What are cloud services?
Before you can understand the complexities of managing cloud infrastructure, the benefits they bring, and how to manage them to limit complexity and spending, it’s best to first understand what cloud services are, what cloud managed services are, and what a managed cloud provider is.
Techopedia editor Margaret Rouse describes cloud services as “any IT services that are provisioned and accessed from a cloud computing provider, [a] broad term that incorporates all delivery and service models of cloud computing and related solutions. Cloud services are delivered over the internet and accessible globally from the internet”.1
The authors of the eponymous Red Hat page What are cloud services? describe cloud services as “infrastructure, platforms, or software that are hosted by third-party providers and made available to users through the internet”.2
Rouse states that cloud services “provide many IT services traditionally hosed in-house, including:
- provisioning an application/database server from the cloud
- replacing in-house storage/backup with cloud storage
- accessing software and applications directly from a web browser without prior installation1
Cloud services offer enterprises improved scalability, helping organizations meet the demands of their end users, hosted applications, and solutions. Cloud service providers build, operate, and manage cloud services, a process that helps to produce end-to-end availability, security, and reliability for the cloud.
The Red Hat authors note that cloud services help to “facilitate the flow of user data from front-end clients (e.g., users’ servers, tablets, desktops, laptops—anything on the users’ ends), through the internet, to the provider’s systems, and back [and] promote the building of cloud-native applications and the flexibility of working in the cloud”.2 If your end users have internet access and a computer or similar smart device, then they can probably access their cloud services.
What are the types of cloud services?
Rouse argues that there are three types of cloud services and the Red Hat authors argue there’s a fourth type of cloud services.
- Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provides users with compute, networking, and storage resources.
- Platform as a service (PaaS) provides users with a platform on which applications can run, as well as all the IT infrastructure required for it to run.
- Software as a service (SaaS) [essentially] provides users with a cloud application, the platform on which it runs, and the platform’s underlying infrastructure.
- Function as a service (FaaS) [is] an event-driven execution model [that] lets developers build, run, and manage app packages as functions without maintaining the infrastructure.
The Red Hat authors note that “all infrastructure, platforms, software, or technologies that users access through the internet without requiring additional software downloads can be considered cloud computing services—including the following as-a-Service solutions”.2
What are cloud managed services?
Cloud managed services or managed cloud services help enterprises manage their cloud experience. This aid helps the enterprise to focus on their core expertise and reduce the business's burden because their trusted party is managing either all or part of their cloud.3
This act of having a third-party team of cloud services experts managing cloud and cloudware applications helps an enterprise with freeing up their internal IT teams and other resources they would be devoting to cloud system monitoring and architecture guidance. Having a third-party team allows the enterprise to focus on making improvements to their services without concern for extended system downtimes or service interruptions. Cloud managed services help drive more complicated initiatives and business outcomes, and potentially reduce costs.
The Cloudian authors of the Managed Cloud Services: Pros and Cons page define managed cloud services as “services that offer partial or complete management of a client’s cloud resources or infrastructure [that are] designed to enable organizations to maximize benefits from cloud services while minimizing internal time and costs”.4 They continue noting that users “can access managed cloud services for public, private, and hybrid clouds at any point in the cloud adoption lifecycle [with] organizations [frequently contracting] for services before migration to gain help determining which cloud resources best suit their needs and to ensure that configuration is performed correctly”.4
The authors of Insight’s What are Managed Cloud Services? page write that managed cloud services “can encompass a variety of IT tasks, including engineering on demand, operations management, 24/7 help desk support, hosting and implementation”.5
What are managed cloud service providers?
Managed cloud service providers (MCSP) also known as managed service providers (MSP) and cloud managed service providers (CMSP) are vendors that provide managed cloud services and who otherwise help enterprises looking for third-parties to directly connect them with their desired cloud resources. MCSP can be connected to the cloud resources that an enterprise is using or to a third-party operator. They can generally provide subscription offerings for an array of services and can function as a substitute for on-site cloud IT or as a supplement to on-site teams.
Businesses of all sizes, government sectors and agencies, and nonprofit organizations all hire MCSPs for the daily management of services, including network and infrastructure managed, security and disaster recovery, and general monitoring.
