Cloud Computing Architecture: Definition, Components, How It Works and Its Benefits

Cloud computing architecture is the collective term for all the components used in cloud computing. It’s usually divided into three main components — namely, a front end for the user to interact with, a back end to store data and perform computations, and a network that connects them. A cloud-based delivery model allows the end user to access the system, providing a seamless user experience.

A more granular way to look at cloud architecture is through computing layers. Each of these layers manages a specific part of a cloud solution, and they also abstract access to deeper layers and the underlying infrastructure. 

The application layer sits on top, and it handles the front end and the overall user experience. Underneath is the platform layer, which contains tools that developers use to build and manage the solution. Next is the infrastructure layer — sometimes split into a storage layer and a compute layer — that manages the back-end operations of the solution. 

Finally, there’s the data center layer, which handles networking with the underlying infrastructure and the physical hardware that powers the solution. This final layer is sometimes divided into two subcategories: the network layer and the physical layer.

There are public, private, hybrid and multi-cloud architectures, if you go by deployment model. When looking at the different service models, cloud architecture can take the form of IaaS, PaaS or SaaS solutions, depending on the level of abstraction.

Cloud computing architecture has many benefits over traditional on-premises architecture such as greater scalability, greatly reduced costs and improved security in many cases. On the other hand, it presents a greater risk of downtime as well as less control and flexibility

Understanding the core components of cloud computing architecture will help you realize the benefits while minimizing the risks.

What Is Cloud Computing Architecture?

Cloud computing architecture refers to the underlying structure of cloud solutions. Unlike on-premises solutions, where the system’s front end and back end are often in the same location, a cloud architecture relies on an external network to communicate between these two components.

cloud computing architecture
Cloud computing environments consist of a front end and a back end that are linked by a network, usually through a regular internet connection.

What Are the Main Cloud Architecture Components?

The main cloud architecture components are a front end, a back end, and a network using a cloud-based delivery model. Any cloud architecture is made up of these three core components that each play a vital role.

1. Front-End Platform

The front end is the part of the cloud architecture that the end user sees or interacts with, such as a web browser, a native application or a physical device. The main components of a front-end platform are a user interface, a software, and a client device or network.

The user interface can either be a graphical user interface (GUI) or a command-line interface (CLI) that’s delivered as software — either as a web interface or native application — to the client’s device through their network. 

Whatever the method, the front end provides abstracted and seamless access to the hidden back end. The main components of a front-end platform are the user interface, software and client device or network. These components and their functions are described below:

  • User interface: As the most visible part of the front end, the user interface is what the end user actually interacts with on a routine basis. The easiest type of user interface for most people is a GUI, but more complicated software often employs command-line or text-based interfaces as well.
  • Software: The type of software used for the front end determines how the user accesses it. A web application can be opened in a regular web browser, whereas a native desktop or mobile application must be installed by the end user, necessitating some sort of delivery mechanism like the app store or a .exe installer file.
  • Client device or network: The software and user interface need to run on the client’s device, which can be a computer, mobile device, router or any other digital equipment. In order for the software and user interface to communicate with the back end, they must connect through a local network, like a regular internet connection.

2. Network (Internet, Intranet or Intercloud)

The network is what connects the front-end and back-end to eachother and also to the end-user.

The key difference between cloud architecture and its on-premises counterpart is the network component. This connects the front end, which the end user interacts with, to the back end that does all the actual work. Most cloud solutions use regular internet connections, but private clouds can use an intranet (similar to an on-premises solution). Multi-cloud solutions rely on an intercloud network.

3. Back-End Platform

The back end is the cloud architecture component that does all the heavy lifting. Only system administrators and developers can see and access this part of the solution, and it consists of many individual components. 

