Understanding the Cloud – Saas, Paas and IaaS

“The Cloud” is encouraging a whole slew of new acronyms, including ones with such obscure names as SaaS, PaaS and even “IaaS”. As a small to medium business owner (yes, you’re an acronym too: “SMB”), you and your staff will most likely only have direct experience with SaaS – the applications that deliver software like Microsoft Office and Google Docs.

Here’s an example of the three layers and how they work together.

SaaS (Software as a Service) – You and your employees use it as off-the-shelf application software. You may decide to use SalesForce to manage your customer database. The SalesForce software is hosted on the cloud, rather than individual hard drives on your office computers, or on the network server in your office. In order to use SalesForce, you download apps that connect with the cloud version, so you’re using SaaS.

PaaS (Platform as a Service) – You hire a software developer who uses this to create custom software. (As a small business owner, you won’t have to know the technical details about PaaS or IaaS, but we’ll give you an overview just for fun.)

Now, let’s say you decide that the off-the-shelf version of SalesForce still requires too many hours of manual data manipulation.

For example, you’re paying overtime in the accounting and sales departments because they need to use different spreadsheets every month to sort and extract data that’s specific to your company.

SalesForce also sells access to bare-bones software platform versions (Force.com and others) — PaaS — on which you can develop, build and host your own version of SalesForce, customized to your individual business needs.

That’s the point where you hire a custom software developer. The custom software development team codes the custom software on the PaaS — uses it as a testing and developing platform — and saves the time it would have taken to set up the development environment on a separate server.

There are many other PaaS providers besides Force.com. And there’s fierce competition among providers to give developers more choices of languages, frameworks and platforms as PaaS evolves, especially in the Open Source community, according to Wazi, the most current news source for Open Source development.

Honestly, the further you go into learning about PaaS and IaaS, the geekier it gets. We touch lightly upon IaaS in another blog post. But trust me — your time and energy will be better spent running your business than trying to figure out the differences between PaaS and IaaS. Their functions often overlap and  they’re moving targets — evolving even as you read this.  The developers who use them don’t even agree on their definitions.

You’re better off finding a software development team that writes brilliant code, will handle the PaaS and IaaS for you, and can communicate with you so you get the software you want — really!

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