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Cloud basics
Infrastructure as a Service
On-demand data centers—also known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)—provide compute power, memory, and storage, typically priced per hour, based on resource consumption. You pay only for what you use, and the service provides all the capacity you need, but you’re responsible for monitoring, managing, and patching your on-demand infrastructure. The biggest advantage of IaaS for government is that it offers a cloud-based data center without requiring you to install new equipment or to wait for the hardware procurement process—which means you can get IT resources that otherwise might not be available.

In the private sector, this use of cloud computing is rapidly gaining ground, particularly among small businesses. In government, the General Services Administration (GSA) hosts USA.gov in the cloud to cut infrastructure costs.1

Eight tips to help you get started
  1. Weigh the impact to your IT organization before adopting IaaS, because you are still responsible for software patches, maintenance, and upgrades. Monitoring and managing applications in a provider’s data center, in addition to those you host yourself, can become a burden to staff.
  2. Create a strong internal team to manage your security and compliance requirements together with a chosen cloud provider.
  3. Make sure you have a thorough understanding of how your current system works before you outsource any of it to the cloud. You need to know what you’re getting.
  4. Look for service providers who can meet your redundancy needs for connectivity or storage so that you never lose needed services.
  5. Negotiate service-level agreements (SLAs) to help ensure you get the level of security and identity management required by your organization.
  6. Understand that on-demand is not all-or-nothing, and take advantage of pay-per-use pricing in the near term for some of the applications you run in a data center. Use existing, dedicated capacity for baseline resources while you assess the impact on your IT staff.
  7. Look at the access methods for an IaaS offering, and see if existing standards are used. Common protocols include eXtensible Markup Language (XML), Representative State Transfer (REST), Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and File Transfer Protocol (FTP).
  8. Plan an exit strategy. If you choose to change providers, make sure you know how to get applications from the cloud.2

Vocabulary
  • Virtual infrastructures
    Providers of cloud computing services use virtualization to provide the elasticity so often cited as a benefit. Virtualization means to create virtual machines out of physical servers—that is, multiple operating environments within one physical environment. That way, you can squeeze the maximum computing capacity out of your existing resources. Virtualization technology is useful for any IT group interested in cost-effective data consolidation apart from cloud computing. Just be aware that virtual machines need to be managed and maintained, whether they reside on a service provider’s infrastructure or in your own data center.
  • On-demand compliance
    Even with federal mandates that embrace cloud computing, you must compare IaaS offerings carefully. You should have a well-functioning compliance program for identities, data, and devices before adopting cloud services. Then, ask prospective service providers whether they can meet your needs for transparency, compliance controls, certifications, and auditability.
IaaS can help agencies with:
  • Hosting public-facing citizen services and websites.
  • Storage—especially of public data. The public cloud might even be a safer place to store data than your own data center, according to a team of engineers and computer scientists at the University of California.2 However, data classification is a key requirement for evaluating risk and making informed decisions about the use of cloud computing.
  • Testing large-scale applications in a discrete environment before deployment in the field.

Microsoft offerings for IaaS
Microsoft offers a variety of online services to address your agency’s most pressing needs:

  • Microsoft System Center has a free, partner-extensible toolkit that allows data centers to dynamically pool, allocate, and manage virtualized resources to enable IaaS.

  • Windows Server provides an architectural piece allowing communication, collaboration, and management between on-premises, private cloud, and public cloud computing.

  • Dynamic Data Center Toolkit for Hosters allows you to create a private or public cloud offering, including services for provisioning and managing different servers and server roles.

Learn more about IaaS
CLOUD BASICS SERIES
Entering the cloud

Get the basic information that agencies need to consider for cloud computing.

Government benefits in the cloud

Learn how agencies can benefit from moving into the cloud.

Security in the cloud

Explore security issues around cloud computing and ways to avert them.

SaaS

Deliver applications and services to users—regardless of their location—with Software as a Service (SaaS).

PaaS

Benefit from a cloud operating environment where you don’t have to manage the infrastructure, with Platform as a Service (PaaS).

IaaS

Rent data center capacity as needed, rather than owning and running hardware, with Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

Private cloud

Discover if a private cloud—with dedicated resources, additional control, and customization—is right for you.

1 Jackson, Joab. “GSA adds up cloud savings.” Government Computer News, December 11, 2009. http://www.gcn.com/Articles/2009/12/14/Numerator-USAGov.aspx
2 Armbrust, Michael et al. “Above the clouds: A Berkeley view of cloud computing” (Technical Report No. UCB/EECS-2009-28). University of California, Berkeley, 2009. http://www.eecs.berkeley.edu/Pubs/TechRpts/2009/EECS-2009-28.html