Cloud computing is the one of the hottest buzzwords in an industry fond of buzzwords. Like most buzzwords, it is somewhat vague and frequently misused, leaving many small to midsize businesses (SMBs) wondering what cloud computing is and how it might benefit them.
In essence, the cloud is made up of shared computing resources that can be accessed on demand via the Internet. These resources, which generally are owned and managed by the cloud service provider, can be rapidly provisioned and easily scaled up or down. The cloud encompasses a variety of solutions, including Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). IaaS is a complete environment including server, storage, networking and other foundational computing resources.
IaaS is ideally suited to SMBs. Smaller organizations often lack the budget to keep up with never-ending IT upgrades. IaaS lets these organizations take advantage of the very latest computing technology with no capital outlays. More significantly, IaaS shifts the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the equipment to the service provider.
“The operational, financial and strategic advantages of IaaS are numerous, including the ability to conserve capital, ensure IT performance, availability and security, and protect against obsolescence,” said Krystal Triumph, Information Technology Advisor, Atlantic-IT.net. “With IaaS, SMBs can simply buy the IT services they need for a predictable monthly fee — the costs of ongoing maintenance, management and support are built in. SMBs can access enterprise-class technologies and services that enable them to do business cheaper, faster and with fewer headaches.”
IaaS solutions also provide organizations with improved uptime, greater resiliency and reduced risk. This is so because the service provider generally hosts its physical infrastructure in a Tier 3 data center facility with redundant power, cooling and network connections to ensure 99.982 percent availability.
Another benefit of IaaS is improved protection again disaster. Because IaaS solutions provide the agility to turn the infrastructure on and off as needed, with fees based upon usage, organizations can use an IaaS environment as a “warm” disaster recovery (DR) site that can sustain operations in the event of a power outage, system failure, natural disaster or other emergency.
During normal operations, data can be mirrored to virtual machines in the DR site. Should a disaster strike, the full capacity of the DR site can be turned on, often automatically.
“With IaaS, you have the ability to failover to a working data center with up-to-the-minute data, but pay for that full capacity only if needed,” Triumph said. “Building out a dedicated DR site, by contrast, can be quite costly. You have to purchase servers, storage and other gear that is more or less equivalent to your in-house data center. You need physical space to house that equipment, and procedures to ensure that the DR site stays up-to-date with your technology environment. The costs are substantial, which is why few SMBs have DR sites, and even large enterprises protect only a handful of mission-critical applications.”
But not having a DR site can be even more costly. It can take several weeks to buy and install new hardware in the event of disaster — downtime that can doom a business.
“An IaaS solution can bring downtime to near zero by making a DR site more affordable for organizations of all sizes,” said Triumph.
The Sky’s the Limit
IaaS also helps organizations stay abreast of the latest technologies. Many businesses postpone new technology deployments and upgrades because of the time and technical expertise needed to evaluate new technologies. Once new technologies are identified, implementations are disruptive and typically come with a steep learning curve.
IaaS enables organizations to tap new technologies without these headaches. Customers can access enterprise-class IT services without the cost and complexity of evaluating, purchasing, implementing and maintaining new technologies in-house. There’s also less risk: If needs change or the functionality does not deliver the expected value, customers can “turn off” the service without losing a significant upfront investment.
“IaaS enables you to roll out new applications more quickly and scale the IT infrastructure to meet changing business needs,” Triumph said. “It really levels the playing field, allowing you to take advantage of advanced technologies that would be beyond the reach of most small businesses.”
A recent survey by Ashton, Metzler & Associates found that these features, along with the ability to add capacity on demand, were among the top factors driving the adoption of IaaS solutions. Although cost savings was the top-ranked factor, cited by 30.4 percent of survey respondents, rapid deployment and the ability to obtain advanced functionality were cited by 26.5 percent and 22.6 percent, respectively.
Smaller organizations often hesitate to tie up capital in IT upgrades, and lack the in-house staff to maintain a complex technology infrastructure. SMBs in a growth dynamic need the ability to scale IT capacity on demand to meet changing needs, and introduce new services rapidly to take advantage of new opportunities. IaaS meets all these needs, enabling SMBs to reduce IT costs and ensure that IT continues to support business demands in a dynamic market.