Much has been heard about software ‘as a service’. While cloud computing is a general term for the delivery of hosted services over the Internet, what does software or infrastructure or anything ‘as a service’ really mean? Of course, the proper way of describing anything delivered ‘as a service’ is to refer to the term “XaaS”. In short, without XaaS, there is no cloud computing. As we will discover in this article, there are a number of ‘things’ that can be delivered ‘as a service’. The most common are Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Nevertheless, you can have almost anything ‘as a service’ whether it be framework as a service (FaaS), storage as a service (SaaS), communications as a service (CaaS) and network as a service (NaaS). In the remainder of the article we take a quick look at each XaaS model and run through why some rather than others might be beneficial for your business.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
SaaS is probably the term you have heard the most. Of course, the term ‘software as a service’ doesn’t really give you a sense of what or indeed how the software is delivered to you. Remember the days when you bought Microsoft Office and received a bunch of installation disks? No? Well you’re either too young or you never did any word processing or financial modelling. More seriously though, SaaS is, if nothing else, a software licensing and delivery model. Rather than have installation disks and spend hours in front of your Super VGA 486 waiting to install, SaaS is licensed to you on a subscription basis. That’s why you generally only pay for Word – or Photoshop – on a subscription basis. It’s just like Netflix or whatever film streaming provider you prefer. From a legal perspective, the software vendor used to grant you a copyright to install and reproduce the software on your home computer. Now you get a licence to access software. Consequently, SaaS is centrally hosted. What that means for all intents and purposes is that you save processing power on your laptop by not downloading and installing software. Given the above, you can now understand why SaaS is sometimes referred to as “on-demand software”. Generally all you need to access a SaaS product is a web browser – whether you’re on dial up speed and spend hours watching the wheel of death is another matter. Like CDs, long gone are the days of installation disks. You might think to yourself: so the only advantage of a SaaS is that it takes up less space on my hard drive? For most people, that would be enough. However, there are some other clear and significant benefits to your business to transition to a SaaS model for all your software needs. We look at a few of the advantages below:
- There is no need for you to direct funds to the buying and maintaining servers. This is already a huge cost advantage for most small and medium-sized businesses.
- You automatically receive the benefits of software updates. In that respect, your software becomes much more dynamic and, all things being equal, your supplier is likely to be far more able to take on board your feedback and input.
- You see more uniform compatibility. On a practical basis, all your users will have the same version of software. A further consequence is that you will find the process of collaboration both with colleagues and clients far more straightforward.
- You also avoid having to spend up on purchasing the software. Have we already mentioned no floppy disks?
SaaS is the most common from of Xaas and the one you and your employees are most likely to deal with on a daily basis. Payment for software accessible on a subscription basis is usually calculated on a per user basis. As is always the case, the more users your organisation has, the lower the monthly – or yearly – licence fee you are likely to pay.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Infrastructure as a Service is, in some respects, an extension of the SaaS model. Under the IaaS model, a third-party provider hosts not only software but also hardware, servers and any other infrastructure components required by an end user. Importantly, IaaS providers also host applications developed by end users applications and are sometimes required to handle tasks such as system maintenance and resiliency planning. The biggest advantage with IaaS providers is that they offer resources that can be adjusted on-demand. Consequently, you can take on as much or as little ‘server space’ as your business might need at any one time. If, for example, your peak period is the end of the financial year, any respectable providers will be able to accommodate your varying needs. Unlike SaaS which is generally paid for on a per user basis, IaaS customers generally pay on a per use basis, namely by the hour, week or month. Some providers also charge customers based on the amount of virtual machine space they use. Clearly, the pay-as-you-go model eliminates the capital expense associated with proprietary software and hardware. Indeed, if you are developing a new software product, it might be more cost-effective to host and test the application through an IaaS provider. Once the new software is tested and refined, you can then remove it from the IaaS environment and integrate it into your existing in-house infrastructure, safe in the knowledge that you have certainty on functionality and cost. Nevertheless, your organization may have particular needs which require particular services. Accordingly, it is prudent to monitor any IaaS environment closely in order to avoid being charged for unauthorised services. Perhaps the disadvantage of using the IaaS model is that systems management and monitoring generally remain in the vendor’s control. Given that they own the infrastructure, that would seem to go without saying. For your business, you may find that your workload is severely affected if your IaaS provider experiences any significant downtime. You can protect yourself by ensuring that your due diligence reveals what guarantees your potential provider gives in relation to uptime and what its general business continuity and disaster recovery procedures are. In the following section, we look at Platform as a Service or PaaS.
