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There's a cloud for every problem
Cloud services have risen from the rough-and-tumble of start-ups to the desks of IT decision-makers, thus making the term 'cloud' a household word. Of course, the name of a cloud service does not say a whole lot about it, and descriptions sometimes leave a bit to be desired. The following description shines some light on the world of clouds.
A cloud for a problem
Cloud services can be roughly divided into two categories: outsourced applications (Software as a Service, SaaS) and infrastructure services (Infrastructure as a Service, IaaS and Platform as a Service, PaaS).
The common denominator of SaaS is primarily their operating approach: they are maintained by a separate service provider and billed according to use. It is difficult to provide general descriptions or recommendations of these services, as they vary widely.
In the SaaS use case, all data is generally at the fingertips of the service provider. In such cases, it is vital to determine ownership of the data as well as for what purposes the service provider is allowed to use it.
Well-known SaaS examples are Gmail, Dropbox and Flickr. In the business sector, major players include GitHub, Slack and SalesForce.
Infrastructure services offer virtual machines, networks and storage, or, alternatively, "containers". Containers offer a new way to package and run applications, thus reducing the maintenance workload of software developers.
Cloud services are extremely versatile.
They are a flexible and place-independent solution to a variety of problems.
As opposed to SaaS offerings, the infrastructure services are very uniform. Organisations generally build their own services, either internal or customer facing, on top of these cloud services.
– The advantage of infrastructure services is their versatility. The user gets the number of virtual servers they want with just the push of a button. The users can access the resources they need quickly, and they can start working on what's important for them, explains Kalle Happonen, Senior Systems Specialist at CSC.
Well-known examples of infrastructure services include Amazon AWS, Azure, Google Compute Engine and, naturally, CSC's own cPouta and ePouta services.
A problem for a cloud
When advancing from basic use to more demanding applications, the differences between IaaS clouds become apparent. Some cloud providers focus on single virtual machines and promise reliability, while others offer performance for challenging workloads. Some provides have a global data centre network which their customers can leverage. Indeed, a cloud should be chosen based on need.
Computing services and data analysis and management
Computationally-heavy research demands a wide range of resources. Cloud services are one possibility. The Pouta cloud services – which are free for research and education in higher education institutions – support the Taito capacity computing service (supercluster) and Sisu high performance computing service.
In some cases, research involves sensitive data. It is naturally important to determine where the cloud service stores the data. CSC's ePouta service is suitable for the computing, analysis and management of sensitive data. All the data contained in our cloud services remain securely in Finland.
Development of services
Cloud services allow for the use of modern application development methods. For example, the automation of testing and development environments is facilitated by cloud services, and new functionalities can be brought to market more quickly. CSC's cPouta cloud, for example, can be used in the development of services.
Virtual resourcing of servers
Many IT services have not been 'cloudified' yet. This means that service availability is dependent on the functioning of a single server. If the availability of this kind of service is critical, running it with common cloud services is more difficult, because these rarely offer aailability promises for individual virtual servers. Generally, in cases like this, a more conventional virtualisation platform, such as VMware, is used.
Other intended uses
The cloud can be used in, for example, physics simulation, classroom virtualisation and the smooth prototyping of software development ideas. CSC's clouds can handle all of these. A concrete example of a versatile commercial cloud service is Microsoft's Azure, which is especially suitable for use with Windows servers and Microsoft services.
GÉANT, the pan-European data network for the research and education community has tendered out commercial IaaS cloud services. The resulting reduced rates are also available to higher education institution clients through CSC. The services include Azure and AWS clouds, are are primarily intended to supplement CSC's own cloud services for the IT administration needs of higher education institutions.
Cloud services are extremely versatile. They are a flexible and place-independent solution to a variety of problems. CSC's cloud services are intended for higher education institutions, research, public administration and international infrastructures.
You can find more information on cloud services on the CSC website and by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CSC cloud service experts Kalle Happonen and Jukka Nousiainen were interviewed for the article.
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