What is Cloud Computing

Over the past few weeks I have been asked to provide some commentary on what cloud computing is and how SaaS plays a role in cloud computing.  Well, let me take a few minutes and offer some thoughts on this topic

For a definition, lets start here: Cloud computing is the combination of hardware and network infrastructure and software applications delivered to end users over the internet.  Sounds a lot like Software as a Service doesn't it?  If cloud computing is different than SaaS, how can we differentiate them?  

I believe the answer lies in the amount of time involved in managing the services delivered from the cloud.   SaaS represents the highest level of zero-management services delivered from cloud computing.  A SaaS customer doesn't have to manage anything, they simply pay for the services they use and don't have to worry about the servers or software that they are using...it is just delivered to them.  SaaS customers don't know what hardware servers are installed, what operating system is on them, how they are connected to the internet and they don't even have to manage the software installed on the servers.  They simply use the services provided.

There are other uses of cloud computing that aren't SaaS.  Perhaps some examples will help to clarify different uses and put SaaS into more context.  Remember, cloud computing involves the hardware, network infrastucture and applications delivered over the internet.  

Example 1: Hosting.  There are many ISP's out there that will host your computer in their facility with access to the internet.  This is your machine, renting space in their racks with access to the internet.  This could be considered the first level of cloud computing with quite a bit of management on your part.  You had to buy the machine, you have to load up the OS and applications on the machine.  The ISP just physically hosts the box and powers it for you for a monthly fee.  Cloud computing?  Yes.  SaaS?  No.

Example 2:   Platform as a Service.  I am seeing more and more vendors who are providing really nice platform services such as storage, virtual appliances, and even custom application development services in the Cloud such as force.com.  For example, you can buy storage as a service and not manage the actual storage hardware, but you do have to manage the applications and use of that storage.  You can also buy virtual appliances such as windows server or Linux servers and not have to own or manage the equipment, but you do have to manage the server and software what it is doing for you.  salesforce.com's force.com is a great development platform for building custom applications.  You don't manage the equipment or servers, but you are responsible for the software application you built.  Cloud computing?  Yes.  SaaS? No.

Example 3:  inContact.com.  To run a contact center, you can choose to buy ACD equipment and power it, program it, and manage it yourself.  This would be "on-premise" solutions.  Cloud computing would mean that you can put your servers or software in the cloud, and still maintain some operational management responsibilities.   However, inContact customers don't  have to manage the servers providing the ACD functionality, or apply security patches or upgrades to the software.  They simply get the benefits of the inContact.com platform with zero operational management.  Cloud computing?  Yes.  SaaS?  Yes, because it doesn't require the management of the components of cloud computing, hardware, network infrastructure, and software applications.  

Share your thoughts on the topic with me at greg.smart@incontact.com.