Cloud-based Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms empower businesses of all sizes with unprecedented scalability in storage, computing power, and virtualization. Could this solution be the right one for your business? And if so, which is the ideal platform that best meets the unique needs of your organization?
For the last decade and a half, businesses have been migrating more and more functions to the business cloud. Cloud platforms like Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace enable everyday operations for millions of companies. Software as a Service (SaaS) is already ubiquitous, as it is the mechanism by which businesses access most of the apps and software they use to get business done.
In some ways, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) was the next logical step. If businesses can trust cloud platforms with their most sensitive data and mission-critical apps, why not trust them with their infrastructure and computing power needs?
In this guide, you’ll learn:
- What Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms are, and what they do
- Top reasons companies implement IaaS platforms
- How IaaS platforms work (high-level overview)
- Pros and Cons of Infrastructure as a Service
- Top vendors providing Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms
We’ll get started with a definition of the concept.
What Are Infrastructure-as-a-Service Platforms? A Definition
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platforms are third-party vendors that offer cloud-based infrastructure to businesses. The tools that IaaS platforms provide are varied and complex. Some of the most common include these:
- Public clouds
- Virtual machines
- Processing power
- Managed dedicated (bare metal) servers
- High-performance computing
- Cloud storage
The term Infrastructure as a Service follows two similar “as-a-service” concepts. First, software as a Service (SaaS) provides general software solutions as a subscription-based solution, shifting a business’s expenses from spiky, uneven CapEx to predictable monthly OpEx.
Second, Platform as a Service (PaaS) does the same thing for developers, giving them a suite of tools and infrastructure solutions for building and launching software applications.
Infrastructure as a Service, then, extends the same concept to a business’s digital infrastructure, offering highly scalable cloud infrastructure at consistent monthly costs.
Why Should Companies Consider Infrastructure-as-a-Service Platforms?
Companies who choose Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms do so for various reasons. However, three of those reasons rise to the surface as both most common and most compelling: cost, scalability, and convenience.
First, cost: infrastructure tends to be very expensive overall, so “spiky” expenses (like replacing an entire server) end up being even spikier. Purchasing infrastructure independently for deployment on-site can be exorbitantly expensive to the degree that it can challenge or prohibit growth.
IaaS platforms typically operate on a “pay for what you use” model and serve as a way for businesses to keep their costs both predictable and manageable.
The second compelling reason that businesses choose IaaS for their infrastructure needs relates closely to the first. IaaS providers operate at a scale far more significant than all but the largest enterprise firms. Thus, IaaS providers have the resources in place to provide service to many large clients simultaneously. As a result, businesses can quickly scale their infrastructure needs by partnering with an IaaS provider.
Scalability is another area where traditional infrastructure approaches become wildly expensive. And scaling up (in the conventional method) is more or less a one-way street: if your business needs expanded capacity only for the short term, the costs are even more problematic. You can’t just scale back down with the flip of a switch, and you’ll incur losses in the process.
For businesses experiencing aggressive growth or who need expanded digital infrastructure only temporarily, IaaS is a superior approach to handling infrastructure needs.
In-house infrastructure management carries high (and unpredictable) costs and is hard to scale. Additionally, it creates more operational complexity. Systems and servers go down, and someone has to fix them. The more complex and interconnected those systems, the more operational risks a business faces.
But by turning to IaaS, businesses offload much of this inconvenience and complexity to their IaaS platform provider. As a result, infrastructure management becomes the responsibility of the vendor rather than the client business.
To recap, Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms offer compelling benefits to businesses in the areas of cost, scalability, and convenience. These benefits apply to businesses of all sizes and in all sectors, though firms in a growth phase (or a period of volatility) may benefit the most.
How Do Infrastructure-as-a-Service Platforms Work?
As with most cloud services, Infrastructure as a Service can be tricky to understand due to the innate complexity. For that reason, it’s worth taking a moment to explore how these platforms work.
