The public cloud has seen an explosion in the last few years with many organizations moving parts if not all their services to the “cloud” as opposed to building out infrastructure on-premises. Cloud as a term basically refers to services or other infrastructure that is available over the Internet. Most are familiar with the public cloud Software-as-a-Service offerings for enterprise environments such as Office 365, Basecamp, Salesforce, etc., that allow organizations to have software offerings over the Internet.

Today, Microsoft Azure is becoming a powerful offering not only for software but also for infrastructure. There are varying degrees of offerings from Microsoft Azure including Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (SaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

  • What capabilities are afforded by each solution in Microsoft Azure and how can businesses benefit by leveraging the various Azure offerings for their needs?
  • What about determining if Azure public cloud services are the best solution?

Let’s take a look at Microsoft Azure IaaS Benefits and Use Cases to see where and how organizations can best utilize public cloud infrastructure.

IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS Differences

It seems like these days there is an infinite number of acronyms floating around for various new technologies, software, and services. Public cloud is no different with a wide range of technologies that are available to enterprise customers to utilize as part of their technology offerings to end users. When comparing the various offerings for Azure Infrastructure in the public cloud, there are varying degrees of what you as the customer manage and are responsible for. In order of most customer responsibility to least customer responsibility the offerings can be ordered this way:

  1. On-premises
  2. Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)
  3. Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
  4. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

IaaS-vs-PaaS-vs-SaaS

Customers maintain varying levels of the infrastructure when comparing IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS (Image Courtesy of Microsoft)

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The most heavy-handed responsibility you can have is taking care of an on-premises environment. In the case of on-premises, you are responsible for all aspects of the infrastructure – from the physical hardware all the way up the stack to the application level.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service or IaaS is the next step away from on-premises in that you are responsible for a little less of the management of the solution. Microsoft takes care of the hardware including servers, storage, and networking along with the hypervisor. At that point, you are responsible for loading the O/S and any applications and data that will reside on the virtual machine. Basically, this is a virtual machine that is provided for you in the “cloud” that you can do with as you please. You have complete control over the operating system, applications, configuration of the networking stack on the VM, patching, etc. The virtual machine can be started, stopped, restarted, and managed as you would any other server in your own data center or virtual environment.

The next step up from IaaS is Platform-as-a-Service or PaaS. With PaaS you are responsible for even less of the infrastructure as Microsoft is assuming the management of the operating system, any middleware, and runtime libraries in addition to what is managed with IaaS so that you are only responsible for your data and the applications. PaaS is generally used for the following scenarios:

  • Development framework
  • Analytics or business intelligence
  • Additional services

PaaS offers additional benefits to IaaS in the form of middleware, development tools, and other business tools which helps to cut coding times, add development capabilities without adding additional headcount, develop for multiple platforms, and efficiently manage the application lifecycle. Additional benefits come in the form of the management of the underlying platforms. There are no operating systems to manage, patches to apply, frameworks to update, and other tasks that are required with Infrastructure-as-a-Service.

The highest level or least amount of management for businesses today comes in the form of Software-as-a-Service offerings or SaaS. SaaS ensures the enterprise customer has no responsibility to manage the underlying infrastructure. The entire solution is managed by the vendor. A common example of a SaaS offering is Office 365 which provides services for businesses today such as SharePoint Online, Exchange, OneDrive for Business, etc.

Public Cloud Infrastructure Use Cases

There are certainly recommended use cases for public cloud environments at all levels of the infrastructure management configuration from IaaS to SaaS. However, as is the case for many technology recommendations, when it comes down to each individual business, it depends.

What are some typical use cases for various public cloud infrastructure platforms?

There are certainly strong business cases for utilizing public cloud infrastructure for disaster recovery or DR purposes. DR makes a lot of sense as it is a difficult fiscal decision to buy infrastructure that will only sit for the most part unutilized except for in a time of disaster recovery or DR testing. Additionally, you are paying for the facilities cost, power usage, network circuits and all other physical infrastructure required to have your own private DR datacenter. By using the public cloud, you are only paying for what you use with each virtual machine. Network traffic inbound is free as well. When you think about the facilities that Microsoft houses its servers in as well, you are getting a world-class data center that would be simply out of the reach of most businesses.

Development and Testing environments are another great use case for the public cloud. Development and Testing environments are rather volatile and are generally spun up and down sporadically as development environments are needed. Rather than investing in permanent hardware that will again be underutilized, the Azure public cloud is a great fit for these types of use cases. Another benefit that many organizations with Visual Studio subscriptions have available is free Microsoft Azure credits. This can add up quickly as a great benefit to be able to utilize Microsoft Azure as a personal dev/test environment for each developer entitled with the Visual Studio subscription.

With Windows Server 2016 and the ability to run Windows Server 2016 in Azure, developers also have access to running “nested virtualization” which means they can run a hypervisor within a hypervisor. Developers can install Hyper-V inside of an Azure virtual machine and have total access and control over a sandboxed, self-contained virtual environment.

If a business has only one or a few days a year or times of the month that experience extremely high traffic volume, it makes little sense to invest in extra hardware that will be underutilized aside from specific points in time. Many businesses choose to make use of public cloud environments like Azure during times of traffic spikes that will only last a short while.

Any use case as well that requires businesses to move quickly without the time or capital to provision their own physical resources is a great use case for the public cloud. This is often why many startups choose to go the route of public cloud infrastructure as opposed to dishing out the capital for their own private datacenter. Startups have an uncertain life expectancy. Being able to get up and running quickly in the public cloud such as using Azure is a great way to have a lean footprint in technology costs up front and transition at a later point or decide to stay positioned in the public cloud.

Thoughts

Public cloud infrastructure offerings have changed the way businesses think about investing in infrastructure. Instead of the tremendous capital expenses involved with purchasing physical hardware, businesses can make use of public cloud infrastructure and have the ability to move quickly provisioning needed infrastructure.

The different offerings such as IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS each have various features and functionality that organizations can use to host mission-critical services. As you go from IaaS up to the SaaS offerings, you as the customer have less you are responsible for managing. In the SaaS model, the vendor manages the entire solution. There are infinite numbers of business use cases for leveraging the public cloud. However, common use cases where public cloud fits well include DR environments, dev/test environments, startups, and scaling infrastructure at only certain points in time of high traffic volume.

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Microsoft IaaS PaaS and SaaS Benefits and Use Cases
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