There’s no question that the substantial growth of the cloud computing market has become a hot topic, generating almost as much debate and conversation as it has confusion.
Many etailers have already realized the benefits of cloud computing, but the different types of public and private clouds and cloud services — such as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS), all grouped under the “cloud computing” banner — make it difficult for businesses to decide how to make the transition when shifting to the cloud.
The decision to use IaaS, SaaS or PaaS largely depends on the services a company wants to use, and how effectively they can be integrated into its infrastructure and business objectives. By understanding the differences among the three types of cloud services, businesses can ensure that the cloud service they choose will provide the most optimal benefits, both in terms of cost and performance.
Infrastructure as a Service
IaaS is the most fundamental type of cloud computing, with providers such as Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN) EC2, Terremark, Joyent and Rackspace. The IaaS vendor provides the basic infrastructure an application may require — servers, storage and networking. Rather than hosting physical servers internally and virtualizing them, a company can rent as many virtual servers as it needs from a cloud provider.
If a company runs a multitude of complex in-house applications, such as Web servers, inventory databases and CRM applications, an IaaS cloud service could be a good fit. With IaaS, companies can replace many of the costs associated with running the hardware their applications operate on with a pay-per-use model.
A pay-per-use model allows companies to rent the resources they require at any time instead of buying infrastructure that might not be used for months, thereby eliminating the costly problem of over provisioning.
For example, an etailer with seasonal surges in website traffic may need to reserve extra resources to accommodate those busier times, which would be an expensive waste during the slower periods when they’re not being used.
Employing IaaS in the cloud eliminates many hardware operational costs by replacing them with hourly fees when they use the servers. These hourly fees can run as low as a few cents per server, which is especially useful for etailers that experience major shopping spikes only a few times a year during sales, promotions and seasonal turnovers.
While IaaS provides impressive cost-saving benefits for variable workloads, there are concerns regarding data security. Cardholder data must be managed within the terms of the PCI DSS regulation, which precludes the use of many IaaS clouds.
As a result, companies may find it necessary to run the majority of their applications from a cloud, but hold back on key secure elements to run in their own data center in order to comply with standards and security issues.
Software as a Service
SaaS is considered one of the most ubiquitous cloud computing models, allowing companies to access key applications over the Internet from an external provider, rather than deploying and managing the applications in house. SaaS can benefit businesses financially by eliminating the costs of software licensing and internal operations.
For instance, instead of installing and running a CRM application in house, a SaaS provider such as SalesForce.com enables companies to access a CRM application online, avoiding expenses for acquiring, installing, managing and upgrading the software internally.
However, it’s important for companies to assess how the functionality of an application meets its business objectives before turning to SaaS. By comparing in-house and SaaS-based applications, a company can evaluate the differences in the applications’ functionality and costs.
Since SaaS applications are typically accessed remotely using a Web browser, they are typically more accessible, but they generally offer much less scope for customization and may not perform as well as local applications.
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