Peering through the fog

5 Oct 2010

Cloud computing is something of an umbrella term, which has caused considerable confusion.

Cloud computing doesn’t just mean one thing, which partly explains why there has been a lot of confusion about it. In reality it’s an umbrella term, probably best understood when we think of the cloud as IT industry shorthand for the internet, which is how the service is delivered. Most pundits agree that cloud computing essentially boils down to three types: software as a service [SaaS], infrastructure as a service [IaaS] and platform as a service [PaaS].

SaaS is probably what most people think of when they think of cloud computing. The term covers any application that’s accessible from a web browser, where all of the computing behind it takes place in the cloud. Any webmail program such as Gmail or Microsoft Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS) is SaaS.

Plenty of choice for business

Possibly the most well known SaaS programme is, the customer relationship management tool, although this has now spawned an ecosystem of apps that cover many of the generic functions a business would typically need. Traditional software vendors in areas such as accounting have also been getting in on the act, so it means there’s plenty of choice for businesses. The days of having to pay for software up front and load it from a CD-Rom onto individual PCs are coming to an end, while the rental model means that prices can start from as little as €5 per user per month.

With IaaS, a business doesn’t own or operate IT hardware, but rents computing capacity on demand. Although it’s not unlike a traditional data hosting or managed IT service, it differs in one key aspect: the provider doesn’t treat every customer’s IT infrastructure as separate, but instead virtualises all of the server and storage capacity into a single shared pool of computing power.

PaaS is most suited to companies that develop their own applications. The concept is consistent with the other cloud models in that it removes the need for development firms to own and manage the systems they would need to test and deliver their applications – all of the computing horsepower takes place in the cloud provider’s data centre.

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Gordon Smith was a contributor to Silicon Republic