All About IT Infrastructure: What it is and How it's Evolving
IT infrastructure consists of all the core tech components that organizations need to get work done. While hardware, software, and networks are all widely acknowledged as the backbone of IT infrastructure, new technology trends are changing the ways we work and connect.
Cloud, identity, digital transformation, and distributed working models have all become prominent over the last decade, creating new opportunities and challenges—and your infrastructure needs to account for them. With that in mind, this post will guide you through the core pillars of IT infrastructure and propose additional technologies and capabilities for modernizing your systems.
What is IT infrastructure?
By definition, IT infrastructure lets organizations use and manage their technology, giving them the ability to provide IT services and solutions to employees, customers, and partners.
There are the three foundational elements that make up this infrastructure.
Physical technology comprises devices and all the equipment that supports them. Computers, web servers, data centers, routers, switches, and the facilities that house, cool, and power data centers are all examples.
The applications that a business uses internally and externally to provide services to customers. This includes web services, enterprise resource planning, and SaaS apps. This might also include an operating system (OS) that manages system resources and hardware.
Components that allow for connection, communication, and operations between systems and devices, internal and external. Internet access, firewalls, security monitoring, configuration management, and device access management all support network enablement. This will also include routers, switches, and ISPs.
What are the main types of IT infrastructure?
Organizations can store, deploy, and configure their infrastructure in a number of different ways.
Organizations own all components and manage them within their facilities. The resources, power, and physical space necessary to run large amounts of hardware, like data centers and servers, means this method of operation can get expensive. An additional problem with this type of infrastructure can be a lack of fault tolerance when the network goes down or hardware fails.
Companies acquire the components and resources for cloud computing, whether by building a private cloud or renting cloud infrastructure from a provider in an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) arrangement.
This is a distributed infrastructure platform that combines and virtualizes compute, storage, and networking resources. With these building blocks in place, organizations can more readily replace legacy architecture, gaining storage capacity and flexibility.
What is IT infrastructure management?
IT infrastructure management is the coordination and control of resources and functions that make up your system. Depending on your infrastructure, you might already incorporate some or all of these common management areas:
- Cloud management: Overseeing resource deployments, integrations, and disaster recovery. This gives admins control over the end-users, data, apps, and services running in the cloud.
- OS management: Keeping elements of the OS, including patches, upgrades, provisioning, and subscription management up to date.
- IT operations management: Modeling, analyzing, and optimizing a company’s ongoing business processes to meet strategic goals.
- Virtualization management: Using software to interface between virtual environments and physical hardware. This makes resource administration, IT infrastructure operations, and data analysis easier.
- IT automation: Creating repeatable processes to replace or reduce manual interaction with IT systems.
- Configuration management: Maintaining the desired state of your systems, software, servers, and network.
- API management: Distributing, controlling, and analyzing the APIs that connect apps and data across the business.
- Risk management: Identifying and analyzing risks, and creating plans to mitigate or control their impacts.
Why—and how—should I modernize my IT infrastructure?
As organizations continue to evolve their infrastructure, the idea that hardware, software, and networks are the be-all and end-all for enterprise IT is becoming more outdated. Instead, you should see these components as a starting point from which to evolve your architecture to get more in step with today’s most pressing business and technology dynamics:
Building a flexible and scalable infrastructure is crucial to keep with the times, providing useful services and engaging user experiences backed by robust security. As every organization becomes a technology company—with a mix of in-house tools, third-party apps, API integrations, and digital spaces—you need to be nimble with your tech stack (or the technology you operate with) and resources to stay competitive and efficient.
Dynamic Work is here to stay. Your architecture needs to allow seamless access to the resources employees need to do their jobs, across disparate devices, networks, and time zones. It also needs to incorporate the right tools for teams to collaborate and stay productive.
Mobile and cloud are no longer new or emergent to the workplace, and so we’re long past the point where a network perimeter-centric view of security is adequate to protect your organization. In a world where people work and connect on the go, your employees, partners, and contractors need the right levels of access to the right resources, within secure contexts. Strong authentication, access permission controls, and minimal user friction are all qualities of Zero Trust that your infrastructure should incorporate.
What should I factor into my IT infrastructure?
To keep on top of performance and security in a changing landscape, it’s time to take a new view of your IT infrastructure. We recommend exploring the following technologies and operational models:
Identity and access management (IAM)
Identity and access are crucial to every organization. A unified IAM system consolidates all user identities to authenticate, authorize, and control the resources and functions users can access and perform.
A mix of tools and configurations contribute to secure, seamless IAM:
- Single sign-on: Gives enterprise users access to all of an organization’s integrated apps with a single set of credentials.
- Multi-factor authentication (MFA): Lets organizations implement a mix of authentication factors to safeguard logins, like push notifications, hard tokens, and biometrics. Adaptive MFA analyzes contextual risk signals, like the user’s device and geolocation, to make access decisions that are appropriate for each situation.
- Privileged access management: A method of managing and monitoring account access with extra diligence for users with particularly valuable access privileges.
- Automated onboarding and offboarding: Lets HR and IT teams assign the right levels of access to the right people in an instant, removing the security risks of patchworked scripts and ghost accounts.
- Cloud-native user directories: Offer a streamlined and cost-effective way of managing user accounts, which would include a centralized user store for syncing, attribute clean up, and credential management.
IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS
Infrastructure as a service, software as a service (SaaS), and platform as a service (PaaS) are all cloud services that let companies use online services, rather than on-premises resources, to handle their technology infrastructure.
Each option has different merits and use cases:
- IaaS: You rent cloud server space to host resources and core computing functions. Following this model, your service provider manages virtualization, servers, storage, and networking.
- SaaS: Ready-to-use cloud apps that help you fill capability gaps and address business needs. This is a more convenient alternative to building these tools in-house or installing on-premises software. It also allows you to avoid managing the more technical aspects of the software.
- PaaS: Cloud platforms that developers build applications upon. This lets your engineers focus purely on app development and deployment, rather than managing administration. You manage the apps and data, and your platform vendor handles the rest.
Now that the traditional network perimeter is all but gone, it’s important to verify everything that tries to connect to your system before granting access—and to treat traffic and actors, both inside and outside of your system, with scrutiny. Some security measures to consider:
- Devices: Business users need to be productive on any device, from anywhere. To balance security and usability, look for IT infrastructure solutions that support access for personal and corporate devices while ensuring that all devices are compliant with your organization’s access and security policies.
- Edges: Edge security protects data when it moves to endpoints outside the corporate cloud or data center. This means making the whole network (including endpoints like devices) visible to admins, encrypting data in transit and at rest, and restricting access to who can control data and network resources.
- Analytics: Security information and event management (SIEM) solutions can collect and analyze data on the many interactions between your users, apps, devices, networks, and APIs. SIEM software provides log management and reporting, correlations and analytics, alerts, data presentation, and threat intelligence to improve visibility into your system and boost threat detection and response.
- Access control methods: Ultimately, people are the new perimeter. You want your infrastructure to provide each user with the relevant access permissions—no more and no less. Role-based (RBAC) and attribute-based (ABAC) access control are two methods to explore for establishing user permissions in your organization.
IT infrastructure has been steadily evolving for years—and it’s likely to continue changing as companies migrate to the cloud, pursue digital transformation, and adapt to new working models. Need help modernizing your IT infrastructure? Our Solution Brief: Modernize Enterprise IT whitepaper can help you move forward.