Decoding cloud computing “as a service” lingo

Man sitting on a cloud, celebrating

IaaS, PaaS, SaaS – what does it all mean for small businesses? Loryan Strant is decoding the lingo around cloud computing, to help businesses decide which solution is right for them.

As technology moves more towards a subscriber model you might see the “aaS” suffix placed after a variety of letters.

The most common terms currently utilised under the “cloud” banner are:

-       Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): servers, networks, disk space and other IT infrastructure

-       Platform as a Service (PaaS): environments where software companies can build applications without the need for infrastructure

-       Software as a Service (SaaS): applications and software solutions that are ready for immediate use

Recently I was asked the question about whether a website classifies as SaaS. The answer is both yes and no – as it comes down to perspectives.

If I am the owner of “Loryan’s Widgets” and have an online shopfront for customers to purchase my widgets I can realistically use any of the “aaS” models. So how does that work?

At a basic level I can choose the SaaS route and find a provider who will provide me with a website, eCommerce system and payment gateway. In this scenario I am subscribing to the entire solution and all I need to purchase is the service from the provider. Within minutes I can be entering in my stock items, product descriptions, pricing and start receiving payments.

With SaaS there is a much higher ROI due to speed and ease of which I can be operational.

If for some reason I required more customisation than the SaaS solution provided I may choose to PaaS route. This would require me to have access to a software development team who can program the functionality that I require on the platform that I choose. It would take longer before I could be operational and seeing any transactions coming through.

With PaaS there is a higher investment initially, as well as responsibility for ongoing monitoring & management of the website & eCommerce solution we have built.

However if I wanted complete control of the entire website, its software, all back-end and basic software functionality I would choose the IaaS model. This allows my team to control the operating system that my website sits on and install whatever software they want.

With IaaS there is also a higher initial investment however now we are also responsible for maintaining the underlying operating system that our website software sits on.

To put all this in context: my company www.xstran.com created a niche piece of software to work with Microsoft Lync Online. During the development we tested it on virtual PCs & servers run from Amazon’s Elastic Compute platform (IaaS) . The Xstran website is run off WordPress which is provided by our web host (SaaS). When customers choose to purchase a product it will connect to a license key generator application we developed running on Microsoft Windows Azure (PaaS) which then also connects to PayPal (PaaS) to collect payment.

From my perspective I am using all three types of “as a service” models to deliver an end-to-end solution.

From the perspective of my customer they are simply browsing a website and buying a widget.

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