Cloud Computing: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the SaaS.

A few years ago someone had the bright notion to sell Software as a Service (SaaS) instead of a product. Built off the idea of things like Google Docs it seemed like a great way to get software into an organisation without having to convince them to outlay thousands of dollars on hardware or licenses. Couple that with its synergy with other buzz words of the time (thank you Service Oriented Architecture) it seemed like a great idea. Having your applications and data available over the Internet greatly increased its portability, and was a viable solution for some companies to provide collaboration solutions to their remote workers.

However, it never really took off into large scale enterprises. Primarily this was due to privacy concerns as many companies could not trust the SaaS providers to keep their data safe and secure. Additionally, with many SaaS clients you had to have a stable Internet connection, otherwise your data was completely unavailable to you. A lot of providers then tried to shift the focus away from completely online solutions and then moved part of the infrastructure in house for the clients, attempting to alleviate the issues people had raised.

Then, for a couple of quiet blissful years no one really talked about SaaS any more. That was until someone found a new buzzword for it: Cloud Computing.

Behold the almighty cloud of the Internet. We can put all your services on here and provide you with infinitely scalable and customizable solutions! We’ve taken the ideals of SaaS and translated them onto your infrastructure (IaaS) and platforms (PaaS) to create the mighty Cloud!

In essence there’s just a bit more abstraction in the terms of implementation, but Cloud Computing is just SaaS reborn.

Cloud computing takes the idea that if we abstract all the layers of delivering a service to an end user they can then take advantage of huge amounts of infrastructure without the huge initial investment. The idea works well with things that experience high peak loads but low baselines, say a website that gets slashdotted. The cloud would be able to detect that there’s a sudden surge and provision more resources on the fly, something that all high traffic sites like the sound of. Additionally the cloud allows for users to be agnostic in their decisions about infrastructure, since cloud applications are designed to run on an abstracted layer that resides above the underlying hardware and software.

It’s the concept of “We do all the hard work for you so you don’t have to worry about X” where X is the IT problem du jour.

Don’t get me wrong though, Cloud Computing has quite a lot of uses and the added additional abstraction at the platform and infrastructure area make it a lot easier for developers and engineers to design solutions for the end users. It also gets everyone out of that mindset of “I have this nail, so I need this hammer” when in fact they should be asking “What’s the best way to secure this board to my house?”.

There are some pretty good applications coming out based on the Cloud idea. One, which made waves at this years GDC, was OnLive:

This is what the cloud is all about. You no longer have to worry about what hardware you’re running on and you have hundreds of games at your fingertips. Unfortunately it suffers from the same problems as other cloud services in that its scope is somewhat limited by the few issues that plague it and they’re planning to monetise it straight away. I’m sure there will be some kind of trial period where everyone can have a go but if they provided some ad supported free version of this it would be a huge hit instantly. Trying to charge people right off the bat will slow adoption, but it would help to keep the debt collectors at bay.

Overall Cloud Computing looks like a great idea and it is getting a lot more traction then its predecessor SaaS did. I think at the time that SaaS came out people still didn’t trust these new fangled Web 2.0 apps enough to give their corporate data to them. After many years of Facebook, Youtube and Google Docs we’ve started to come to grips with what the web can provide, and so have the business execs.

Just remember that it’s still SaaS at heart. 🙂

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