Nutanix Glossary

What is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)?

July 26, 2023 | min

What is IaaS?

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a cloud service delivery model in which an organization essentially rents online, on-demand access to managed compute, storage, and networking resources from a third-party provider. Also sometimes called cloud infrastructure services or hardware as a service (HaaS), IaaS allows organizations to reduce or even eliminate the need for traditional on-premises data centers. It is the most flexible of the four most common cloud service models, which include software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and serverless.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) architecture

IaaS architecture is owned and managed by a cloud services provider (CSP), such as AWS or Google Cloud Platform. It includes a range of compute, storage, and networking hardware as follows: 

  • Compute resources include internal memory or RAM as well as CPUs and GPUs

  • Storage resources can include block, file, and object storage on a range of devices such as solid-state or hard drives, NAS devices, or even data lakes or warehouses

  • Networking resources include hardware such as switches, routers, and load balancers that are then virtualized for use in the cloud

These resources are easily scalable and can grow and shrink in near real time. They can be multitenant or single-tenant and are hosted by third-party cloud service providers. 

The National Institue of Standards Technology (NIST) has created definitions of the three ways an organization can deploy IaaS: 

  • Private cloud – infrastructure and resources that are dedicated to a single organization; the physical components can be owned by the CSP, the organization, or a combination of the two

  • Public cloud – also known as a multitenant model, this is the infrastructure that is used by more than one organization; the physical components are owned and managed by the CSP

  • Hybrid cloud – when an organization uses both public and private cloud services for IaaS or applications, the two models stay separate but are connected by technology that allows users to move data between them

How does Infrastructure as a Service work?

Virtualization is the underlying technology that enables IaaS. Using an online platform or dashboard, an organization can define the type of infrastructure it needs and specify certain configurations. The IaaS system then builds digital, or virtualized, models of the requested infrastructure.

End users access these services and resources through the Internet. The virtual models deliver the same performance and allow the same tasks as physical on-premises devices. Once the organization’s infrastructure has been created virtually, users can go into the system and create new virtual machines (VMs) and install operating systems, deploy databases, create various buckets to store backups and a range of workloads, and more. 

CSPs typically offer additional services that allow users to monitor system performance, see system logs, track costs, deploy security solutions, keep network traffic balanced, manage backups and disaster recovery, troubleshoot issues with applications, and set policies to automate tasks like load balancing and regular backups. Some IaaS offerings include services and features that help benefit DevOps, such as containerization and container orchestration. 

While IaaS services can vary across CSPs, there are some inherent defining characteristics that make up an IaaS solution. These include: 

  • Compute, storage, and network as a service that allows organizations to take advantage of IT infrastructure without having to purchase, deploy, and manage it themselves
  • Virtualized platforms and VMs that can be deployed easily and as required to support and organization’s needs
  • On-demand, pay-as-you-go pricing that makes IaaS cost-efficient for large and small organizations alike
  • Highly scalable services that make it easy for organizations to expand or shrink capacity as needed
  • Admin task automation that keeps upgrades and maintenance from causing downtime

Advantages of Infrastructure as a Service

As organizations began to see how the cloud could increase their agility, IaaS became a common choice for those companies that wanted to make operations more efficient and cost-effective. IaaS gives organizations the freedom to take advantage of an entire IT ecosystem without having to purchase all the hardware, deploy and manage it, and troubleshoot any issues that arise. 

IaaS can be the ideal environment for organizations that want to work with experimental or temporary workloads. For instance, a company can use IaaS resources to quickly develop and test a new application so it doesn’t take up on-premises resources. 

Other advantages include: 

  • Flexibility to quickly and easily scale compute, storage, and networking resources up or down as needed
  • Scalability to keep up with growth and keep resources available even through spikes and peaks
  • Pay-as-you-go pricing, which eliminates the need to buy and deploy on-premises hardware
  • Deep control over all of your applications, operating systems and middleware such as databases
  • Increased system reliability, as CSPs define and meet service level agreements (SLAs)
  • Simpler disaster recovery, thanks to SLAs that keep resources available
  • Improved security managed by CSPs so organizations don’t have to retain highly skilled staff on-site
  • Faster time to market with quick provisioning and infrastructure that can be spun up in just hours or even minutes
  • Access to future-proof hardware and software offered by CSPs that stay competitive by continually upgrading products and services

Disadvantages of Infrastructure as a Service

Despite all of the advantages IaaS offers, organizations can still face some challenges with this cloud service model. 

For one thing, billing can be confusing at times. Because cloud usage billing includes very granular fees for a variety of actions, it can add up to a surprise for some organizations who might not have realized how and when fees or charges were being applied. It’s important to gain an understanding of your IaaS bills so you can ensure you’re being billed correctly. 

Another common challenge with IaaS is getting a clear view into details around infrastructure performance and configuration. Most of those details are handled by the CSPs and so aren’t very transparent to users. This can make it tough to accurately monitor your system. 

System resilience can also be a concern for IaaS users, as the CSP operates and manages the system’s network and resources. Any outages, network slowdowns, or other types of malfunctions or downtime experienced by the CSP can affect an organization’s workloads. Availability and performance are out of the organization’s control and the organization is completely dependent on the CSP. 

Other challenges can include: 

  • Instance sprawl – it’s so easy with IaaS to deploy new instances but it can also be easy to forget about them once they’re no longer needed—if they aren’t taken down, they could still be costing the company
  • Subpar support – each CSP is different and some might offer better support and technical guidance than others
  • Integration issues – depending on an organization’s existing systems and applications, it might be difficult to make sure they all work together
  • Vendor lock-in – it might be challenging to switch IaaS providers after an organization starts business with the first one
  • Regulatory issues – it’s not always simple to ensure data sovereignty and adhere to different regions’ and industries’ privacy laws

Use cases for Infrastructure as a Service

Because IaaS allows organizations so much freedom and flexibility, it is used for a wide range of use cases. These include: 

  • Software development and testing
  • Website hosting
  • Storage, backup, and recovery of data
  • Hosting and support of web applications
  • Data warehousing 
  • Big data analytics
  • Migration of applications and workloads
  • High-performance computing

Infrastructure as a Service with Nutanix

As the world leader in hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), Nutanix has a deep understanding of what it takes to succeed in the cloud—whether private, public, or hybrid multicloud. The Nutanix Solution for Service Providers helps CSPs deliver high-performance IaaS to their customers using the Nutanix Cloud Platform running on a wide range of platforms. 

Our industry-leading HCI is a critical component of the solution. It removes the complexity of managing infrastructure so your IT teams can focus on more important customer-facing tasks. The solution also includes advanced data services, built-in security, intelligent operations, and native data protection. With Nutanix, CSPs get a reliable, well-architected platform that delivers in three powerful ways: simplicity, stability, and scalability.

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