The main components of a back-end platform are the application itself; the service it uses to access infrastructure, such as the cloud runtime and storage; and the management and security systems that are built into the architecture natively. These components and their functions are explained below:

  • Application: The application that receives data and input from the front end is the first point of contact between the two platforms. 
  • Service: The type of cloud service provider (IaaS, PaaS or SaaS) determines what resources are provided and which cloud architecture layers the client can access.
  • Cloud runtime: The runtime is the virtual cloud environment that performs computations and executes code.
  • Storage: Any cloud solution uses cloud storage to store data that the solution needs to run.
  • Infrastructure: The underlying infrastructure that underpins the entire solution. This infrastructure usually takes the form of an enormous amount of remote servers that are centralized in data centers.
  • Management: In order to effectively operate a cloud solution, sysadmins and developers need management tools that allow them to monitor, customize and optimize the cloud architecture.
  • Security: Since cloud computing usually exposes the solution to the public internet, built-in cloud security measures are needed to prevent unauthorized access and unintended data leaks.

What Are Cloud Architecture Layers?

Cloud architecture is divided into layers, with each layer responsible for handling a specific set of components.

While understanding the difference between a front-end platform and a back-end platform is useful, it tells you little about the cloud solution’s underlying architecture. For that, we have to dive into the different cloud architecture layers, which all represent a different level of abstraction and purpose. 

The cloud architecture layers include the application layer, the platform layer, the infrastructure layer and the data center layer. The latter two can be further subdivided into the storage and compute layers, and the network and physical layers, respectively. The cloud architecture layers and their functions are listed below:

  • Application layer: This layer is the most abstracted part of a cloud’s back end. Like the front end, this layer usually contains a user interface, which represents the other side of the application that the end user uses. With SaaS solutions, this is usually the only back-end layer that the client can access.
  • Platform layer: The platform layer goes one level deeper — it’s where developers can use tools and test environments to change how the front-end and back-end applications work. PaaS solutions provide access to the platform layer.
  • Infrastructure layer: This layer handles the actual allocation of storage and computing resources to the platform layer. IaaS solutions allow direct access to the infrastructure layer, which can be further divided into two categories:
    • Storage layer: The storage layer lets the end user access the cloud storage resources that the provider offers, which are usually so vast that they can seem to be infinite.
    • Compute layer: The compute layer is where the end user can access the virtual machines that provide the processing power necessary for the cloud solution to run.
  • Data center layer: The deepest cloud architecture layer represents access to the underlying network that links everything together, as well as the actual physical hardware that powers it all.
    • Network layer: IaaS solutions provide limited access to the network layer, allowing users to customize and tweak how their data moves.
    • Physical layer: The end user can rarely utilize the physical layer as it gives access to the individual hardware units that the cloud provider operates.
Cloud Architecture Layers
A cloud computing system is made up of different layers that serve distinct purposes and offer abstracted access to deeper layers

What Are the Types of Cloud Architecture?

Cloud architecture types based on deployment model are public, private, hybrid and multi-cloud computing. If defined by service model then they are are Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions.

Cloud Architecture Deployment Models

Cloud architecture deployment models define cloud solutions based on who owns the underlying infrastructure and how it is accessed and delivered. The four types of cloud architecture deployment models are public, private, hybrid and multi-cloud and their functions are described below:

  • Public cloud architecture: Public cloud architecture is built and maintained by third-party cloud providers who rent access to the infrastructure, platform or software on a pay-as-you-go or subscription-based model. This type of architecture offers ease of use as well as cost-effective and essentially infinite scalability, but at the cost of control and flexibility.
  • Private cloud architecture: Private cloud architecture operates similarly to an on-premises solution. The underlying hardware or infrastructure is either owned directly by the client or exclusively rented by a third-party provider. Either way, the end user gets less abstracted access and can customize the underlying infrastructure to a degree not possible with public clouds.
  • Hybrid cloud architecture: Hybrid cloud architecture consists of a public cloud component and a private cloud component. This approach offers benefits from public cloud architecture (cost-effectiveness and scalability) and private cloud architecture (flexibility, regulatory compliance and control). It also minimizes the risks and disadvantages associated with both.
  • Multi-cloud architecture: Multi-cloud architecture takes advantage of many separate cloud computing architectures, either public or private. This method requires additional middleware to ensure the different clouds communicate properly, but it lets the end user take advantage of exclusive features on multiple platforms.
cloud deployment models graphic
Cloud-based applications can be deployed in several different ways, depending
on who owns the actual infrastructure and how access is managed.

