Cloudy Concepts: IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, MaaS, CaaS & XaaS

Generally I.T. folk, whether in Storage, Virtualization, Change Management or Project Management love the use of acronyms and synonyms to express key concepts amongst each other.
Written by Archie Hendryx Hendryx, Contributor

Generally I.T. folk, whether in Storage, Virtualization, Change Management or Project Management love the use of acronyms and synonyms to express key concepts amongst each other. What other industry would allow an individual to spurt a line such as "Have SOx seen the BCP and CAB approval for our VDC's DR SAN and will this then be added to the CMDB by CoB today?" without immediately flinching or bringing in a logopaedics specialist for help. More often than not, I.T. folk have also used these synonyms and acronyms as smokescreens to prevent outsiders from realizing "well this I.T. stuff is actually quite easy to understand and quite straightforward".

Hence no surprise that when the seemingly simple concept of Cloud Computing took off, so did the emergence of an abundance of acronyms and synonyms reaping a new breed of I.T. professionals who were the only ones that could correctly understand them i.e. 'The Cloud Specialist'. Despite this, the beauty of the Cloud (or as most people are starting to realise the synonym for the Internet) is that it not only encompasses the I.T. industry and their business demands but also the average end user who's only experience with I.T. is their iPhone and its App Store. So while EMC's extensive airport advertising may have initially confused a lot of tourists into thinking that the 'Journey to the Cloud' was a slogan for an up and coming budget airline, the general public are certainly now becoming aware of 'The Cloud'. End users are now bombarded with Clouds from Microsoft claiming that Windows 7 is your 'Path to the Cloud', Pizza Restaurants offering free access to 'the Cloud' and Apple iPhone owners having iCloud enforced upon them (no comment on the security issues of your email contacts and personal photos being uploaded to Apple's database). So while the idea of Public, Private and Hybrid Clouds become more familiar and understood even amongst the masses, it's with surprise that I often find people within the IT industry who are still unaware or unsure of Cloud Service acronyms such as IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, Maas, Caas or Xaas.

To understand why there are so many acronyms with the Cloud, it is important to appreciate that the Cloud has a number of services which each of these classify. The first of these, IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) is when the consumer does not deal with the infrastructure, instead the responsibility of the equipment is outsourced to the Service Provider. The Service Provider not only owns the equipment but will also be responsible for its running and maintenance, where the consumer will be charged on a 'pay as you use' basis. IaaS is often offered as a horizontally integrated service that includes not only the server and storage but also the connectivity domains. For example while the consumer may deploy and run their own applications and operating systems, the Iaas provider would typically provide the replication, backup and archiving (Storage), the powerful computing requirements (Server) or the network load balancing and firewalls (Connectivity domains).

PaaS provides the capability for consumers to have applications deployed without the burden and cost of buying and managing the hardware and software. In other words these are either consumer created or acquired web applications or services that are entirely accessible from the Internet. Usually created with programming languages and tools supported by the service provider these web applications enable the consumer to have control over the deployed applications and in some circumstances the application-hosting environment but without the complexity of the infrastructure i.e. the servers, operating systems or storage. Offering a quick time to market and services that can be provisioned as an integrated solution over the web, PaaS facilitates immediate business requirements such as application design, development and testing at a fraction of the normal cost.

Software as a service (SaaS) is the ability for a consumer to use on demand software that is provided by the service provider via a thin client device e.g. a web browser over the Internet. With SaaS the consumer has not only no management or control of the infrastructure such as the storage, servers, network, or operating systems, but also no control over the application's capabilities. Culled from what were originally referred to as (ASPs) Application Service Providers, SaaS is a quick and efficient delivery model for key business applications such as customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), HR and payroll.

Monitoring as a Service (MaaS) is at present still an emerging piece of the Cloud jigsaw but an integral one for the future. In the same way that businesses realised that their infrastructure and key applications required monitoring tools that would ensure the proactive elimination of any downtime risks, Monitoring as a Service provides the option to offload a large majority of those costs by having it run as a service as opposed to a fully invested in house tool. So for example by logging onto a thin client or central web based dashboard which is hosted by the service provider, the consumer can monitor the status of their key applications regardless of location. Add the advantages of an easy set up and purchasing process and MaaS could be a key pay as you use model for the de-risking of applications that are initially being migrated to the Cloud.

Communication as a Service (CaaS), enables the consumer to utilize Enterprise level VoIP, VPNs, PBX and Unified Communications without the costly investment of purchasing, hosting and managing the infrastructure. With the service provider responsible for the management and running of these services also, the other advantage the consumer has is that they needn't require their own trained personnel, bringing significant OPEX as well as CAPEX costs.

Finally XaaS or 'anything as a service' is the delivery of IT as a Service through hybrid Cloud computing and is a reference to either one or a combination of Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS). communications as a service (CaaS) or monitoring as a service (Maas). XaaS is quickly emerging as a term that is being readily recognized as services that were previously separated on either private or public Clouds are becoming transparent and integrated.

So as the term 'The Cloud' finally breaks into the minds of the masses and takes meaning, the next phase will be to take the numerous services that are offered by the Cloud, mature them and enable consumers to fully understand their benefits. From Enterprise to SMB to end users, Cloud Services will inevitably bring immense benefits and cost savings. All that is now required is for consumers to know what all those unnecessarily complicated acronyms mean!

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