SaaS is a distribution model, Cloud is a hosting model

The series on fallacies of knowledge management will continue after this post.

I attended the first CloudCamp in India at IIMB today. It was well organised and well attended. I had only planned to network and attend the talks but ended up onstage in true unconference style. Dr. Srinivas P was kind enough to invite me to a panel discussion on certain aspects of cloud computing. While the panel discussions were mostly illuminating, I noticed some mixing of terminology around SaaS. This post is meant to highlight that SaaS is a distribution model for software and is independent of the hosting model (severs under a table, private data center, Google AppEngine, Amazon etc).

Yeah, one could argue that the appengine is more than a pure hosting model but that is not material to this post. It was agreed during the course of the sessions that Amazon's offerings could be described as infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and that of the Google App Engine as PaaS: platform-as-a-service (for lack of a better term).

Now let's take the example of a business that sells tax-return filing software. If it chooses to sell the software by shipping CDs or offering installable downloads, then its distribution model may be termed as software-as-a-shrink-wrapped-product. On the other hand, if it chooses to host the software somewhere and let users connect to it for filling out their returns, then the distribution model is termed as software-as-a-service. Note that we haven't said anything so far about where the software is hosted in the second case. All we know is that the customer is not required to install it in her premises. So, from the POV of a citizen filing returns, it is either shrink wrapped software or software-as-a-service. The end user doesn't care about whether the hosting is IaaS, PaaS or a private data center.

If you really want to complete the circle, you could view IaaS and PaaS as an exteme form of SaaS, viz: system-software-as-a-service - since the cloud service providers basically offer the use of (dynamically scalable) virtual machines as a service to the application developer.

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