What is cloud architecture?
The term cloud architecture is used in different ways by different people, but most would agree on the following: Cloud architecture is the design pattern formed by select hardware and software components, connected via a network, and supported by virtualization tools and other methods to develop and maintain a cloud environment. The elements that comprise cloud architecture are all different forms of cloud infrastructure.
Some infrastructural elements of cloud architecture are on premises, albeit not always the enterprise's premises—namely, servers housed in vast facilities overseen by a cloud service provider (CSP). Others, like software as a service (SaaS) applications, exist primarily in the cloud but are accessed and operated by end users through graphical user interfaces (GUIs), seen on their desktop or mobile devices.
Still other components, such as middleware, function as conduits between on-premises and cloud resources. Others form the network connections that keep cloud architecture together.
The structure of cloud infrastructure elements—and the various relationships between them—is what allows an enterprise's cloud architecture to support its critical business operations and, ultimately, further its long-term objectives. If each infrastructural aspect doesn't effectively support its counterparts, the entire cloud could malfunction or even fail.
Cloud platform types (and deployment methods)
It's important to closely examine elements of cloud technology infrastructure that combine to form cloud architecture, starting with the various cloud-based platform services.
Types of cloud platforms
Each kind of cloud service detailed below is integral to any enterprise's overall cloud architecture, but also has its own distinct architecture and function.
When most people talk about "the cloud," they're often referring to infrastructure as a service (IaaS). IaaS provides what are known as "instances"—virtualized servers that provide the expected functionality of a physical data center.
Major examples of IaaS include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and the Google Cloud platform. CSPs ensure customers have the compute power, storage, and memory they need to run apps with their IaaS as the foundation. They also manage oversight of critical IaaS components—such as the massive server banks and network hardware that support multiple clouds for many organizations. Customers, meanwhile, must take care of their own applications.
Many organizations that start with one vendor for their foundational IaaS cloud computing platform will adopt other services—cloud applications, development environments, and so on—from that supplier. But this doesn't mean companies are bound to one cloud provider. In fact, in this era of multi-cloud, plenty of enterprises need more than one IaaS setup to properly support their operations.
Platform as a service (PaaS) is similar to IaaS in that it functions as a support system. But it's specifically intended as an environment for enterprise app development, whereas IaaS is a catch-all foundation for cloud operations. The PaaS networks, compute, and data storage are all CSP-managed, while the customer is in charge of day-to-day matters like DevOps, configuration, deployment, and security.
Applications hosted on cloud deployments, known as software as a service (SaaS), are the parts of the cloud that most business users—and consumers—use most often. These SaaS applications are what systems like PaaS and IaaS exist to support, and they range from enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to communication tools like Slack. Most businesses use a mix of proprietary apps, created using PaaS, as well as SaaS offerings from CSPs and other vendors.
Data as a service (DaaS) tools leverage cloud elasticity and its almost-infinite storage capacity to store, process, integrate, or analyze enterprise data, freeing it from the constraints of on-premises data centers.
A variation on the PaaS model, integration platform as a service (IPaaS) solutions ensure that essential enterprise apps—and their data—are integrated with one another to facilitate better operations overall. They allow greater application interoperability and data sharing.
Deployment methods for cloud architecture
The services that make up the software side of cloud architecture aren't deployed according to a uniform method. Enterprises opt for one or more of the following:
This can either be a single IaaS subscription to a CSP running on that vendor's public cloud architecture or a CSP-hosted, single-tenant environment. Some enterprises will also refer to the apps or systems hosted strictly on their own data centers and private network architecture and call that "private cloud"—but many would simply call that a collection of on-premises resources.
For many enterprise-scale organizations, neither the public or private version of single-cloud will be sufficient to sustain efficient operations, but it can be one part of a larger deployment.
Two or more distinct IaaS cloud platforms are required to form a multi-cloud deployment. They may be overseen by the same CSP or different vendors. Approximately 89% of today's enterprises use multi-cloud as the foundation of their cloud strategy.
This deployment model involves some resources being hosted on public cloud architecture from a CSP while others remain tethered to an on-premises data center. Hybrid cloud architecture can involve either one public cloud or several. The latter, hybrid multi-cloud, is common among a majority of the aforementioned enterprises using multi-cloud.
Front end vs. back end: The layout of cloud architecture
The most important dividing line in cloud architecture is that between front-end and back-end components. Neither can function properly without the other.
Front-end architecture: Infrastructure as end-user conduit
The cloud infrastructure in the front end is the only part of cloud architecture that many people ever see. This includes devices—computers, mobile phones, tablets, and machines linked to the internet of things (IoT)—and clients—e.g., the GUIs of web browsers, SaaS apps, cloud storage tools, virtualization systems, and more.
The front end must communicate with the back end to complete the requests of users and their clients, either over the public internet or via a virtual private network (VPN). Middleware can also play a role in connecting the front and back ends.
Back-end architecture: The cloud backbone
All of the infrastructural elements necessary to support the client-side functions that end users rely on cloud services for are located in the back end.
This segment of cloud architecture includes any physical compute, data storage, and networking infrastructure. But in terms of day-to-day operations, cloud teams spend more time with the applications and services layer: This layer receives client requests from the front end and prompts the rest of the back end to execute the requests. The back end is also home to the cloud's virtualization layer, which spins up virtual machines (VMs). These provide critical runtime support for the apps and services layer as well as the aforementioned physical infrastructure.
Management tools, including everything from data warehouses and data lakes to app containerization and orchestration solutions, do most of their work in the back end. Last but not least, security systems that safeguard app and service data both in transit and at rest are found here.
Optimize cloud architecture to strengthen operations and boost business value
Adopting the latest architecture-related cloud trends and infrastructure should never be done for its own sake. All cloud initiatives need a clear vision that supports key business priorities. Cloud architecture adoption—or improvement—should provide optimal support for existing applications and workloads, help minimize performance bottlenecks, improve resiliency, and generally make things easier for end users, be they co-workers or customers who use an organization's cloud tool. The following practices are all beneficial:
Before implementing new cloud architecture—or making changes to existing architecture—discuss this course of action in detail with all relevant stakeholders: IT personnel, data teams, DevOps staff, and department leaders—and, if the changes are big enough, appropriate C-suite members. Don't simply say, "We want to try hybrid multi-cloud." Instead, for example, plot out scenarios with different CSPs—or pairs of CSPs—at varying subscription tiers.
Focus on performance improvement
Upgrades or changes to cloud architecture shouldn't be lateral moves or superfluous add-ons. They must address short- and long-term business needs and offer concrete improvements, not only to app performance but also to process efficiency, employee productivity, or costs.
Have security and recovery contingencies
The cloud can support advanced security and disaster recovery methods—which is exactly what's necessary in the current threat landscape. Protecting enterprise cloud architecture requires not only best-practice methods like end-to-end encryption, vulnerability scanning, automated patching, and zero-trust access, but also infrastructure upgrades such as next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) and automated backup and recovery servers.
Support architecture with leading-edge tools
Advanced cloud security tools like NGFWs and the latest cloud access security broker (CASB) technologies aren't the only complementary technologies that can strengthen your cloud computing architecture. But it's critical to choose new tools carefully. Whether it's a cutting-edge container orchestration platform to optimize efficiency of cloud-native apps or a complete cloud analytics and data solution like Teradata VantageCloud to better leverage your historical data, be sure you're adopting it to address a pressing business need.
Connect with us to learn more about VantageCloud's key features, including next-generation, cloud-native deployment and expanded analytics capabilities.