Your "Cliff Notes" Guide to the Cloud, Cloud computing, and SaaS

What do you know about Cloud computing?The term “Cloud” is everywhere these days. Does it mean a web-based product, hosting, or a storage system?

Yes, it does.

The word “Cloud” refers to the Internet. It can mean anything from server hosting, browser-based applications, cloud storage, or file sharing. Which isn’t very helpful when trying to figure out what will work best for your operations.

As a layman, it is sometimes difficult to determine which service a vendor is talking about. And even when they do explain it, does it mean what you think?

Well, here is a quick guide to help start the conversation. So kick back while you brew your coffee and take a quick break.

For the purpose of this discussion, we are going to focus on what options might be for those looking to move systems to the cloud and no longer maintain on-site servers.

What is Cloud Computing?

A more specific term than the Cloud is Cloud computing. PC Magazine What is Cloud computing?explains Cloud computing as “hardware and software from a provider on the Internet (the ‘cloud’). Cloud computing comprises of ‘software as a service’ (SaaS), ‘infrastructure as a service’ (IaaS), and ‘platform as a service’ (PaaS).”

Cloud computing is a larger umbrella term. There is a third-party vendor hosting your software and applications on a sever in a datacenter somewhere in the world.

In other words, the Christmas party is at a local venue and not at your home. A user accesses her data through the Internet. Depending on the model (SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS) will determine how much access and customization the user has.

So this means what, exactly?

Let’s look at the different computing models. Again, for the purpose of this discussion, let’s just look at SaaS. This model makes up the largest market of Cloud computing and is most likely what will apply to you.

What is Software as a Service (SaaS)?

SaaS is a model where companies access applications provided through cloud computing. When you use a SaaS application, you are renting the application license as opposed to purchasing it outright.

Similar to an apartment lease, vendors provide a full application to the user, taking care of any upgrades or fixes during the lease period. The user is no longer responsible for maintaining the physical servers or the cloud-based software application.

SaaS applications usually run from a web browser, removing the need to download or run the application from a computer. If you would like more details about Cloud computing and SaaS, check out this post from nChannel. 

Keeping this in mind, if the vendor you are talking to says they have a hosting solution or offers SaaS, dig deeper to determine the delivery platform offered.

Aren't all SaaS applications web-based?

Web-based applicationsWhen we think of SaaS, we think web-based meaning we log in, make our changes, and log back out. Services such as Gmail, Salesforce, online banking, and Facebook follow this model. However, SaaS does not automatically mean web-based.

Web-enabled is another possible delivery platform. In this case, the user accesses the system by “remoting in” through the Internet using a system such as Citrix or other browser-based interface.

This delivery platform could be due to the vendor’s preference, the fact that their software includes complex customization, or because of the size of the system. Larger, more robust software systems are too complex to create as a web-based option.

Finding out if a Cloud option is right for you.

So what do you do if your organization is wanting to move to the Cloud? Start asking questions for everyone to gain more definition and clarification. 

Talk with your staff.

Start in-house. What is the main reason for moving to the Cloud? What do they understand the “Cloud” to mean? Is this a realistic assumption?

Talk with your IT department or IT service provider.

Does this make sense for your operations? Do you have the infrastructure to support a Cloud existence? As specialists, they should have the best understanding of your business operations and what options work best for you.

Finding a Cloud option that is right for you.For many companies, a Cloud computing option can save thousands of dollars as companies can rent servers for their needs. They no longer need to keep an in-house IT department or worry about the purchasing, upkeep, troubleshooting, or replacement of on-site servers. The hosting company takes care of this. So when you need to make sure the server has the latest version of SQL, someone else gets to deal with that.

However, many IT departments still want premise-based software and the control that comes with it.

Talk to your software vendors.

Find out what the options are available. Be sure to ask backups and security. You also might want to ask your software vendor to show you how accessing the system would work with a hosting option. 

Don’t be afraid to get some hands-on experience before making the change. It will help you determine which way is the best option for your organization.

Laura Lafferty

Written by Laura Lafferty

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