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What is cloud architecture?

Cloud architecture is a key element of building in the cloud. It refers to the layout and connects all the necessary components and technologies required for cloud computing

Migrating to the cloud can offer many business benefits compared to on-premises environments, from improved agility and scalability to cost efficiency. While many organizations may start with a “lift-and-shift” approach, where on-premises applications are moved over with minimal modifications, ultimately it will be necessary to construct and deploy applications according to the needs and requirements of cloud environments.

Cloud architecture dictates how components are integrated so that you can pool, share, and scale resources over a network. Think of it as a building blueprint for running and deploying applications in cloud environments. 

Explore how Google Cloud helps you design cloud architecture to match your business needs. Use our Architecture Framework for guidance, recommendations, and best practices to build and migrate your workloads to the cloud. Use our Architecture Diagramming Tool for pre-built reference architectures and customizing them to your use cases.

Cloud architecture defined

Cloud architecture refers to how various cloud technology components, such as hardware, virtual resources, software capabilities, and virtual network systems interact and connect to create cloud computing environments. It acts as a blueprint that defines the best way to strategically combine resources to build a cloud environment for a specific business need. 

Cloud architecture components

Cloud architecture components include: 

  • A frontend platform 
  • A backend platform
  • A cloud-based delivery model 
  • A network (internet, intranet, or intercloud)

In cloud computing, frontend platforms contain the client infrastructure—user interfaces, client-side applications, and the client device or network that enables users to interact with and access cloud computing services. For example, you can open the web browser on your mobile phone and edit a Google Doc. All three of these things describe frontend cloud architecture components. 

On the other hand, the back end refers to the cloud architecture components that make up the cloud itself, including computing resources, storage, security mechanisms, management, and more. 

Below is a list of the main backend components: 

Application: The backend software or application the client is accessing from the front end to coordinate or fulfill client requests and requirements. 

Service: The service is the heart of cloud architecture, taking care of all the tasks being run on a cloud computing system. It manages which resources you can access, including storage, application development environments, and web applications.

Runtime cloud: Runtime cloud provides the environment where services are run, acting as an operating system that handles the execution of service tasks and management. Runtimes use virtualization technology to create hypervisors that represent all your services, including apps, servers, storage, and networking. 

Storage: The storage component in the back end is where data to operate applications is stored. While cloud storage options vary by provider, most cloud service providers offer flexible scalable storage services that are designed to store and manage vast amounts of data in the cloud. Storage may include hard drives, solid-state drives, or persistent disks in server bays. 

Infrastructure: Infrastructure is probably the most commonly known component of cloud architecture. In fact, you might have thought that cloud infrastructure is cloud architecture. However, cloud infrastructure comprises all the major hardware components that power cloud services, including the CPU, graphics processing unit (GPU), network devices, and other hardware components needed for systems to run smoothly. Infrastructure also refers to all the software needed to run and manage everything. 

Cloud architecture, on the other hand, is the plan that dictates how cloud resources and infrastructure are organized. 

Management: Cloud service models require that resources be managed in real time according to user requirements. It is essential to use management software, also known as middleware, to coordinate communication between the backend and frontend cloud architecture components and allocate resources for specific tasks. Beyond middleware, management software will also include capabilities for usage monitoring, data integration, application deployment, and disaster recovery. 

Security: As more organizations continue to adopt cloud computing, implementing cloud security features and tools is critical to securing data, applications, and platforms. It’s essential to plan and design data security and network security to provide visibility, prevent data loss and downtime, and ensure redundancy. This may include regular backups, debugging, and virtual firewalls. 

How does cloud architecture work?

In cloud architecture, each of the components works together to create a cloud computing platform that provides users with on-demand access to resources and services. 

The back end contains all the cloud computing resources, services, data storage, and applications offered by a cloud service provider. A network is used to connect the frontend and backend cloud architecture components, enabling data to be sent back and forth between them. When users interact with the front end (or client-side interface), it sends queries to the back end using middleware where the service model carries out the specific task or request. 

