Infrastructure

What is infrastructure as a service (IaaS)?

Share this post:

What is IaaS? It seems like a simple, innocuous question. However, as with most technical topics, things are never as they appear. IaaS is no different. To illustrate this, I reached out to four IBM cloud leaders and posed that simple question. What I got back were answers heavily influenced by their world view—where they came from and where they are today.

First I asked Distinguished Engineer (DE) Christopher Ferris, CTO for Cloud Interoperability in IBM Software Group (SWG).  Chris has responsibility for IBM engagements in cloud-related standards and open source, and is a long-time participant in standards bodies.  Unsurprisingly, he went with a standards-based definition:

“Given that I collaborated on behalf of IBM with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and others in the open standards community to help NIST shape their formal definition of cloud, I’ll let what has become the generally accepted definition of IaaS, from a standards perspective, speak for itself.”

Infrastructure as a ServiceHere’s how NIST defines IaaS:

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to provision processing, storage, networks and other fundamental computing resources where the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure but has control over operating systems, storage and deployed applications; and possibly limited control of select networking components (e.g., host firewalls).”

(Related: How does cloud computing work?)

Next, I asked another Distinguished Engineer, Matt Hogstrom. As Chief Technical Officer (CTO) for Software Defined Environments (SDE) in Systems and Technology Group (STG), Matt has responsibility for defining the SDE strategy covering IBM hardware and systems software.  Prior to his current job, Matt played a significant role in the development of the IBM solution for automated application delivery on an IBM expert integrated system, IBM PureApplication System.  Rooted in his experience sitting on both sides of the IaaS application programming interface (API) boundary (consuming in PureApplication System, exposing in SDE), Matt’s definition is very practical:

 “Infrastructure as a service is the ability to programmatically create, manage and consume infrastructure elements which include images, storage volumes, network and compute resources.”

Third, I asked yet another Distinguished Engineer, Mac Devine.  As CTO for Cloud Services in Global Technology Services (GTS), Mac is responsible for the technical direction of IBM public cloud services.  Fittingly, his answer is heavily influenced by the public cloud characteristics of paying for what you need, when you need it:

“Infrastructure as a service means that you are obtaining cloud infrastructure (i.e. servers, storage and networking) in an on-demand, elastic fashion and in a pay-as-you-go model.”

Finally, I asked Nathan Day, Chief Scientist at one of IBM’s latest acquisitions, SoftLayer.  As Chief Scientist, Nathan is responsible for managing and overseeing the product portfolio.  SoftLayer is a service provider that prides itself on “One platform. Endless possibilities. Virtual or bare metal. Public or private. All deployed in real time.” and Nathan’s answer reflects his focus on automating those infrastructure building blocks and making them available as a service:

“Infrastructure as a service is providing raw materials (compute, storage, network) to users on-demand so that they can execute their workloads in a flexible, scalable environment without the overhead of obtaining and operating physical gear.”

Of course, I cannot end this post without sharing my answer to the question.  Having spent a significant amount of time the last two years educating teams across IBM on cloud, infrastructure as a service and OpenStack, my answer is a simple statement illustrating the capabilities:

“Infrastructure as a service is the ability to programmatically do all those things that historically took a call to someone in the data center.”

As you can see above, answers to “What is IaaS?” vary widely, but all share the common theme of programmatic access to the basic building blocks of IT: compute, storage and networking.

What is your answer?  Comment below or let me know on Twitter @mjfork.

Director and Distinguished Engineer, IBM Cloud Infrastructure

More Infrastructure stories

4 benefits microservices architecture can bring to integration

While some of its benefits go back to development practices as old as Unix, the modern concept of microservices architecture originated at born-on-the-web companies in the last decade. At first, many observers were skeptical microservices could work outside of a few web-based firms. These days, companies from a wide range of industries have successfully embraced […]

Continue reading

Grupo IFM keeps pace with the fast-moving IT services industry with IBM Cloud

Increasingly, as businesses seek to drive digital transformation, they are looking to outsource the lower levels of IT management to specialist providers. At Grupo IFM, we provide corporate services, including IT services, to our member companies. This includes helping them unify their information systems to optimize costs and resources. To deliver value, we constantly need […]

Continue reading

With IBM Cloud, Avetta Global gives organizations the freedom to innovate

Traditional, on-premises infrastructure can hold businesses back. Costly, inflexible and difficult to maintain, on-premises hardware is often a drain on limited internal resources, particularly for smaller organizations. This is why Avetta Global is on a mission to move its clients’ systems to the IBM Cloud, freeing them from the hassle of having to manage their […]

Continue reading