Some MSPs can specialize in data storage or similar IT areas and others focus on specific vertical markets, such as financial and legal services, and manufacturing and healthcare. Alexander S. Gillis notes that “managed security service providers [can] offer specialized types of services, such as remote firewall administration and other security-as-a-service offerings. Managed print service providers maintain printers and supply consumables. Often, MSPs perform their tasks remotely over the internet”.6
It's not uncommon for the terms cloud service provider and managed service provider to be used synonymously when the provider's service is supported by a service-level agreement (SLA) and is delivered via the internet.
What are hosted services?
Rouse writes that hosted services are broadly defined as “services [provided] over the Internet, [and that] all hosted service types surround the basic concept of a website or web service”.7 She continues stating that “in the hosted service environment, one computer is configured to provide some or all of its resources for customer usage in exchange for a specified fee [and] the Internet is used to connect the server to a client machine(s), which access server data, content and services”.7
Several examples of hosted services include:
- Web hosting
- File hosting
- Image hosting
- Email hosting
Rouse also notes that “based on the availability of server resources and user permissions, as well as number of accounts hosted by a server, hosting may be categorized as follows:
- Shared web hosting
- Semi-dedicated hosting
- Dedicated hosting
- Virtual server hosting"7
Aka website hosting or webhosting, this hosted service is “the process where a web hosting provider stores and maintains website files and applications on a service to make its customers’ websites accessible on the Internet”.8 Kinza Yasar notes that web hosting demands “one or more physical or virtual servers to serve as the web host [and] the domain name system (DNS) for name configurations and pointing to the hosting service. Web hosting can consist of “a unique collection of software programs or services (like FTP and email); and an environment for working with various programming languages (like PHP, .NET and Java)”.7
A service that hosts file storage facilities instead of applications or sites, file hosting services commonly host file storage facilities instead of applications or sites where end users’ files and data can be accessed or retrieved via the Internet. Secure file hosting services work well for storing files, reducing or eliminating data theft, data loss, or data corruption. File hosting services are provided by many file storage providers. They can be generally sorted into the following sub-services:
- Software File Hosting: Different authors of freeware use this service to provide their software. Some providers use delayed or intentionally slow downloading options for free users, persuading them to buy a premium service to get full privileges. This service is also used for marketing purposes.
- Personal File Storage: Designed to store personal data and back up individual files, just like a network storage system. The data and files are password protected and paid users can upload and share their data with authorized users. These files are accessible through HTTP or FTP.
- One-click hosting. Different one-click hosting services are available for data storage. These allow the user to upload or download data to or from their local hard drives with just one click, often for free. These services are offered through Web-based applications and only one URL is required to get the homepage or interface that provides the platform for such activities.9
This hosted service relies on a host server storing image files or similar flat files on it. Users can upload images to the website where they are stored on its server and give different codes that allow other users to access the many uploaded images. Storing these files on a hosting service allows for easy and scalable viewing and sharing, usually by way of a content delivery network (CDN), “a network of distributed but interconnected servers that quickly and efficiently delivers assets to users”.10
What is the difference between an image hosting site and a photo sharing site?
The principal platforms for photograph and similar imagery are image hosting and photo sharing. Although they both operate around users uploading images and accessing them, there are ways to differentiate between them.
On image hosting sites, images are uploaded and stored, can be accessed online, and are mostly easy to embed onto different sites.
With a photo sharing platform, images are often uploaded to platforms like social media sites. Afterwards, that uploaded image is largely confined to that platform. The authors of the Mailchimp page Image Hosting: The Benefits And Best Sites offer the following explanation about the differences between image hosting platforms and photo sharing platforms:
“The key difference is that a photo sharing site is a limited platform. You will not be able to embed images from one photo sharing site to another website. With photo sharing websites such as Instagram, the particular image you uploaded is generally restricted to that one site and can’t be easily transferred to other websites.
On the flip side, image hosting allows you to reach a much bigger audience. You can easily embed your photos on other sites, and it's very easy to do so. You can use link copy buttons to add a link to where you want to embed the image to. Image hosting sites have code fragments that can be used to add a picture to any other third-party website. As a matter of fact, image hosting sites encourage this”.11
A web or Internet hosting service that rents out or otherwise leverages email servers, email hosting services tend to come in two types: free webmail sites (Ex. Gmail or Yahoo! Mail) or premium services or sites (Google Workspace (previously G Suite) or Microsoft 365 Business) that offer more advanced email solutions than the free webmail sites, and usually feature dedicated email platforms.