The types of services available to use vary depending on the cloud-based delivery model or service model you have chosen. There are three main cloud computing service models: 

  • Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): This model provides on-demand access to cloud infrastructure, such as servers, storage, and networking. This eliminates the need to procure, manage, and maintain on-premises infrastructure. 
  • Platform as a service (PaaS): This model offers a computing platform with all the underlying infrastructure and software tools needed to develop, run, and manage applications. 
  • Software as a service (SaaS): This model offers cloud-based applications that are delivered and maintained by the service provider, eliminating the need for end users to deploy software locally. 

Cloud architecture layers

A simpler way of understanding how cloud architecture works is to think of all these components as various layers placed on top of each other to create a cloud platform. 

Here are the basic cloud architecture layers: 

  1. Hardware: The servers, storage, network devices, and other hardware that power the cloud. 
  2. Virtualization: An abstraction layer that creates a virtual representation of physical computing and storage resources. This allows multiple applications to use the same resources.
  3. Application and service: This layer coordinates and supports requests from the frontend user interface, offering different services based on the cloud service model, from resource allocation to application development tools to web-based applications. 

Types of cloud architecture

Cloud adoption is not one-size-fits-all. You’ll need to consider what type of cloud you want to build based on your existing technology investments, your specific business requirements, and the overall goals you hope to achieve.

There are three main types of cloud architecture you can choose from: public, private, and hybrid

Public cloud architecture uses cloud computing resources and physical infrastructure that is owned and operated by a third-party cloud service provider. Public clouds enable you to scale resources easily without having to invest in your own hardware or software, but use multi-tenant architectures that serve other customers at the same time. 

Private cloud architecture refers to a dedicated cloud that is owned and managed by your organization. It is privately hosted on-premises in your own data center, providing more control over resources and more security over data and infrastructure. However, this architecture is considerably more expensive and requires more IT expertise to maintain. 

Hybrid cloud architecture uses both public and private cloud architecture to deliver a flexible mix of cloud services. A hybrid cloud allows you to migrate workloads between environments, allowing you to use the services that best suit your business demands and the workload. Hybrid cloud architectures are often the solution of choice for businesses that need control over their data but also want to take advantage of public cloud offerings. 

In recent years, multicloud architecture is also emerging as more organizations look to use cloud services from multiple cloud providers. Multicloud environments are gaining popularity for their flexibility and ability to better match use cases to specific offerings, regardless of vendor.  

What does a cloud architect do?

A cloud architect is an IT expert responsible for developing, implementing, and managing an organization’s cloud architecture. As cloud strategies continue to become more complex, the skills and expertise of cloud architects are becoming more vital for helping companies navigate the complexities of cloud environments, implement successful strategies, and keep cloud systems running smoothly. 

Benefits of cloud architecture

There are many benefits of cloud architecture for organizations, including: 

Cost-effective

Instead of investing upfront costs for servers, you can opt to use the infrastructure of a cloud service provider. Dynamic provisioning allows you to further optimize spending by paying only for the computing resources you use. 

Faster time to market

You no longer need to wait to procure, set up, and configure computing infrastructure. Cloud architectures enable you to get up and running fast, so you spend more time focusing on developing and delivering new products.

Scalability

Cloud architectures give you more flexibility to scale computing resources up (or down) based on your infrastructure requirements. You can easily scale to meet higher demand, whether from growth or seasonal spikes in traffic. 

Accelerated transformation

Cloud-native architectures like Kubernetes let you make the most of cloud services and automated environments to speed up modernization and drive digital transformation. 

More innovation

Cloud architectures allow you to leverage the latest technologies for storage, security, analytics, and AI like machine learning.  

High availability

Applications run and managed on cloud architectures benefit from high-performance computing resources that ensure continuous availability, regardless of fluctuating loads. 

Strong security

Cloud service providers consistently upgrade and improve their security mechanisms with expert professionals and the latest technologies to help secure your data, systems, and workloads. 

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Cloud architecture is a critical topic for discussion as you plan your migration to the cloud. A well-architected framework can help you unlock the real business value of the cloud, such as lower operating costs, higher application performance, and better end user experiences. 

For success, you’ll need to consider many different elements of your architecture, including system design, operations, reliability, cost and performance optimization, and the best way to meet security, privacy, and compliance requirements. 

Google Cloud provides everything you need to build cloud architectures that will support your organization’s current and future needs, from open cloud technologies and services to design guidance and best practices validated by seasoned experts.