What Is Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)?

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is a cloud computing framework that delivers essential and fundamental compute, network, and storage resources. It is one of four primary cloud service delivery models — along with software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and serverless computing.

Cloud service models

Organizations rely on an infrastructure-as-a-service to manage resources in a more agile, flexible, and dynamic way. These platforms operate on a pay-as-you-go model. This makes them attractive to organizations looking to limit up-front capital investments while deploying the most current technologies, including cloud containers and microservices.

The popularity of IaaS continues to grow based on the availability of wide-ranging services and advanced functionality, including features such as comprehensive monitoring, load balancing, and clustering. According to Gartner, the global market grew 41.4% in 2021, reaching $90.9 billion — up from $64.3 billion in 2020.

What Is an IaaS Platform?

Infrastructure-as-a-service refers to a modular collection of physical and virtual compute, networking, and storage resources that deliver a fully functional information technology (IT) foundation. IaaS environments are almost infinitely scalable as services operated through the internet. There’s no need to procure specific hardware, software, or other resources; the provider of this type of service delivers everything through the cloud.

 Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

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There are four primary components to an IaaS environment:

  • 1. Physical data centers: Service providers typically operate large data centers filled with physical servers and other equipment. These servers support virtual machines (VM) that produce abstraction layers and cloud resources.
  • 2. Compute: Virtual machines use hypervisors to create virtual instances containing varying amounts of compute, memory, and storage resources. Compute resources are usually available in different forms, including CPUs and GPUs. The latter are particularly valuable for high-end graphics and tasks such as deep learning. Service providers also offer support functions such as auto-scaling and load balancing.
  • 3. Networking: Instead of relying on physical hardware to handle routing and switching, IaaS platforms incorporate Software-Defined Networking (SDN) technology. Typically, APIs connect various components, including across multi-cloud environments and virtual private clouds.
  • 4. Storage: Migrating storage to the cloud allows organizations to handle data-related tasks in a more agile and flexible way. It’s possible to scale easily and access data through HTTP. IaaS encompasses block storage, file storage, and object storage — all of which have significantly different requirements and may translate into different needs, depending on the organization and how it approaches storage.

What Benefits Does IaaS Provide?

There are five key ways that IaaS benefits IT organizations.

  • 1. Flexibility and speed
  • 2. Availability
  • 3. Scalability
  • 4. Performance
  • 5. Pay-as-you-go

  • 1. Flexibility and speed: It’s possible to provision and adapt resources on the fly. An organization can dynamically adjust to changing requirements and business conditions. In many cases, a business can push products and services to market faster because there’s no need to provision physical equipment.
  • 2. Availability: IaaS frameworks deliver unmatched availability and resiliency across time zones and geographic footprints. There’s no single point of failure. If a component goes down, other resources take over, and the service remains available. As a result, these types of services reduce — and often eliminate — the need to focus on resources in specific locations as well as across a broad and diverse geographic network.
  • 3. Scalability: Like other forms of cloud computing, IaaS makes it easy to automate the process of scaling applications, workloads, and other resources up and down during peak periods or when business requirements change.
  • 4. Performance: Fast and efficient IaaS frameworks reduce latency and boost performance. Moreover, providers of this cloud service model typically have broad footprints. This translates into two benefits: It’s possible to place applications and resources closer to users, but also to adapt if a localized performance problem pops up.
  • 5. Pay-as-you-go: Part of the appeal of the cloud is the underlying economic model. There’s no major up-front financial expenditure, no cyclical upgrades or refresh cycles for hardware, and no need to swap out components or entire systems if business conditions change. With an IaaS framework in place, organizations pay for the resources they use as needed.

Where Does IaaS Make Sense, and What Are the Use Cases?

Use cases for IaaS vary widely. IaaS supports almost every type of computing, networking, and storage requirement, including:

  • General enterprise data warehousing and big data analysis
  • High-performance computing
  • Enterprise applications
  • Web hosting and content delivery services
  • Testing and development
  • Data backup and recovery

As a result, infrastructure-as-a-service is generally a good choice for businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions.

In addition, they excel in test environments and situations where a large number of microservices are essential, including rapid development and distribution models. IaaS can also provide cost advantages and other benefits for organizations with limited IT resources, slow response times associated with on-premises applications, and lagging performance due to physical capacity restraints.

Pricing for these type of platforms is consumption-based and is usually available in one of four ways:

  • 1. Subscriptions, typically based on the term
  • 2. Monthly billing that is characterized by fairly consistent workloads
  • 3. Hour/minute/second pricing that focuses on specific consumption of resources
  • 4. Transient/spot pricing that delivers unused resources at a discount

Should Your Organization Use IaaS?

Like any technology platform, there’s a need to review computing requirements and understand the pros and cons of an IaaS model. In a best-case scenario, it can trim costs, improve performance, and boost system responsiveness. It also supports greater flexibility and scalability, helps shore up business continuity, and — when used effectively — accelerates innovation.

Before committing to a vendor, it’s important to understand the exact terms of any service level agreement (SLA). You should also ensure that the service provider is committed to keeping systems updated and secure and that it has the ability to address potential technical and security issues. Although a provider manages your infrastructure through a virtual environment, your organization continues to be responsible for administrative tasks, data security, and privacy issues.

To be sure, IaaS is an attractive technology framework for organizations across a wide array of industries. It can reduce and even eliminate the need for conventional on-premises IT resources.

To learn more about cloud computing, including IaaS and other cloud service models, visit our Cloud Application Development Guide.