When it comes to features, an email hosting service usually “manages the user’s domain name, including security email authentication schemes like filtering, replication and rerouting”.12 Rouse continues noting that “different service providers offer different technology and services according to the demographic they are targeting, so some are more geared towards security while others are more geared towards email management and filtering”.12
Premium services tend to be leveraged by enterprises with high email traffic that benefit from having their own domain name to best distinguish themselves. Hosted businesses often use email addresses in formats such as email@example.com, but larger business can also host their own email servers, bypassing the need for a third-party email hosting service. “Free webmail is usually basic POP3-based email while hosting services use customized open-source applications like SquirrelMail, RoundCube or Horde”.12
Shared web hosting
A common and popular form of web hosting service, shared hosting is often provided by web hosting service providers that have several on-site web servers. Rouse expands stating that once an enterprise begins with a provider, “[then] each website’s logical partition/space is created on the Web server, which houses data for that website only. Other websites are also present on the same Web server, simultaneously sharing the storage, computing power, network and other resources”.13
The “shared” in shared hosting comes from how available resources are shared on the single physical server. Because this is a shared service, shared hosting is usually a cheaper alternate to dedicated hosting and is often the best option for smaller websites that don’t have a large amount of traffic, have lower security concerns, and strive for cost-saving solutions for their enterprise’s website hosting.
Semi-dedicated hosting servers often leverage fewer website resources while providing their users with a substantial level of computing power or bandwidth, and the straightforward, ease-of-use that shared hosting is commonly renowned for. Rouse notes that semi-dedicated servers are “considered a managed hosting service, [so] the hosting provider is expected to carry out regular server maintenance and to apply system security updates when they become available”.14
Semi-dedicated hosting servers are most similar to standard shared hosting servers, with both types allowing a single physical server to be simultaneously shared by multiple users and organizations. The differences are more visible when you consider how many websites the standard shared server allows versus the semi-dedicated hosting server. The authors of the AwardSpace page What Is Semi-Dedicated Server Hosting? note that “shared hosting allows hundreds or even thousands of websites to utilize a single server [and] semi-dedicated hosting limits the number of sites to just a dozen or so”.14 The authors continue adding that “[the] very low site count [helps] ensure that each website is getting an adequate amount of computing resources. In fact, semi-dedicated servers are considered to be more powerful than VPS hosting”.14
Sometimes known as a managed hosting service or a dedicated server, dedicated hosting is an internet hosting service where an enterprise leverages an entire service that is likely placed within a data center. Dedicated hosting organizations commonly establish a service level agreement (SLA) with the client that outlines their services guarantees, and they often provide server administration as an add-on service. The dedicated hosting organization probably owns the server hardware, and may offer support for applications and other software, operating systems, and security systems.
On dedicated hosting servers, client applications don’t share server resources with the apps of other users, so the server uses available bandwidth for its own performance.
Dedicated hosting offers several other advantages to its customers:
- More reliability compared to shared hosting
- Better performance compared to when resources are shared
- A custom firewall, which can help in enforcing the access control policy
- More flexibility in terms of adding software and changing server configurations
- A unique and dedicated IP address
- A greater degree of security that can be customized according to a client’s needs
The main drawback to dedicated hosting is that it can be a major investment”.15
Virtual server hosting
A broad term commonly applied to different hosting services and solutions, virtual hosting often allows data, websites, applications and services, and many other IT appliances to share a single web server. One type of virtual server hosting involves splitting a physical server into different individual ‘virtual servers’ with different operating systems (or similar specifications) requested by their users. It enables these things to be hosted, deployed, and executed from a remote server where the provider fully manages the backend infrastructure.
Virtual hosting was initially used only for website hosting, “where websites were hosted and executed from a hosting service provider. However, with the advent of cloud computing and other managed services, virtual hosting now includes other solutions, such as virtual server hosting, virtual application hosting, virtual storage hosting and/or entire virtual data center hosting”.16
What are the differences between managed services, hosted services, and cloud services?
