Not All Cloud Computing Services are the Same: Three Levels of Cloud Service
It wasn’t really all that long ago that business technology managers were mulling over which programming language was the quickest to code and compile (anyone remember Pascal? C? Smalltalk?) or whether relational or OLAP databases gave a company more bang for their buck in data-analytical power. The rapid ascent of technology and the surplus of options made a solid evaluation of the available tools all the more difficult.
More recently, the race of businesses into the cloud is certainly not dissimilar to the confusion of those days. Questions about cloud services, platforms, security, even the nature of the cloud itself has decision-makers clamoring for help in choosing this crucial direction for their business technology.
The first (and most important) thing to understand is that not all clouds are the same. To boil it all down to a concise concept, there are three levels of cloud services that you must strongly consider in choosing a direction for your business technology in the cloud. Each level builds upon the one before it, much like three echelons of a pyramid, with each level becoming more specialized and adding more value than the one below it.
The Three Levels of Cloud Service
The foundational layer of the pyramid, Infrastructure as a Service (or IaaS), is the one that most people are picturing of when they think of cloud services – data residing on some server somewhere that is not in their company’s basement. IaaS providers own and manage all of the hardware that make up their cloud infrastructure, including the physical database and application servers, networks and operating systems. They manage data storage space and oversee any patching and upkeep of those servers.
Security is focused solely on the servers in the data center and the data that resides on them. Companies utilizing this service can purchase, install and administer any software they want without taking on the capital expense of supplying their own in-house infrastructure.
Examples of IaaS providers include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Compute Engine (GCE).
Platform as a Service (or PaaS)
The next level up the pyramid is Platform as a Service (or PaaS) which is, in essence, a platform for constructing software that can be deployed directly over the web. Because the PaaS layer automatically integrates with the more fundamental infrastructure (IaaS) level below it, software developers using this platform can worry much less about scalability and security issues of the hardware behind their code and can focus their efforts on developing superior applications. This is because the platform owner invests highly in multiple layers of security that reach beyond just the data centers and into the development environment, the software implementation process, and the data access controls that are built into their platform.
PaaS solutions typically result in a much faster time to market and streamlined administration of applications because the platform provides the tools to handle details like configuration and release management under the secure umbrella of the service provider. Additionally, software developed in a PaaS environment naturally has much quicker customer implementation timeframes than its non-PaaS competitors because of their inherent integration capabilities.
Examples of PaaS providers include Salesforce, Microsoft Azure and Apache Stratos.
Software as a Service (or SaaS)
At the top and most specialized level of this pyramid of cloud services is Software as a Service (or SaaS) – a fully developed software solution ready for purchase and utilization directly over the internet, usually on a license or subscription basis. SaaS applications are available wherever and whenever customers need them because they usually run directly through a web browser, eliminating the need for downloads or installations.
Companies using SaaS applications get up and running very quickly (often using the software out-of-the-box). They also have the ability to scale their operations quite rapidly because they benefit from the integral amalgamation of all of the aforementioned cloud service levels. Security on SaaS solutions is at its optimum peak because it covers every aspect of the infrastructure, platform, and software from end to end.
Examples of SaaS providers include Majesco, Cisco WebEx and Google Apps.
Choosing a Cloud Service Technology Partner
Once you have your arms wrapped around this hierarchy of cloud technology, consider this …
Your business systems, by definition, must incorporate all three of these components in order to operate – there must be an underlying infrastructure (databases, servers, etc.), a software platform and the software itself. The vital question, then, is this: which elements (or levels) of your business technology will you entrust to cloud companies who specialize in these areas to take advantage of the greatest benefits of the cloud, and which will remain in a possible legacy state? For example, will you choose AWS to manage the infrastructure and leave the other layers up to you? Or maybe a provider like Salesforce which handles all layers (i.e. infrastructure, security, data scalability, flexibility, and rapid implementation)?
ClaimVantage is an example of a SaaS offering built on the Salesforce PaaS as the foundation of our claims and absence management products. We know that being truly cloud-native gives our customers the greatest benefits of the cloud. Salesforce has always marketed itself as a leader in unlocking great customer experiences using data and continues to be an industry giant in high-end cloud services and platform web development with a security model that is second to none. Built, tested, deployed and managed on this platform, our cloud-native software creates high scalability, ease of integration, rapid implementation and seamless upgradability.
The key to choosing a cloud service that can bring your company to the highest level of cloud technology is to be able to see past the word “cloud” and ask the right questions of a software vendor in order to discern which level of cloud services (and all the benefits afforded therein) that they truly provide for your business. After all, if their offering provides only a part of the pyramid, then who is responsible for the rest of it?
Not all cloud software is created equal: Software that is hosted in the cloud has significant differences from software that is built in the cloud. Learn more about the key differences and what questions to ask when looking for a cloud software solution in this downloadable guide.