Cloud Architecture Service Models

Cloud architecture service models describe the level of abstraction that is employed when delivering the solution to the end user. The three types of cloud architecture service models and their functions are explained below:

  • IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service solutions provide direct access to the infrastructure layer, and thus offer control over cloud storage and processing resources. Access to the actual hardware layer is still abstracted. IaaS solutions are best for those who want custom-made niche solutions, or for large organizations with the resources to hire or purchase the expertise required to manage them.
  • PaaS: Platform as a Service solutions simplify the cloud architecture by abstracting the infrastructure layer and only giving direct access to the platform layer. The end user can still create custom applications to suit their needs, but they don’t have to worry about managing and allocating the resources powering it. PaaS solutions are ideal for developing cloud solutions that don’t require in-depth control over the underlying infrastructure and storage.
  • SaaS: Software as a Service solutions provide the most abstracted access to the cloud architecture. They only allow the client to interact with the application layer of the back end, where they can access deeper layers like infrastructure through managed applications.
cloud computing deployment models
The service model determines what kind of access the client has to cloud
computing resources and what the cloud platform manages itself.

How Does Cloud Architecture Work?

Cloud architecture works by taking all these components and layers, and having them work together. To illustrate, let’s take everything we’ve learned and look at Gmail as an example of cloud computing and look at how it works in practice.

how cloud architecture works
When you send an email with Gmail, a request is triggered that passes through every layer of the cloud computing environment.

First, the user accesses the front end through their web browser. They might read some emails that are collected from the back end and maybe send a few replies. These replies travel back across the network to the back end.

Here, the user input enters the application layer of Gmail on the back end, which determines what should be done. In this example, the user has sent an email, so the application layer communicates to the platform layer that it must run the code that sends the email to its destination. 

The platform layer determines what computing and storage resources are needed for the task, and it communicates this information to the infrastructure layer. The infrastructure layer allocates the virtual resources, and finally, communicates what it needs to the data center layer so that it can set aside the physical hardware for the required purpose.

What Are the Benefits of Cloud Computing Architecture?

The benefits of cloud architecture include greater scalability and elasticity, reduced costs, simplified data monitoring and management, improved security, increased efficiency and more.

Some benefits of cloud computing architecture are listed below:

  • Scalability and elasticity: Because cloud architecture provides abstracted access to a virtually infinite pool of resources, scaling up a solution over time or responding to sudden spikes in traffic or demand is as simple as clicking a button. This saves an organization from having to acquire and maintain redundant infrastructure that sits ready for times of high load.
  • Cost efficiency: Because there’s no need to purchase and maintain expensive infrastructure that often sits unused during off-peak hours, cloud architecture is much more cost-efficient for most organizations. 
  • Monitoring and reporting: Cloud architecture requires in-depth monitoring and reporting tools to manage and keep track of all the resources contained in the pool. These capabilities are also available to individual clients, which can provide valuable new data about virtually every aspect of business operations.
  • Workflow optimization: The advanced monitoring and reporting allows clients to optimize workflows. Insights into how the cloud solution is operating will often reveal areas of inefficiency that can be optimized and streamlined.
  • Improved security: Although an on-premises system is more secure due to obscurity, it also relies on the vigilance of an in-house IT team, costing the organization time and money. Cybercriminals are constantly discovering new ways to get through security systems, and large cloud providers spend enormous amounts of money to stay on top of new developments and exploits.

How to Design a Cloud Computing Architecture?

