Last Updated on October 25, 2018
Cloud computing has been a topic of active discussion for some time now. It leaped into the public consciousness rather quickly. In fact, an argument can be made that it entered into public discourse a little too early. It was often undefined and under-explained. This has led to confusion about cloud computing which continues to the present day.
And it becomes even more confusing when one factors in related technologies such as SaaS. Even more so when one considers the increasing popularity of services such as Zesty.io. There’s an obvious rise in offers of both SaaS and cloud technologies. And one obviously wants to leverage as many advantages as possible for both business and personal use.
Discussing differences requires proper definition of the terms. And again, this is where things can become somewhat tricky. Many computing terms were created with inherent abstraction. For example, folders are called such because they help define a role. People could easily compare the computing concept to folders within a filing cabinet.
But abstractions don’t lend themselves very well to specific point by point definitions. As such, one needs to come into the discussion with some wiggle room as a necessity. And it can help people use equal abstractions to discuss the issue rather than becoming overly strict with semantics.
The nature of the cloud
People usually talk about the cloud in terms of raindrops. A physical cloud is made up of water molecules. The cloud is as much a pattern as it is a thing in and of itself. Remove or add water molecules to a cloud and it remains the same entity for all intents and purposes. At least for a reasonable duration.
The computer cloud does have some element of that durability. And the ability to keep data intact over multiple physical locations was the biggest initial selling point of the cloud when it first caught the public’s eye.
But it’s sometimes better to simply think of the cloud as a remote hard drive. One can use a hard drive for a variety of different things. People usually think about it in terms of file storage. But it’s important to remember that it’s also what software, and even operating systems, run from.
Software as a service
The processors which run software on a hard drive have grown in power over the years. It’s currently possible to write fairly powerful machine learning software in scripting languages. This would have added far too much of an overhead in the not too distant past.
But as power rises, so do the demands made of it. Programmers write with an assumption that there’s an excess of computational cycles and memory. But that’s not always the case when multiple programs with that assumption run in conjunction with each other.
This is actually quite similar to the landscape at the very dawn of modern computing. Early networked systems, such as PLATO terminals, worked with a basic client-server model. The terminals were lower powered devices which connected to a very powerful central hub. That hub, the mainframe, was designed to scale to user need.
The software people ran on the terminals can be thought of as a SaaS precursor. The software itself never really ran on the terminals. This was in large part because it would have been almost impossible. Computing costs were so high that even a tiny bit of extra power would result in higher costs.
The cloud and SaaS
Now, one can compare these two examples to demonstrate the difference between SaaS and the cloud. The cloud is essentially a hard drive. It’s not analogous to a mainframe with the PLATO model. But it might be thought of as the storage medium that mainframe ran on. Meanwhile, the SaaS is closer to the software running on the terminals. To keep it more pithy, one can think of SaaS as necessitating cloud computing but not the reverse.
Current advantages and future trends
Now, one simply needs to consider just what can be had by combining these two concepts. Each has unique strengths. And each is able to save money in a variety of different ways. People often talk about growing usage of cloud computing. But to really take advantage of the potential, there’s also a strong need for SaaS.
One of the most intriguing aspects comes from the fact that both are highly configurable. One can essentially shape an entire virtual system from these two components. What would once have needed a factory of machines working on custom computer systems can now be done in software.
The cloud can grow to meet the needs of software in a way that older university PLATO systems never could. And likewise, the systems interfacing it have a fair amount of power in themselves.
This can lead to optimized content distribution in a number of ways. For some, it might be tighter integration of mobile apps with various methods of advertising or branding.
Others use it for stronger analytic processing to push more individualized campaigns. The main point is that a combination of both the cloud and SaaS allow for almost any use one could imagine. All without much restraint from hardware.