In an IaaS vendor-client relationship, the vendor service provider owns and maintains all the physical infrastructure (hardware, storage, and so forth). Large IaaS providers typically spread this infrastructure across several data centers in multiple locations.
The IaaS platform vendor takes care of all maintenance, upgrades, and replacements to this infrastructure. Businesses simply use the resources they need from this infrastructure, for the agreed-upon fee or at the agreed-upon rate.
Most IaaS vendors offer additional services, including basic security, monitoring, and some degree of backup and data recovery. The equipment belongs to the vendor, so the vendor typically bears some responsibility for what happens if the equipment fails.
Most IaaS platforms deal primarily in the public cloud, otherwise known as multi-tenant cloud services, where more than one client may share a particular server or resource. Private cloud (where a client has exclusive access to specific resources) is also an option, though costs are higher. The terms here get a bit muddy, though: some vendors refer to private cloud as a more expansive offering that includes more than what IaaS typically comprises. Other vendors offer private cloud services within their IaaS platform.
Benefits of Choosing an Infrastructure-as-a-Service Platform
Every organization that chooses an Infrastructure-as-a-Service platform will see a unique mix of benefits, depending on the size and state of the organization at the time of transition. These are the two most common of those benefits.
Stabilize IT Costs with Predictable Usage-Based Rates
Businesses that need to rein in IT budgets and reduce spiky, sporadic IT infrastructure costs can do so with an IaaS platform. Predictability of costs is one of the greatest strengths of the IaaS platform model, where spiky infrastructure costs level out to predictable monthly fees. In addition, these fees are usage-based, allowing companies to pay for the infrastructure they actually use, rather than all the available capacity they might ever need.
Of course, some of this is marketing spin. IaaS providers have to pay for that infrastructure, and they don’t just eat the cost. But they can spread out that cost among their many customers, where individual businesses would need to absorb it all themselves. Therefore, due to the economy of scale, large IaaS providers can get more for their money. Often, businesses that choose an IaaS platform experience lower costs as a result.
Scale Your Business Rapidly, Without Logistics or Infrastructure Limits
As mentioned earlier, businesses who work with an IaaS platform enjoy massive scalability, far beyond what most growing companies could afford to implement or staff to maintain. Businesses that need to grow and scale rapidly, without being entangled in complex logistics and infrastructure limitations can do so with an IaaS partner.
If you need significant amounts of infrastructure (whether that’s computing power, storage, virtual machines, or something else) and you need it quickly, you’ll enjoy that benefit by choosing Infrastructure-as-a-Service.
As with any service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service platforms offer plenty of advantages, but there are also some potential disadvantages to consider. Be aware of the following potential pitfalls, and don’t be afraid to ask a prospective vendor how they will mitigate these risks.
Compatibility and Integration
One potential con with IaaS platforms is compatibility (or, closely related, integration). The world of cloud services and existing hardware and software systems is broad, and it’s impossible to create an environment with 100% compatibility.
Cloud providers find it in their best interest to offer broad integration and compatibility, but exactly which services and systems each IaaS platform supports does vary considerably. Therefore, when selecting from available IaaS platforms, businesses must thoroughly vet that a given platform can integrate with existing systems.
Businesses themselves, not their IaaS platform, are responsible for the security of data and transactions that flow through the IaaS platform. While many IaaS platforms offer some low-level security tools, businesses must take additional steps and implement other tools to keep data and transactions secure to the appropriate level.
When you operate your own infrastructure, you control the rules. Of course, this level of control isn’t always an advantage, as doing so can often incur high operational costs. Still, some businesses that handle their own infrastructure do so for the freedom it brings.
By relying on an IaaS platform, you lose some of that control. Your IaaS platform could, for whatever reason, choose to deprecate or stop supporting a particular solution, system, or protocol that your business relies on. You’ll have little ability to stop them and could be forced to make significant changes (or find a new IaaS partner).
Top Vendors Providing Infrastructure as a Service
There are many firms offering Infrastructure as a Service to businesses today. Below, you’ll find nine of the top vendors providing IaaS platforms and solutions.