Everyone talks these days about computing “in the cloud” — as if “the cloud” were a single, fuzzy place, like an actual cloud in the sky, all white through and through.

Such a picture could hardly be more wrong. The cloud is neither a single place, nor a single, undifferentiated service inside.

Physically, the cloud consists of untold thousands of server stacks the size of refrigerators, distributed among data centers around the world. Connected by networks and secured both digitally and physically, they talk and act in concert like a “single” computer.

But the cloud doesn’t “compute” like a computer. Far from it.

It may do computing too. But cloud computing is more like an array of specialized services that enable individuals and organizations to migrate those services (and their associated data) in whole or part from your own computers to someone else’s. This can result in substantial savings and other benefits.

What are Cloud Computing Services?

“Cloud computing” covers a wide range of services, from storage to security to application development and much more. Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform comprises more than 100 separate services you can scale and customize to your organization’s needs.

You don’t need to know most of them. But a few are essential if your organization is considering migrating its digital operations to the cloud.

To get you started, we’ve compiled this brief dictionary of cloud computing services so you can know what you’re looking for, what are the options.

An Alphabet Soup of Services

Naturally, many cloud services come with their own acronym. All of them end with “aaS” — for “as a service.” IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, DRaaS — we’ll get to them all.

Most likely you’ve heard of SaaS: Software as a Service. You use it every day, every time you log into a CRM or other app via web browser.

Collectively, these services are sometimes referred to as XaaS — for “Anything as a Service.” XaaS refers to the delivery of any kind of service over the Internet.

The 3 Primary Cloud Services

Three services make up the core of cloud computing. Sometimes they’re called the “cloud computing stack” because each is built on the ones below.

IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service

This is the foundation. With IaaS you’re leasing part of those server stacks, virtual machines, operating systems, storage, and networks. For this (as with nearly all cloud services) you pay the vendor for actual usage, or a flat subscription price.

The leading cloud services — Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and AWS — all provide infrastructure as a basic service. Of course, they also offer much more; many services fall into more than one category. Indeed, Azure can provide most of the services in this article.

The main benefit of IaaS is that your organization doesn’t need to spend resources maintaining servers and other machines that require space, power, cooling, and physical protection. Your in-house IT staff can focus instead on more important and productive activities. Financially, this shifts many capital expenses (capex) to operations (opex).

PaaS: Platform as a Service

A platform is basically an environment with all the tools developers need to create and host web applications. Operating systems like Windows 10 and Apple’s macOS are examples of platforms. When you talk about whether an app runs on Mac or PC, you’re talking about which platform the app is built for.

SaaS: Software as a Service

This is the software you actually use when you log in to its web interface.

The cloud provider hosts the software and makes it available over the Internet. App updates are carried out continuously by the developer, so you never need to concern yourself with them.

This is a huge convenience. For instance, when you install an application onto your laptop, that’s not SaaS. You have to wait for updates to come out, then install them yourself.

When you log into Office 365 in your web browser, that’s SaaS. Microsoft hosts and updates the software on its own Azure servers, ensuring everyone who logs in gets the same version, no matter where they are or what devices they’re using.

To sum up the relationship of the three core cloud services, think of Microsoft Azure as the infrastructure (IaaS), Windows as the platform (PaaS), and Office 365 as the software (SaaS).

More SaaS

SaaS actually stands for three different services: software (above), storage, and security.

SaaS: Storage

Cloud storage is one of the most common services. It includes Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, iCloud, and other storage apps for personal and/or business use.

Basically, the storage provider is renting you space in their infrastructure to keep your own files, media, and other data. Like storage in the real world, you pay based on how much space you want to rent.

SaaS: Security

Cloud security is a type, a subset, of Software as a Service. Like other SaaS, security applications like anti-virus and firewalls are hosted in the cloud and delivered over the Internet.

Vendors like Cisco, McAfee, and Symantec offer both consumer and enterprise-level security products.

But cybersecurity is such a basic need that any cloud provider worth its salt (or managed IT services provider, for that matter) should include it in its core offerings.

DBaaS: Database

Database as a Service is a specific type of Software as a Service. You have access to a structured database along with related applications for working with the data it contains.

More Cloud Security

MaaS: Malware

This is the one cloud computing service you don’t want, but you might as well know about it. If anything, you want Security as a Service (above) to defend against it.

Malware as a Service is what cybercriminals use. MaaS providers offer access to hardware and software for executing malware attacks en masse. Cybercrime is big business, and cybercriminals have taken to modeling themselves after legit businesses.

DRaaS (RaaS): Disaster Recovery

You can lose some of all of your data as the result of a cyberattack or other system outage. Such a disaster can mean the end of your business. Most businesses who suffer a cyberattack are out of business within six months, in large part due to the loss of data.

Disaster Recovery as a Service (or simply Recovery) helps you get it back. Azure Site Recovery, as a good example, keeps your apps and workloads running during outages by replicating workloads to a secondary location until your primary location is restored to service.

Cloud Services for Moving Data

You may not think of these as cloud computing services. But like the services above, a provider delivers them via the Internet and you typically subscribe to them based on usage or scale.

NaaS: Network

You may get Network as a Service from a telecommunications company like AT&T or Verizon, not necessarily a cloud services provider. NaaS is the delivery of network services, including bandwidth, Wide Area Networking (WAN), data center connections, and more.

Like Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), one of the main benefits of NaaS is that you eliminate the expense of buying, housing, securing, and maintaining routers and other networking hardware. That saves your IT staff time and energy they could put to productive uses rather than maintenance.

CaaS: Communications

Communications as a Service (CaaS) can include Internet phone service (voice over IP, or VoIP), videoconferencing, instant messaging, and more. Your CaaS provider may lease you compatible phones and other devices, so that you get a complete solution in hardware as well as software.

iPaaS: Integration Platform

iPaaS is basically a cloud service that links your other cloud services so they can share information and work together. An all-inclusive system like Azure integrates its services natively, but you may need iPaaS if you get your services from multiple vendors.

You may already be familiar with iPaaS. If you use Zapier or IFTTT to connect your business apps, personal apps, and maybe even your home appliances, you’re using a consumer version of iPaaS.

PC Professional is a certified Microsoft Azure partner and a specialist in cloud computing services. Contact us to learn how to get started on your journey into cloud computing.


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