What is a cloud service?
A cloud service is any type of resource that is hosted in the cloud and made available to users over the network. Cloud services can refer to a wide variety of different types of services such as:
Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS): Cloud-based infrastructure services
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): Cloud-based applications
Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS): Cloud-based software development and deployment platforms
Examples of cloud services
One common example of a cloud service is an IaaS that makes virtual machines available to users over the Internet. Popular implementations include Amazon EC2 and Azure Virtual Machines. On services like these, you spin up a virtual machine in a cloud, then manage it using your cloud provider’s console or log into it directly via a protocol like SSH.
As an example of a SaaS type of cloud service, consider an application like Salesforce, which runs entirely in the cloud and is delivered to users over the Internet.
Advantages of cloud services
Starting with the launch of the first cloud service platforms about two decades ago, cloud became increasingly central to application deployment and management strategies. Cloud services offer a variety of advantages compared to the more traditional model of hosting resources outside of the cloud:
Scalability: With most cloud services, you can rapidly change the service capacity that you consume. For example, on a VM cloud service, you could spin up one hundred VMs just as easily as you could spin up one.
Simplicity: Cloud services move most of the responsibility for setting up and managing infrastructure and application resources to cloud providers. This makes cloud services easier to use for customers.
Reliability: Most cloud services are less likely to experience downtime than resources that businesses host themselves.
Lower costs: Cloud services can potentially save businesses significant amounts of money by reducing the resources they have to invest in setting up and managing their own infrastructure or applications.
Challenges of cloud services
Cloud services are subject to certain potential challenges or limitations:
Control: When you use a cloud service, you are limited to the configuration options that the cloud provider offers. You don’t have total control, as you would when hosting a resource yourself.
Performance: In most cases, the performance of cloud services is contingent upon the performance of your network connection. High latency rates or bandwidth limitations may lead to cloud service performance issues.
Security: Cloud services are subject to a variety of potential security risks, including data being sniffed by malicious parties as it is transmitted over the Internet, DDoS attacks taking cloud services offline, or attackers exploiting cloud service access control misconfigurations.
Best practices for securing cloud services
Given the many risks, it’s critical to have a security strategy in place to mitigate the chances that cloud services will become vectors for attack against your organization. Security best practices to consider include:
Understanding shared responsibility: While cloud service providers assume some security responsibilities, others fall to users. It’s essential to understand how shared responsibility works in the cloud from a security perspective.
Continuously auditing configurations: Small configuration errors, such as accidentally exposing one of your cloud services to unauthorized users, could lead to major security issues. Stay ahead of those risks by continuously scanning your cloud service configurations.
Tagging and documenting resources: The ease with which cloud services can be launched becomes a risk if it means your team creates resources, and then forgets about them and leaves them unsecured. To reduce this risk, tag or label cloud resources to make them easier to track, and enforce governance rules about documenting resources launched with cloud services.
Use cloud services wisely
Cloud services are a powerful resource, and it’s hard to imagine most businesses operating today without using them to power at least some of their workloads. As with any valuable tool, cloud services also present security risks, and you need a plan for mitigating those.