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Don't confuse SaaS with Cloud Computing – Cloud Conference Week, Part 4

Current Theory on "Cloud Computing"

I’ve recently tracked down one of the causes of much confusion about and wheel spinning in cloud computing: it stems from thinking that Software-as-a-Service – software you get, largely, through a web application involving little or no on-premise installs, usually priced by subscription – counts as “cloud computing.”

Indeed, cloud computing is (visually) much less sexy than that. Cloud computing is “merely” what SaaS applications (usually) run on.

Cloud Computing Gets You to SaaS

All this cloud business is distracting us from the big-bagger, enterprise value of SaaS. Don’t get me wrong – cloud computing is damn sexy and all that. But, if you’re just replacing “worrying about the on-premise infrastructure you use to run your applications” with “worrying about the cloud infrastructure you use to run your applications, we’re not getting much but a short-term (we frickin’ hope) slash in costs. Cutting IT costs is great in the short term until The Business comes back and confuses the now bleached bone for skin.

Ultimately, (enterprise) software needs to eliminate “infrastructure” all together. (Exceptions apply within.) Keep your powder dry for the return of SaaSy dreams, but for now, that’s on the back-burners while the Morlocks have their day top-side to build out the cloud.

Introduced into this mix are folks like 3Tera and IBM who want to bring in the idea of clouds behind the firewall. In the long foreseeable future, there’ll always on-premise software – people still run their own email servers, after all. What gets interesting for the likes of 3Tera, BlueCloud, and other grid boomers is figuring out how to migrate, or at least, hybrid between on-premise and “true” cloud-based computing.

If SaaS isn’t “Cloud,” How ’bout “PaaS”?

Honestly, when it comes to the idea of a Platform-as-a-Service, I’m not sure if that’s a cloud or something else. Ostensibly, the two are synonyms, but the non-general nature of things like, Bungee Labs, and even Google Apps (no SQL, eh?) wig me out.

There’s also the question of: why not just make a LAMP based PaaS? I’m sure someone has…?

But, there’s something worth barring that wigging out. Usually, one of the chief hopes in the advancement in software development and deliver is moving closer to simplicity. Right before the whole SaaS/Cloud/OnDemand – mixed with a squeeze of iPhone and Microsoft/Yahoo! – storm re-hit over the last year, rails-think was grabbing all the dazzled eyes with it’s claims to provide a fast and simple framework for writing applications. Remember lesscode?

I’m not quite sure how to bridge the gap between cloud computing and lesscode, but there’s something to PaaSes helping out there. The problem for me is still one of open standards and (maybe?) source. Each PaaS usually seems like a way to lock developers into that platform. You can’t blame them though: how else is there to make money?

Disclaimer: IBM is a client.

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15 Responses

  1. Michael,

    This is the best definition of the difference between SaaS and cloud computing — thanks for this! The whole xaaS thing can become unraveled and cleared up now (I wish).

    BTW, I this PAAS thing *could* be what we used to call utility computing (the real one, not the billing gimmick). In any case, our AppLogic cloud computing platform comes with a couple of pre-built LAMP stacks; our partner, the Agathon Group offers them as a service, sign up online. Also, in a way, I think Mosso is LAMP-as-a-service (a shout to Mosso co-founder Jonathan Bryce who was on the Getting in the Clouds panel with me and others on O'Reilly's Velocity last week).

    On the cloud and lesscode: a good cloud should allow you to put as much code as you want. If you have a legacy, morecore(tm) application, good; if you want to try something rail-y or lesscode-like, you should be able to do it without having to set up servers or configuring packages. I do agree that open standards/source will advance the cloud a lot — the ability to run the same system in multiple providers (even concurrently) is paramount.

  2. Cote, awesome series on the cloud week, although I do have to disagree with you on that SaaS is not cloud computing. I blogged about this last week and concluded that SaaS are cloud applications. What you are referring to as "cloud computing" is really "cloud platforms". Just thought I drop my 2c. Great seeing you last week at CloudCamp.

  3. Jian: you're right, of course. I was just short of typing "SaaS can be sub-set of cloud computing," but I didn't want to confuse things by being so clear, as it were. My idea here is that as a SaaS provider you could run all of your own data centers, or you could outsource to a cloud-provider.

    Of course, to a user of SaaS, whether the SaaS provider is running on it's own hardware or a cloud doesn't matter.

    Good meeting up with you too: we're always running into each other when I'm out over there 😉

  4. PeterNic: thanks for taking the time to comment, and for the LAMP notes. Good stuff 😉

  5. eVapt provides the most comprehensive Subscription Management, Metering and Billing Solution that meets the needs of Cloud, On-Demand, web 2.0 and SaaS providers seeking to accelerate revenues and reach optimal operational efficiency

  6. Great article. In my research, I stumbled across a great description/definition of SaaS and Cloud that I thought your readers could benefit from. A company called Surge. LLC defines it here…

    SaaS Development

  7. Thanks for this, found it v useful when writing our own can read it here if interested, would love to hear your thoughts :

Continuing the Discussion

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  6. […] Michael Coté, “Don’t confuse SaaS with Cloud Computing“ […]

  7. […] is in the fact that one is often used as a resource for the other. One definition states that ‘Cloud computing is “merely” what SaaS applications (usually) run on.’ That is to say, that cloud computing is the infrastructure which is sometimes used by SaaS […]

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