The 3 services of cloud computing for non-techie people

(For a simple explanation of what cloud computing is click here).

Cloud computing has many services, but there are three main ones that non-techie people should be aware of. These three services are explained below...

For context, it is important to remember that "cloud computing" is a catch all phrase which could mean different things to different people.


So the best way to understand the three services of cloud computing from a non-techie perspective is to use what you already know about a laptop (or computer).

Here are the three things you probably already know about your laptop or pc:

  1. You know it has hardware i.e. the CPU, memory, hard drive, and ports for USBs, network cables etc.
  2. You know it has an operating system which is either Windows or MAC. 
  3. You know you can install software onto your laptop e.g. Word, Excel, Video software etc.
The big idea of cloud computing is to do everything on the Internet that you are able to do on your laptop. In other words, you don't have to buy an expensive laptop with expensive software and with a big hard drive because all you need is a decent laptop with a good Internet connection and you will have access to all the tools you need on the Internet. 

With this idea, the three main cloud services were conceived and you can roughly equate them to your laptop. Here are the three main cloud services: 
  1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) equates to CPU, memory, hard drive, network etc
  2. Platform as a Service (PaaS) equates to the operating system or development environment, mainly for programmers to develop new software
  3. Software as a Service (SaaS) equates to software you can use e.g. Spreadsheets, Word Processing, video software etc
The key difference here is that although you buy your laptop in one complete package, in the cloud, your "laptop" is split into IaaS, PaaS and SaaS and the three services are not necessary provided by one technology company or package. This also goes some way in explaining why a lot of people get confused with cloud computing.

The definitions above are useful because when you see an ad from a "cloud services" provider, you can very easily determine whether they are a provider of Iaas, Paas, or SaaS. Here are a few examples of popular services in each category: 
  1. IaaS examples include Apple's iCloud, Dropbox and Google Docs Storage (rumoured to be called Google Drive in the near future) 
  2. PaaS examples include Amazon Web Services, Force.com and Google App Engine
  3. SaaS examples include Facebook, YouTube and Google Docs
(NB: Amazon have a cloud computing service in addition to the normal Amazon.com website)

Google is one of the few companies that is tackling the cloud services challenge along all the three types of services whilst others like Dropbox are focusing on one service (IaaS) in order to differentiate themselves. (click here to find out more about Dropbox)

Entirely new IT companies are being born that focus on either one or all of the three types of services above. It is also worth keeping in mind that providing all three services above is not a walk in the park and very few technology companies have the resources to do it. 

In South Africa we are definitely seeing more "cloud services" as every technology company tries to get in on the act. MTN, Vodacom, Telkom etc are all touting cloud services. The question is, are these services IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS? Using the definitions above, you can more easily understand what they are trying to sell you. 

Google are pushing the cloud idea even further by releasing a semi-laptop or netbook called the Chromebook which by traditional definitions has no operating system. In other words, no Windows or Mac. It only has a browser to connect you to the Internet so you can do all your work online. (you can find out more about this netbook here)

Just in case you are wondering why everyone is getting in on the act. It's because the old way of using IT is expensive. Some companies have reported upwards of 60% in cost savings when they move from purchasing software to using a SaaS solution instead. (Click here to read some case studies).

In summary, there are three main services to cloud computing. If you think of storing pictures, videos or any sort of data online, this is an example of Infrastructure as a Service. If you are a programmer and you make use of an online based platform to develop new software, this is an example of Platform as a Service. However, if  you use an online based accounting software or Google Docs for documents and spreadsheets, this is an example of Software as a Service. 

Some companies like Google are pushing for the ultimate vision of cloud computing, which is being able to do everything you can do on your laptop online. Whilst others are focused on providing you with only one piece of the cloud puzzle to differentiate themselves in the market. With all this competition, cloud services are getting better and better at a rapid rate but one "cloud" is definitely not the same as another's "cloud".