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
PaaS is one of the lesser known ‘as a service’ models. In essence, Platform as a Service is a model which delivers applications – rather than software. In a PaaS model, you get the best of both worlds – your cloud provider delivers hardware and software being the tools needed for application development. A PaaS provider hosts the hardware and software rather than your infrastructure. As a result, PaaS frees users from having to install in-house hardware and software to develop or run a new application. Unlike IaaS, PaaS is not typically used to replace your entire business infrastructure. Instead, you may choose a PaaS model for certain applications, whether that happens to be development or hosting. For example, rolling out a typical business tool in your local environment might require you to buy and install hardware and develop operating systems and conceivably, middleware. Once that is done, your team has to add and use the application’s performance monitoring tools. Clearly, all of these resources need to be managed and maintained. The advantage of PaaS is that your provider will assume the responsibility of supporting all the underlying computing and software. Your users will only have to log in and start using the platform – usually through a Web browser interface.
Network as a Service (NaaS)
NaaS is a business model for delivering network services virtually over the Internet on a pay-per-use or monthly subscription basis. From the business owner’s point of view, the only thing required to create an information technology (IT) network is one computer, an Internet connection and access to the provider’s NaaS portal. Use of a NaaS provider can be appealing to a new business owner as it prevents excessive expenditure on network hardware and the staff required to manage a network. In essence, the network becomes a relatively inexpensive fixed monthly cost, just like electricity or water. Because the network is virtual, provided that your business does not have a degree of complexity whereby it needs its own bespoke IT network, you need not concern yourself with network architecture, and you can focus on acquiring customers. NaaS is not a new concept, but it is one of the lesser known ‘as a service’ elements. Difficulties with availability have hindered the take-up of NaaS offerings. While high availability is the kind of issue that in some respects affects all providers of cloud computing services, it is especially the case in the NaaS environment given the complexity of network architecture.
Framework as a Service (FaaS)
As with NaaS, FaaS is one of the lesser known cousins in the ‘as a service’ family. FaaS is something of a halfway house between SaaS and PaaS. In essence, FaaS is a software framework that can be readily customised to meet the business needs of the user by providing the foundation on which to develop an application or system rapidly. The reason why FaaS is not quite a SaaS is because it is not a finished ‘plug and play’ style produce. The reason why FaaS is not a complete platform like a PaaS is because the end user does not have to undertake a large scale implementation of a platform as any PaaS user would. Typically, you would use a FaaS solution if your business was in a specific regulated industry such as financial services or insurance.
Storage as a Service (SaaS)
As with most things in life, if you have too much of something, you can probably sell or rent your excess to someone. Storage as a service – also known as SaaS but not that kind of SaaS – is what people refer to when a large organisation which owns its infrastructure, rents excess capacity to a smaller organisation. Storage as a Service is typically seen as a good alternative for a small or mid-sized business that lacks the capital budget and/or technical personnel to implement and maintain their own storage infrastructure. SaaS is also a very simple way for any business to mitigate risks in disaster recovery, provide long-term retention for records and enhance business continuity and availability.
Communications as a Service (CaaS)
As its name implies, CaaS is all about communications whether internally within your business or between the business and your customers. The types of communication are not, however, limited to telephone or fax machine. Of course, we don’t know anybody who has a fax machine, but if they do, we’d love to hear why they still use it. Nevertheless, the type of communication in a CaaS model might cover instant messaging or chat, video conferencing and voice over IP. CaaS is often confused with SaaS as the general model very closely mirrors that of a SaaS provider. Indeed, it is usual to find that your communications needs can be outsourced to a single vendor. If you use the services of a CaaS vendor, you will be provided with all relevant hardware and software, both of which your vendor will manage. Clearly, the advantage is that you can use communications capabilities on select devices and simply pay on a needs basis. No longer do you have to outlay a significant amount for a communications system that does not correspond to instant demand. Clearly, CaaS offers flexibility. As a small or medium-sized business, there are clear advantages in using a model that allows for the addition or subtraction of devices or communications coverage purely on demand. In that respect, your communications capability can be far more agile, and you are not locked into purchasing any kind of legacy equipment that may not be suitable for your business within five years.
There are a wealth of software and infrastructure options available to you. Much will turn on your place in the business cycle and the complexity of the technical environment in which you operate. Nevertheless, there are significant cost savings to be obtained by taking the time to research and discuss your needs with any ‘as a service’ vendor. Of course, it goes without saying that it is absolutely vital that you complete the appropriate due diligence and read the terms and conditions before you commit to any ‘as a service’ model. Questions? Get in touch with our IT lawyers on 1300 544 755.