December 9, 2019

Cloud vs. SaaS, and everything in between.

IaaS, PaaS, SaaS and hosted appliances: Making sense of the cloud and what it offers

Perception Point

Though it may have started as a buzzword, cloud is one of the most important tech trends of the coming year. Indeed, a LogicMonitor study estimates that by 2020, over 80% of all enterprise workloads will be based in the cloud. Cloud computing and applications offer several important benefits over the on-premise model, including cost savings, agile workplaces, and the rise of remote working.

The popularity of cloud computing has led to a concurrent rise in companies dubbing their services “cloud-based” despite the technology only being marginally present. The SaaS industry, for instance, is commonly described as synonymous with cloud technology, even though they are different things. Indeed, while SaaS services may use the cloud or be cloud-based, they are not quite the same. Cloud technology may provide the infrastructure, but SaaS applications are fully formed services that deliver specific tools and functionality.

Although the difference may become apparent upon further research, many people still conflate the two terms. Indeed, many companies sign up for “cloud-based” services expecting SaaS functionality only to discover a do-it-yourself tool that offers a development environment and not much else. It follows, then, that before investing in a solution you’ll be tied to for a while, you should differentiate between the two.

Everything as a Service (XaaS)

When we refer to cloud-based services, we’re really talking about three main categories–Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), Platforms as a service (PaaS), and Software as a service (SaaS).

IaaS offers the foundational tools for companies to migrate their operations to the cloud–virtual servers, security features, hosting solutions, and more. The goal of IaaS is to provide a low-cost alternative to on-premise servers that doesn’t sacrifice functionality. Indeed, when companies talk about “moving to the cloud”, IaaS is usually what they are referencing. IaaS operates almost the same as on-premise, though environments are fully virtual and managed by third parties. Instead of paying for hardware, you’re paying for virtual infrastructure.

Once you’ve built an infrastructure online, PaaS helps you construct the right environment for your organization to run its operations. PaaS lets you create the tools you need for your teams to work–language and resource repositories, load balancing software to handle storage and network needs, and scaling tools to cover shifting resource demands.

SaaS is what people refer to when they talk about “the cloud”. SaaS refers exclusively to the cloud-based applications organizations use day-to-day including tools like Google Suite, SalesForce, Dropbox, and Slack. These examples are cloud-based in that organizations can access them without having to install on-premise. However, they’re not necessarily installed on an organization’s cloud infrastructure. Indeed, while many SaaS services are fully cloud-based, many are successors to on-premise technologies, or feature on-premise varieties. Indeed, this is also an important difference, as it could affect the tools themselves.

Take email clients, for instance. An on-premise client that is deployed on the cloud (that is, with domain and hosting handled on the cloud) are not inherently different from ones that are fully local. There may be some benefits to scalability and storage, but they are not inherently any different.

Making Things Easy

There are some clear and important advantages to using cloud-based tools–factors like hardware costs, scalability, and a removal of space limitations come to mind–as well as improvements in key areas. Cloud-based services tend to be significantly more flexible, supporting easy expansion, on-demand storage, and faster updates. Even so, it’s worth noting that while everyone is rushing to dub themselves “cloud-based”, they don’t all offer these benefits. Indeed, legacy systems that are simply deployed on a cloud infrastructure but don’t take advantages of cloud architecture are commonplace.

There’s also an important distinction to be made between full cloud and “hosted applications”, which are simply deployed online internally by organizations to offer their own services. This way, users can access the services they need anywhere in the world, but without many of the security vulnerabilities full cloud solutions offer. Indeed, hosted applications let organizations set more robust security features and close gaps in data protections. Even so, hosted applications lose out on the benefits of true cloud solutions in favor of security and tailored tools. If you have any problems with a hosted application, for instance, you’re likely to have to resolve it yourself, without any customer support.

Cloud computing claims to make significant quality-of-life improvements for organizations, and in many ways lives up to the billing. However, to really take advantage of them, organizations must fully commit to true cloud solutions. It’s important before you make a sizeable investment to understand the difference between cloud and hosted applications, and how they differ from services you already use. Before “migrating to the cloud” make sure your choice is backed by a significant benefit and possibility for growth.

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