Understanding Cloud Concepts

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More and more organizations are using cloud resources for a wide variety of benefits. If you’re planning to take the SY0-501 version of the Security+ exam, you should have a basic understanding of cloud concepts.

For example, can you answer this question?

Q. The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant has created an online application teaching nuclear physics. Only students and teachers in the Springfield Elementary school can access this application via the cloud. What type of cloud service model is this?

A. IaaS

B. PaaS

C. SaaS

D. Public

More, do you know why the correct answer is correct and the incorrect answers are incorrect? The answer and explanation are available at the end of this post.

Cloud computing refers to accessing computing resources via a different location than your local computer. In most scenarios, you’re accessing these resources through the Internet.

Understanding Cloud Concepts

Software as a Service

Software as a Service (SaaS) includes any software or application provided to users over a network such as the Internet. Internet users access the SaaS applications with a web browser. It usually doesn’t matter which web browser or operating system a SaaS customer uses. They could be using Microsoft Edge, Chrome, Firefox, or just about any web browser.
As mentioned previously, web-based email is an example of SaaS. This includes Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, and others. The service provides all the components of email to users via a simple web browser.

If you have a Gmail account, you can also use Google Docs, another example of SaaS. Google Docs provides access to several SaaS applications, allowing users to open text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and PDF files through a web browser.

A talented developer and I teamed up to work on a project a while ago. He’s an Apple guy running a macOS while I’m a Microsoft guy running Windows, and we live in different states. However, we post and share documents through Google Docs and despite different locations and different applications running on our individual systems, we’re able to easily collaborate. One risk is that our data is hosted on Google Docs, and if attackers hack into Google Docs, our data may be compromised.

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Platform as a Service

Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides customers with a preconfigured computing platform they can use as needed. It provides the customer with an easy-to-configure operating system, combined with appropriate applications and on-demand computing.

Many cloud providers refer to this as a managed hardware solution. For example, I host http://gcgapremium.com/ on a virtual server through Liquid Web (http://www.liquidweb.com/) using one of their “Fully Managed” offerings.

Liquid Web provides several features in their fully managed solutions, including an installed operating system, a core software package used for web servers, Apache as a web server, antivirus software, spam protection, and more. Additionally, they keep the operating system up to date with relevant updates and patches. I manage the software used for the web site, including software changes and updates. However, I don’t need to worry about managing the server itself. The couple of times when the server developed a problem, they fixed it before I was even aware of the problem.

Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) allows an organization to outsource its equipment requirements, including the hardware and all support operations. The IaaS service provider owns the equipment, houses it in its data center, and performs all the required hardware maintenance. The customer essentially rents access to the equipment and often pays on a per-use basis.

Many cloud providers refer to this as a self-managed solution. They provide access to a server with a default operating system installation, but customers must configure it and install additional software based on their needs. Additionally, customers are responsible for all operating system updates and patches.

IaaS can also be useful if an organization is finding it difficult to manage and maintain servers in its own data center. By outsourcing its requirements, the company limits its hardware footprint. It can do this instead of, or in addition to, virtualizing some of its servers. With IaaS, it needs fewer servers in its data center and fewer resources, such as power, HVAC, and personnel to manage the servers.

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Security as a Service

Another entry into cloud computing is Security as a Service. It includes any services provided via the cloud that provide security services, and is commonly viewed as a subset of the Software as a Service (SaaS) model.

A common example of a Security as a Service application is antivirus software. Imagine radio station W-KOMA decides to purchase antivirus software for its eight employees. They purchase licenses to access the software from an antivirus company. Each employee then configures their system to use the software with their individual licenses. Once installed, the software automatically downloads virus definitions keeping each user’s system up to date without relying on the user to do so.

A key benefit of Security as a Service is that it outsources the administrative tasks associated with implementing the service. Additionally, professionals are focused on the specific security services offered, eliminating the need for employees to be experts on everything.

Organizations that use cloud resources often add a cloud access security broker (CASB) for additional security. This is a software tool or service deployed between an organization’s network and the cloud provider. It monitors all network traffic and can enforce security policies. As an example, it can ensure that all data stored in the cloud is encrypted.


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Q. The Springfield Nuclear Power Plant has created an online application teaching nuclear physics. Only students and teachers in the Springfield Elementary school can access this application via the cloud. What type of cloud service model is this?

A. IaaS

B. PaaS

C. SaaS

D. Public

Answer is C. This is a Software as a Service (SaaS) model. The software is the online application and the cloud provider (the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant in this example) maintains it.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provides customers with the hardware via the cloud. Customers are responsible for installing the operating system and any applications.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a computing platform. For example, a cloud provider can provide a server with a preconfigured operating system.

Anyone can access a public cloud. However, the question states that only students and teachers can access it.

See Chapter 4 of the CompTIA Security+: Get Certified Get Ahead: SY0-501 Study Guide for more information on cloud concepts.

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