Getting the most from IaaS

Mix, match and burst. New infrastructure-as-a-service tools make it easier to shift among multiple private and public clouds.

Like many young data-driven companies, BuildFax decided in 2008 to host its construction data services on Amazon Web Services. But now, it's moving some systems to Google's new infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offering, some to other cloud providers and some to its first in-house servers.

BuildFax's vice president of research and development, Joe Emison, says he was at first delighted with Amazon's low costs and pay-as-you-go model. But he soon wanted a choice of public and private clouds so he'd have the flexibility to get the best price, performance and disaster recovery options as his needs changed -- and as computing technology and the capabilities of IaaS providers changed.

"You can take advantage of the benefits of the cloud without locking yourself down to Amazon" -- or any other provider, he says.

That viewpoint is slowly gaining traction as the IaaS business model grows beyond serving only smaller organizations and supporting less-critical systems such as development and testing. But becoming cloud-agnostic requires new tools and mindsets: Users must design applications that can survive the unpredictability of the cloud, and they have to ensure proper security.

The Role of IaaS

In the alphabet soup of the cloud, IaaS is the service that gives customers the greatest access to -- and control over -- servers, storage and networks, with options that include a choice of operating system and drivers, says Andre Pino, vice president of marketing at CloudBees, a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider. But it also requires customers to do much of the "low level" work they do with in-house systems, he says, noting that users must, for example, dynamically update load balancers whenever clusters are modified.

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