By understanding how each of these IT services is different from the other, it can help your enterprise to make smarter decisions on what is best for it to use to meet its needs.
Managed services are IT outsourcing paradigms that cover IT systems and include software, hardware, and networking. Their providers manage your network, offering support and maintenance for it, and providing upgrades and enhancements to your system, including security, backup, disaster recovery, etc.
Managed services can be provided virtually or on-site. “They have traditionally been seen as less cost-effective than hosted or cloud solutions because of their higher overhead costs associated with supporting in-house hardware/software as opposed to using third-party infrastructure hosted elsewhere”.17
“The key difference between hosted services and managed services is that the provider maintains the hardware. Hosting providers are mainly responsible for backing up your data [but] are also responsible for doing scheduled maintenance and upgrading software and hardware as needed”.17 They often provide 24/7 support if any issues occur with your server and are responsible for getting quickly resolving any issues.
Cloud services are hosted online and accessed via your web browser. “They’re usually cheaper than renting your own servers because you’re not paying for the hardware necessary to run them [and] are also more secure than hosting your own servers because they’re run in a data center that has security measures built in. So, if someone hacks into your private network, they won’t have access to any other people’s data or information”.17
Cloud services can be scaled as needed. “If sales suddenly skyrocket during the holidays but then drop off again you can scale back from 24/7 service. Instead, you can just receive coverage during business hours”.17 This flexibility helps with cutting costs and resource management, allowing your enterprise to prioritize when the most users are active.
What are the benefits of using cloud managed service providers?
The author of the OTAVA blog post 7 Benefits of Manage Cloud Services writes that recently “the cloud industry has experienced a significant increase in growth due to a greater awareness of its capabilities and benefits [with] businesses [increasingly] adopting the cloud as the backbone for their network infrastructure and turning away from the traditional physical network infrastructure. New cloud-native applications are constantly being developed as well as tools that optimize legacy applications to make them cloud-compatible”.18
Enterprises are interested in the benefits that the cloud offers them, but not every organization has a robust knowledge of technology and its trends, let alone how to connect cloud services with their business processes. Fortunately, cloud managed service providers are usually here to help manage an organization’s cloud infrastructure while they focus on their business processes, allowing these organizations to fully leverage their cloud managed services.
Here are some of the biggest benefits that enterprises get from leveraging cloud managed services:
- Cost savings and resource optimization
- Disaster recovery and business continuity
- Engineered infrastructure
- Centralized control
- Rapid response times
- Network security
- Seamless vendor relations
Cost savings and resource optimization
Having a full-time IT department can be expensive and particularly cumbersome for small and medium-sized enterprises with burgeoning networks. Outsourcing this work to a cloud managed service provider helps deliver a similar service at a reduced cost. Cloud managed service providers can help to reduce cost over a long-term period by taking over the responsibilities of managing your enterprise’s cloud network infrastructure instead of having your IT department to manage it.
Depending on what features a cloud managed service provider is offering, they could help your enterprise to determine what services are best for what workloads and consult on which pricing models are the most cost-efficient for your needs and how you can configure services to optimize performance while minimizing costs. Many vendors can also provide clear reports or performance metrics for your existing resources and suggestions for improving configurations.
Some cloud managed service providers offer enterprises the flexibility of deciding how much they’d like to pay for IT services. “For example, a tax service has a spike in customers during tax season and will need more support during the first quarter of the year and less during the second through fourth quarters. A privatized learning institute for working adults will need the most support in the evenings when students are online after work”.19 This allows an enterprise to be decisive with the amount it’s willing pay for IT support through a fixed monthly service plan that’s customized to fit its budget and needs.
Cloud technology, like all other technology is changing, innovating, and evolving. Cloud managed service providers can help you keep your network infrastructure from becoming obsolete by leveraging automation that is constantly incorporating the latest updates and upgrades into your environment.
These updates can include features like the latest security patches and suggested system upgrades (when they’re available) that help prevent downtime and disruption while enhancing the security of your networks and servers. By leveraging this automation, it frees up the resources your enterprise would otherwise have spent on frequently checking and implementing any necessary updates.
Disaster recovery and business continuity
Disaster recovery plans help your enterprise to safeguard its data and critical business operations, minimize disruption, and quickly restore and retrieve any lost or corrupted data, allowing your enterprise to speedily resume its business operations.
