Cloud service providers ( CSP ) is the name given to any of those companies that offer some component of cloud computing as a service. You know the ones? They all have initials that end in “aaS”. So, you’ll see infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS). Let’s take a look at what each one of these common acronyms means.
IaaS means that the cloud service provider owns and maintains all the hardware and software that the customer would normally have to buy and look after in their own data center. This means that the building that contains all the many boxes with their CPUs, memory, cooling, power supplies and all the rest of it live elsewhere, and the customer only needs to connect to use it.
The IaaS cloud service provider will also monitor everything, protecting it around the clock from cyber attackers, and providing other services like load balancing.
SaaS gives the customer access to a number of business technologies like productivity solutions, customer relationship management (CRM) software and human resources management (HRM) software. The SaaS provider looks after it all, so again, the customer just dials in to use it.
Lots of software suppliers have made the move to cloud-based services now, so there’s often no need for customers to buy physical media from them.
Platform as a service combines cloud infrastructure and services together, and it’s often used in software development. The difference compared to IaaS is that PaaS vendors will add more of the application stack to the underlying infrastructure; things like operating systems and middleware.
Cloud providers can also be divided up according to whether they provide public, private or hybrid cloud services.
Common features and offerings
Cloud service providers typically allow users to purchase their offerings or subscribe on an ongoing basis.
Some cloud providers have tailored their products to the requirements of particular vertical markets. They’ve adapted their services in the cloud to meet the requirements of specific industries or they’ve customized them so that users can meet particular regulations. For example, a number of health-related cloud products are on the market and they allow healthcare providers to store, maintain and back up their users’ personal data.
Major cloud service providers
There are many cloud services providers out there, but it’s likely that you’ll only have heard of the really big ones: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.
Amazon was first to become a major cloud provider in 2006 with Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3). Microsoft came along with its Azure platform and then Google with its Google Cloud Platform. The market has grown and now these three dominant companies jostle for the lead share in many different corners of it.
At the moment, they are all working on cloud-based services that make use of emerging technologies like machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and containerization. Major cloud providers beyond the top three include Apple, Citrix, IBM, Joyent, Rackspace and Salesforce.
How to choose a cloud service provider
Choosing a cloud service provider involves looking at a number of factors. Cost is the main one, and you will normally pay depending on what you use, but you should be aware that this isn’t the only type of payment model.
What it’s going to cost you is of course important, but you might also want to consider where the servers are actually located if they need to deal with sensitive information.
Reliability is crucial for the same reason that security is: your data is being kept somewhere else, so your ceding control of it to someone else. Reliability means knowing that you can access it all the time, and if you can’t, then that can spell big trouble for your business.
It’s worth noting that many cloud storage providers will promise 99.9% uptime in their service-level agreements (SLAs), and they will also spell out what kind of compensation you stand to receive if they can’t meet their promised level of service provision.
This sounds reassuring, but you do take care to read the small print in SLAs because some providers won’t count down time if it doesn’t exceed 10 minutes. If that doesn’t sound like much to you, then great. Perhaps your business can stand that kind of outage. But 600 seconds could be an eternity of dead time that costs companies in the financial sector (for example) a fortune.
Security is an equally important area, but without visiting their premises poking around, it’s often hard to know how secure a cloud service provider really is. One thing you can look for here is the blessing of recognized bodies which set minimum standards.
Organizations like the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) will certify cloud providers that meet their requirements, so check whether your cloud provider is certified by them.
The CSA’s Trusted Cloud Initiative program is another scheme to look out for. It was set up to aid cloud service providers in developing secure and interoperable identity, access and compliance management configurations and practices that are recommended by the industry.