Many people think of the cloud as social networks, mobile applications, or some general idea of data magically floating above us. While most consumers have reached some definition of what they think the cloud is, most consumers, if asked, could not define cloud computing or the layers that comprise it.
For that reason, this article is going to touch on cloud technology basics and provide a foundational understanding of its layers: IaaS, PaaS, SaaS.
In the simplest of terms, cloud computing is the ability to access data stored on remote servers via a stable Internet connection. That’s it. The cloud allows consumers, businesses and organizations to access data stored on a remote server. Typically, providers hold the server within a data center of varying tiers. Users gain access to the server through a stable Internet connection with a device of their choosing (e.g. laptop, smartphone, tablet) for a reasonable, sometimes free, monthly charge.
The benefits of the cloud are pretty straightforward:
- Local hard drive is free to take on heavier computing tasks
- The provider host the Cloud-based software.
- The provider updates, maintains, and rolls out new versions of the software to consumers. Thus, consumers no longer have to purchase every new release of the software.
- Low monthly cost. Companies offer cloud-based solutions at a low monthly cost model of payments. For example, instead of paying $1250 for the Adobe Suite of products, a consumer pays monthly installments of $15 for full access to the AdobeCC (the principle applies to other cloud providers)
The Layers of the Cloud: Infrastructure, Platform, Software
The cloud offers three major branches of computing power: a traditional data center hardware (infrastructure), the tools and environments needed to build programs, applications and software (platform) and the consumer-facing apps and software we access with our smart devices (software).
These layers are called IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
IaaS is the primary layer of the cloud providing data center hardware (e.g. servers, nodes, hypervisors) to consumers and companies for a low monthly price. IaaS enables companies to lease servers packed with computing resources like RAM, bandwidth, CPU and IP, hosted in a remote data center. Traditional providers of IaaS are Digital Ocean, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Rackspace. IaaS is the foundation for PaaS and SaaS.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS is the secondary layer of the cloud providing developers with the tools needed to build applications/software and the development environment required to build, stage, edit and launch applications. Much like the IaaS layer of the cloud, PaaS answers a specific need, dev tools, and environments, enabling companies and individual developers to build the products and services they eventually bring to market. PaaS is built on top of the IaaS layer as it requires RAM, bandwidth, CPU to operate. Traditional providers of PaaS are Amazon, Cloud Foundry, Long Jump, Rackspace, and Google. PaaS is the middle layer of the cloud which leverages IaaS resources to build SaaS applications.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Consumers interact with the top layer of the cloud, Saas. Whereas users view IaaS and PaaS as raw infrastructure and platform building tools/environments, the SaaS layer of the cloud is the finished product as seen through mobile applications, enterprise level business solutions and every single app held within the Apple App Store and the Google Play store.
The SaaS layer of the cloud enables companies to purchase software, hosted by a provider, on a per monthly basis without having to worry about updating that software, maintaining that software or fixing any of the bugs in that software. The SaaS model of applications not only enables businesses to save more money on needed applications by cutting down on per seat pricing and the upkeep, but it also allows businesses to gain access to continually updated application versions without ever having to lift a finger.
The benefit of SaaS to the provider is pretty straightforward: sustained, long-term, monthly revenue. In the traditional model of software development, companies were always pumping out new versions of applications, yet consumers would limit their updates to versions every few years. This meant while software companies made incremental changes from version to version, the companies expected to have a high/low sales cycle fueled by market purchasing habits. The SaaS model means companies continually pay low monthly rates for the same service instead of paying every few years. The benefit is stable revenue.
SaaS is the top most layer of the cloud because it utilizes both the compute resources of IaaS and the development tools provided by PaaS.
In this regard, SaaS is the logical endpoint to the cloud that in time, provides enough user feedback to both the IaaS and PaaS layers to cause change and updates within both physical/virtual computing environments and the tools they provide to build the next generation of SaaS applications.
SaaS applications are the software and programs we most commonly think of as the cloud. Everything from Salesforce, to Google Drive, to Candy Crush, and Eloqua fall into the category.