What is the Difference Between SaaS and Cloud Computing?

Cloud computing is, in many ways, seen as the future of how businesses and individuals employ technology, for work and for fun. Providing a way to access programs, data, information, and resources in a web-based manner without relying on traditional on-premises solutions, there is significant opportunity available in the wide world of cloud computing.

In spite of this, for those outside of the tech industry, it’s often hard to grasp the depth and breadth of everything that cloud computing encompasses. This includes the subtypes of cloud computing, like PaaS, IaaS, and, of course, SaaS, or Software as a Service. However, understanding the similarities and differences between these cloud computing models and service models as well as provider options is key to choosing the right set up for you. This is what you need to know about the differences between SaaS and cloud computing.

Cloud Computing vs. Conventional Computing

As the name implies, the biggest difference between cloud technology and other computing solutions is the role of the cloud vs on-premise software and on-premise solutions. However, truly delving into this means a clear understanding of what exactly is meant by “the cloud.”

Simply put, a cloud is a network of remote servers that are used in a similar manner to traditional on-site servers. Instead of maintaining a data center in your place of business, however, the data center supporting your information, applications, software, and platforms are housed elsewhere and are generally managed by a third party.

While conventional computing puts the onus of data center management, IT support, and data protection on the shoulders of an in-house team, the opposite is true with most cloud-based solutions. When using cloud computing servers established by a third-party provider, all of these components are managed by the provider, eliminating overhead and increasing efficiencies.

Cloud computing generally exists in two distinct forms: public and private. Public cloud computing resources are generally the most common due to the ease of use and low barriers to entry. Things like Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Amazon Web Services are common cloud computing options that charge on a per-user basis and provide as much space as is needed for operations. However, all services are managed by an outside company and everything from security to compatibility is decided upon by a third party. If the opportunities provided by a third party vendor do not meet personal or professional objectives, there is little to be done.

Private clouds, on the other hand, offer services limited to a particular company. Instead of sharing resources with all other users, servers are individual to the customer. These private cloud models can be hosted independently, much in the same way as a traditional server, or can be managed by third-party cloud providers. In both instances, all components of operation, like security, are under the control, either directly or in partnership with the vendor, of the company using the servers – not the cloud’s owner.

While relatively uncommon, hybrid clouds are also a possibility: a combination of public and private clouds to support varying business needs.

The Different Elements of Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is often thought of as a singular concept, but this isn’t actually the case. Instead, a cloud platform is actually a broad and overarching category that encompasses several different functions. The basic options within cloud computing can be divided into three separate categories: SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS.

For many companies, especially those that do not have a need for a large-scale approach to cloud computing, SaaS, or software as a service, is the most common and widely-used cloud product. As the name implies, a SaaS model refers to software platforms that are available via a cloud server rather than on-premises software maintained on an in-house server. A SaaS platform is frequently referred to as cloud-based applications as well.

In many ways, SaaS offerings are similar to on-demand computing and application service provider software models. ASP options are reminiscent of a SaaS hosted application management model, where a third party hosts and handles the backend management of a product, while software on demand models offer web-based access to a copy of an application specifically designed for SaaS distribution, much like on-demand computing.

SaaS opportunities exist in virtually all software spaces, from business intelligence programs to customer relationship management. In many cases, companies can meet most or all software needs via cloud computing SaaS solutions.

Some common examples of SaaS companies and products include:

  • Salesforce CRM
  • Oracle Hyperion
  • SAP Concur
  • Google GSuite
  • Dropbox

Infrastructure as a Service, also known as IaaS, is another subcategory of cloud computing. IaaS providers, as the name implies, offer a cloud-based platform that is accessed, provisioned, and managed via the web rather than traditional server-based models.

An IaaS platform is often confused with cloud computing solutions on the whole due to the role IaaS plays in providing things like server space, network security, and data center maintenance. And this is true – in many ways, these are critical parts of a comprehensive cloud computing solution and are offered by both public and private cloud providers – but this is still only one part of what falls under the broad cloud computing umbrella.

