Cloud services – what’s it all about?
Cloud services are massively gaining in popularity – but what are they and how might they be useful to your business?
Essentially a cloud service is any IT service which is supplied remotely through the internet. These fall broadly into three categories:
1) Software that you access over the internet, primarily from a web browser, known as Software as a Service (SaaS). A simple example of this kind of service is GMail. Google provide all the hardware, databases and software to provide the GMail service, and you simply access it from a web browser. You don’t have to install any software, you can access your emails from any location without any setup. You don’t even concern yourself with the physical computers that store the emails or their management.
This is also one of the main ways in which we provide our own software services. We design the software and databases to support the system you need, write the software as a web system, which you can then access from a web browser. Clear benefits include flexible access from different locations and devices, no software to install and manage on-site, centralised management of the system, simplifying hardware requirements and replacement of machines that are used to access the system, and more.
2) Hardware can also be supplied as a cloud service. This can include such things as additional storage or even full machines, made accessible over a network. This is known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and negates the need to actually purchase and maintain the physical hardware.
3) Finally Platform as a Service (PaaS) refers to the delivery of operating systems and related services over the internet without the need to download or install them.
IaaS and PaaS are often supplied together, an example being a Windows Server operating system and the hardware to run it on, being supplied over the internet, and networked to your internal network to act as your dedicated server capable of replacing an in-house server.
As these cloud offerings become an increasingly popular method of provisioning hardware and software, there’s a growing number of providers in this area. The biggest two still being Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.
Microsoft have gone in strong with their Azure offering, ploughing a huge amount of resources into developing and expanding their offering. Having seen it expand and improve over recent years this has become our preferred solution.
With Microsoft Azure you pay monthly for any services that you provision. Costs are scaled based on what you need and use. A simple scenario is a need to install a new in-house server to manage a database and centralise the storage of important documents. Instead of purchasing or leasing the hardware, have it installed, set-up and maintained on site, you can provision this in Azure. You can define the hardware, operating system, database server and storage you need, and then connect it to your local network over the internet through a secure Virtual Private Network (VPN) to act as your dedicated server. There’s no upfront costs for hardware or software licenses – you simply pay monthly for its use. You can then log in to the new server via Remote Desktop and configure it as you need, as if it was in your local office.
You may not even need to manage a dedicated server or virtual machine that you control directly, as Microsoft Azure has other offerings to help. You could provision a flexible amount of storage space on Azure storage, and use the Azure SQL database service to provide the database software, and again link these to your local network.
Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services provides a whole host of services in addition to the few we’ve mentioned, including web hosting services, backup services, integration with other 3rd party services, and much much more.
Amazon Web Services:
It’s important to remember that with any of these services, it’s necessary to have an active internet connection in order to access the services being supplied. With increasingly reliable internet connections this is becoming less and less of an issue. Some Internet Service Providers (ISP) can provide an additional layer of redundancy in their connection, or you could even use more than one ISP, ideally using different infrastructures to supply their service.
If you have an IT project that you think we could help with, whether it’s a Software as a Service project, or IT Support, perhaps assisting you with leveraging the power of the cloud and Microsoft Azure, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help.