like any cloud computing service out there, IaaS also presents an added security risk because IT services get outsourced to third-party CSPs and then employees access them from multiple heterogeneous endpoints.

Even in closed, on-prem environments with well-defined “trust boundaries,” managing Active Directory (AD), Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), or other alternatives is no easy task. 

JumpCloud® is an all-in-one cloud-based directory platform that can support IAM in IaaS environments. IT teams can easily leverage the platform to authenticate users and device access, enabling them to know which device is connected to the IaaS environment and who owns it. Looking for more flexibility in the way you manage your IT environment? Learn more about why JumpCloud may be the right choice.

Kelsey Kinzer

Kelsey is a passionate storyteller and Content Writer at JumpCloud. She is particularly inspired by the people who drive innovation in B2B tech. When away from her screen, you can find her climbing mountains and (unsuccessfully) trying to quit cold brew coffee.

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