Cloud-based infrastructure can cover a lot of the major functionality required to transition fully to these cloud solutions, including:

  • Website hosting
  • Testing environments
  • Data analysis
  • Storage and data access

As stated, these are essential elements of leaving traditional servers behind, but are not inclusive of all that cloud computing services has to offer.

The final of the generally accepted cloud computing model, PaaS, or Platform as a Service, refers to cloud-based web development platforms that encompass all parts of constructing, testing, and deploying applications for both internal and external use.

PaaS solutions are the most limited of the cloud computing opportunities due to its one specific function, but the abilities offered can add great value to a company. The ability to keep test and live environments separate, separate work in progress from live products, and silo resources for network protection purposes can add significant value. For companies with numerous development products, this can be a significant asset with cost-cutting and data protection advantages, which continues to be one of the draws to PaaS providers.

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The Role SaaS Plays in Cloud Computing

SaaS can be an important part of keeping operations moving forward in a cloud computing environment.

Every company, regardless of size, requires software solutions to meet goals. From Microsoft Excel to email clients, it’s hard to accomplish much of anything on a day to day basis without using some kind of software from time to time. For companies with software needs, SaaS becomes a clear opportunity, offering remote and web-based access to software solutions across devices and operating systems.

SaaS platforms can function within an existing cloud environment or independently on traditional servers. In many cases, particularly for companies with limited needs, both related to storage and software, it’s fully possible to utilize a combination of SaaS and standard applications to varying degrees of success. However, it is also important to note that SaaS is not a requirement of cloud-based services, either. It exists as a tool within the greater spectrum of cloud computing but does not need to be used in conjunction with SaaS alternatives if this does not fit a company’s express business needs.

What Is the Difference Between SaaS and Cloud Computing?

At this point, it’s clear that Software as a Service can play a role in cloud computing but is not the entirety of what cloud computing solutions have to offer. However, there are a few other notable differences that should be taken into account when weighing the choice to employ SaaS applications in a personal or business environment.

There’s no denying that these concepts are related, but they are not the same. Software as a Service is available to the end-user from a separate cloud environment – this means that if your business maintains its own cloud network, such as through a private cloud third-party provider, the customer data associated with the use of a SaaS application is still stored and managed by the SaaS provider. While the same sorts of infrastructure, data centers, and security protocols are in place, the SaaS vendor uses these tools to support use of SaaS, not to facilitate in other needs of customers.

Cloud computing, on the other hand, offer services similar to SaaS applications in addition to other solutions that can be used to develop a cohesive approach to cloud-based data storage. It can encompass IaaS solutions or an IaaS model that allows for the use of servers, data centers, and security resources to manage central business processes, as well as PaaS products that developers can use to create, test, and deploy software. With a comprehensive cloud computing solution in place, these opportunities come together as one rather than existing as disparate parts.

Simply put, SaaS applications rely on the provider to manage data, not the end-user. For those who value thorough and sophisticated security, this can be an uncomfortable reality guiding software choices. With cloud computing, however, end users are the ones accessing and managing data – and that includes security, terms of use, and even a customized approach to functions and features. Cloud-based software can, of course, be incorporated into an existing cloud computing environment based on business needs, but this does not change the role of a provider in overseeing and, ideally, protecting data.

For companies with limited business needs, such as new startups with demands that don’t go far beyond bookkeeping programs and spreadsheets, simple SaaS solutions may be adequate, at least in the early days when resources are spread thin. However, employing a cloud infrastructure themselves or outsourcing to cloud service providers often serves businesses more successfully, creating a custom environment that can effectively meet all business objectives.

For those seeking a more comprehensive approach to cloud computing, a third-party provider can offer complete, affordable, and flexible opportunities that reduce overhead without limiting access to resources. With help from Avatara’s CompleteCloud platform, it’s possible to make a seamless transition from conventional computing to a comprehensive and fully customized cloud computing infrastructure.

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