To design a cloud computing architecture, you must first choose a service model as the cloud architecture depends upon the choice of cloud service model. If your solution requires direct access and control over cloud resources, you’ll have to start with an IaaS solution. 

This approach will require experienced cloud architects who are capable of designing, testing and implementing a cloud architecture using IaaS. This means they must be able to design systems for the allocation of resources and scaling, on top of actually designing and programming the application itself.

Using a PaaS solution is simpler, as it takes much of the cloud architecture’s design out of your direct control. Instead of worrying about storage or compute resources and figuring out how to make them scale, you only have to design the back-end and front-end applications. The service handles the rest.

Finally, if you don’t need a development platform or infrastructure access, designing a SaaS solution is by far the simplest approach. Most SaaS products require little to no coding knowledge, but it’s still beneficial to hire an expert to oversee the initial design of the overall architecture and migration.

What Are Some Cloud Architecture Best Practices?

When designing a cloud solution, the first — and arguably, the most important — best practice to follow is to carefully consider your existing systems, needs and use cases. This means analyzing your existing workflows and applications to decide which systems would benefit most from cloud-native features and which would be costly or difficult to implement on the cloud.

From there, you should design the solution with failure in mind. Even the most well-designed cloud solution has many plausible points of failure, so ensuring you have a plan to deal with problems when they inevitably occur is key.

Furthermore, if you’re using one of the more well-known cloud services, you should follow an established framework for good architecture, such as the Microsoft Azure Well-Architected Framework or the AWS Well-Architected Framework.

One of the key features and benefits of cloud architecture is that it separates components into individual layers. A well-designed cloud system should take advantage of this by separating different components and workflows as much as possible, thus reducing the amount of dependencies in the system.

In terms of specific cloud capabilities, elasticity is a key feature to implement, as it allows your solution to be flexible around fluctuating traffic and demand — something that’s common for most businesses.

Finally, you should always think of security on every level when designing a cloud architecture. For each component and service layer, make sure that there are no potential security leaks through third-party APIs or software, and maintain strict access management and multi-factor authentication.

What Does a Cloud Architect Do?

Cloud architects work with cloud computing systems to design, build and manage an organization’s cloud solution. These days, most cloud architects are certified in one or more of the big three cloud computing services: AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. 

What Are the Best Cloud Architecture Design Services?

The best cloud architecture design services depend upon the size of your business or organization. Popular cloud architecture design services include Coastal Cloud, HP Enterprise Consulting, Belitsoft, Appinventiv and ScienceSoft.

Some cloud service providers like IBM and AWS offer their own consulting services. Moreover, all of the big three cloud providers have marketplaces where you can find reviews of third-party consulting services that specialize in each cloud provider.

Final Thoughts

With that, we’ve reached the end of our cloud computing architecture overview. Although there’s much more information to explore if you want to become a cloud expert, we hope this guide has helped you with some of the basic terminology and theory of cloud computing.

What did you think of the guide? Did we miss any core concepts that you still find confusing? What’s your experience with designing or implementing cloud computing architecture? Let us know in the comments below, and as always, thank you for reading.

FAQ: Cloud Infrastructure & Architecture

  • Cloud computing architecture is made up of several different layers defined by the level of abstraction that they utilize. These layers include the application layer, the platform layer, the infrastructure layer and the data center layer.

  • The four types of cloud architecture as defined by deployment model are public cloud architecture, private cloud architecture, hybrid cloud architecture and multi-cloud architecture.

  • According to the six-layer model, the six components of cloud computing architecture are the application layer, the platform layer, the storage layer, the computing layer, the network layer and the physical layer.

  • A standard cloud computing architecture consists of a front end for the end user to interact with, a back end that manages the processing and storage used by developers and sysadmins, and a network to connect them.

The post Cloud Computing Architecture: Definition, Components, How It Works and Its Benefits appeared first on Cloudwards.

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