Thursday, October 30, 2008

Do you know your aaS's?

Wondering what all those announcements about cloud computing are all about and how they relate to you? Getting lost in the jargon? MS Azure, EC2, S3, Grid, IaaS, PaaS, SaaS? Don’t worry, you’re not alone! IT industry is notorious for making up acronyms and focusing on themselves when explaining things. I’m getting ready to review some new products that fall into some of the new categories, so wanted to do a post putting things in prospective.

IaaS stands for Infrastructure-as-a-Service. It used to be that to build a web application, the designers needed to worry about which server model to go with (co-location, managed, etc), which hosting provider to go with (affecting the uptime, system reliability and physical security), setting up and maintaining the server software (good Linux system administrators are extremely hard to find), worry about scaling the system past one server (database replication, load balancing, and bunch of other nasty technical stuff). IaaS solves most of those issues by providing a virtual server environment that is automatically scaled and kept up to date. This is a big load off the application provider shoulders, allowing them to focus on the application itself. Solutions in that category are represented by Amazon EC2 (virtual servers), S3 (scalable storage), SimpleDB (scalable database), Rackspace’s Mosso, and newly announced Microsoft Azure.

PaaS stands for Platform-as-a-Service and takes the concept one step further. In addition to providing the basic building blocks (servers, database, storage), platform-as-a-service provides a ready-to-use application environment a developer can use to build their applications. Similar to Microsoft Access and Visual Basic for Applications, by using PaaS, developers can raise their development up a level, creating data collection forms, reports, lists, workflows, and various other applications without as much as installing an application. This creates leverage from the reuse and speed of development angles. Examples of PaaS are SalesForce’s Force, Zoho’s Creator, LongJump, and a few other interesting new entrants such as Wolf Frameworks. I believe this category is the one to watch for the innovations with largest leverage.

Finally, SaaS is an older category that includes any web-based, ready-to-use application like most of the things I've reviewed so far on this blog: CRM, project management, wiki, PIM, or any combination thereof.