Cloud managed service providers can help with implementing a disaster recovery plan that increases the safety and security across all your enterprises cloud services and applications, minimizing disruption and downtime, and cyber resilience.
In general, establishing a daily backup of your data onto the cloud helps to not only protect your data, but also to establish consistent recovery point objectives (RPO), easily to achieve recovery time objectives (RTO), and helps ensure that your enterprise can quickly resume operations following any disruption.
“[Despite] an outage, a hacking attempt, or a crashed server, [a] cloud managed services provider can help your business remain operational [with] regular data backup onto the cloud [helping] protect data [and helping] employees and customers continue to enjoy uninterrupted service [from your enterprise]”.20
Creating the optimal network infrastructure for your enterprise is a time-intensive, arduous process that, if done incorrectly, could cause your enterprise more harm than good. Cloud managed service providers have the necessary knowledge and experience to design, build, and manage the network infrastructure for your enterprise, and to engineer the infrastructure so that it aligns with your goals.
Centralized control, rapid response times, and network security
Cloud managed service providers often leverage a centralized control for supporting your cloud infrastructure. By having all the tools they need to monitor and manage your network virtually, it simplifies and somewhat streamlines the management process, giving the network administrators the ability to generally make any necessary changes to your network from virtually any remote location, and only having to go on-site if it’s absolutely necessary.
Cloud managed service providers often offer 24-hour support to their customers, with relevant IT professionals available to monitor your network, access it as needed, and potentially spot signs of an attack before it occurs, and respond to any concerns your enterprise has, allowing them to quickly resolve any detected issues when they occur.
They can also provide “cutting-edge cybersecurity support that can safeguard you from the growing number of attacks while also strengthening the security foundation of your business”.20 Your cloud managed service provider’s vast knowledge of IT infrastructure and the latest cyber threats helps your enterprise to minimize their risk of disruption and data loss.
Additionally, when a cloud managed service provider does encounter an issue and develop and implement a solution to resolve it, they can also incorporate the necessary changes into the network to prevent the same problem from occurring again.
Seamless vendor relations
It’s more common than not for cloud managed service providers to maintain positive relationships with today’s IT vendors. If your enterprise is dealing with vendor-specific issues, then your cloud managed service provider can quickly resolve them. Your provider can connect with third-party vendors, ask relevant questions, and collaborate to resolve issues quickly while performing update, while allowing your enterprise to focus on growth and innovation.
- Cloud Services, Margaret Rouse, Techopedia, 2 May 2017.
- What are cloud services? Red Hat, 14 March 2022.
- Managed Cloud, Margaret Rouse, Techopedia, 2 May 2017.
- Managed Cloud Services: Pros and Cons, Cloudian, 2023.
- What are Managed Cloud Services? Insight, 2023.
- Managed service provider (MSP), Alexander S. Gillis; John Moore, TechTarget, August 2021.
- Hosted Services, Margaret Rouse, Techopedia, 26 January 2013.
- Hosting (website hosting, web hosting and webhosting), Kinza Yasar, TechTarget, February 2023.
- File Hosting Service, Margaret Rouse, Techopedia, 9 November 2011.
- Image content delivery networks, Web.dev, 2023.
- Image Hosting: The Benefits And Best Sites, Intuit Mailchimp, 2023.
- Email Hosting, Margaret Rouse, Techopedia, 18 February 2014.
- Shared hosting, Margaret Rouse, Techopedia, 16 October 2012.
- What Is Semi-Dedicated Server Hosting? AwardSpace, 28th July 2020.
- Dedicated Hosting, Margaret Rouse, Techopedia, 13 September 2012.
- Virtual Hosting, Margaret Rouse, Techopedia, 13 January 2013.
- Managed Services vs. Hosted Services vs. Cloud Services: What’s the Difference? Bayshore Interactive, 9 January 2023.
- 7 Benefits of Managed Cloud Services, OTAVA, 27 December 2021.
- 10 Benefits of Cloud Managed Service Providers, Agile Insider Blog, Agile IT, 17 January 2018.
- 10 Benefits of Engaging a Cloud Managed Services Provider, Blog: Cloud, Synoptek, 13 June 2023.