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As cloud adoption has grown, so too has the alphabet soup of names we put on the different technologies that the cloud offers. What’s worse is that many of these titles are identical except for one letter—there’s SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS, along with a multitude of PaaS variations—iPaaS, aPaas, mPaaS. These titles can be confusing even to IT professionals, so it doesn’t help when, as David Linthicum points out, many cloud providers aren’t even using the terms correctly. This week, I wanted to take a moment to cut through the noise and explain what all those letters mean, what PaaS can do—and what it can’t.
The idea behind cloud computing is that, rather than developing and deploying all data and applications on a local computer or network, people should be able to do their work from anyplace, at any time and on any device. This is done by having those tasks that used to be managed in-house on local machines be delivered through a on a subscription basis through the internet and a cloud service provider. This is where we get the common “as a service” and “-aaS” acronyms for the different types of cloud services.
But why are there so many different services? If the goal is simply to do the work you would normally do but on a different machine, why not just provide a whole desktop environment to the user? This practice, called “virtualization,” is actually a common part of many Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offerings, but it’s not always the right tool for the job. One of the biggest advantages of the cloud is its portability and the ability to access it from a variety of devices. Trying to navigate a traditional desktop environment from a smartphone is a nightmare. Additionally, virtualization requires a lot of system resources, and that means it is costly. Besides, if the task at hand is simply accessing a database or running a single application, there is little need to emulate an entire desktop. This is why many IaaS offerings come in the form of server space and data hosting like Google Drive or Amazon Web Services.
Another common “as a service” offering is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Where IaaS provides a way to access and store data, SaaS provides software to leverage that data. It provides a way to quickly push specialized applications to users wherever they are, without the hassle of managing software upgrades and licensing. Even better, because they are centrally hosted, SaaS applications can be updated on the fly, and you can be sure that all your users are running the latest version.
If you consider IaaS to be like a box of nails and screws and SaaS to be a hammer and screwdriver, then PaaS is the workshop in which we put everything together. PaaS is, unlike IaaS and SaaS, a comprehensive solution that lets you build apps, connect to all your data sources and share and use that data wherever you are. PaaS is, as its name implies, an integrated platform that includes both IaaS and SaaS services and allows users to leverage them in useful ways. Rather than simply offering server space and an app store, PaaS often lets users build and deploy apps all in the same place and utilize databases as a part of their development process. This integrated approach allows PaaS to be user-friendly, even for those with no technical background and far more accessible than the barebones approach of a simple IaaS offering. When utilized properly, PaaS can be a powerful addition to any business process.
Hopefully this clears up some of the confusion surrounding all the cloud jargon. As with anything on the cutting edge, it’s often difficult to understand everything that is going on. As the technology develops, however, the terminology will soon become commonplace and business will be more efficient than ever.
As the senior director of product marketing and strategy for the Progress solutions and audience marketing team, Paul Nashawaty keeps his eyes peeled on what enterprises are doing about big data as it relates to digital transformation. Paul is responsible for applying practical business methodologies using technological solutions to drive success in organizations.
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