I was reading a great Gartner article today about delivery of IT operations management tools and it has some very interesting observations related to the perception of SaaS vs. the Cloud. The question that got my attention related to whether SaaS and Cloud were the same thing. Of the respondents almost exactly one third selected yes, one third selected no and the remaining third went for “sometimes”. It’s rare that you see quite such an even distribution in any survey and it got me to wondering why it’s so ambiguous. The answer, it turns out, is actually found within the same article…
The definition is in the eye of the beholder
In my mind it is fairly clear – they are not the same. Let’s look at some examples:
- Both: Salesforce.com is software delivered as a service in the cloud. It has everything that you’d expect from a combination of these two things: software, pay as you go, self-service, elasticity, etc.
- Cloud only: Amazon EC2 is delivered via the cloud with the expected pay as you go, self-service, etc. but it’s not software…OK, it is software but it is platform/mid-tier software as opposed to consumer application software
- SaaS only: EMC’s Documentum OnDemand is a single tenant, hosted application managed as if it was a cloud solution but it doesn’t have those features generally associated with the cloud like multi-tenancy, self-service, etc.
Seems fairly straightforward when you see it written down doesn’t it? Except EMC touts OnDemand as a cloud solution and no one bats an eyelid, in fact as far as their customers are concerned they are getting Documentum “in the cloud”. Equally, consider that many people will deploy a standard instance of an EC2 environment and use the included middle tier applications, (e.g. the app servers and databases). To them EC2 is providing both SaaS and the Cloud.
So where is the confusion? It’s the same old chestnut that technologists fall fowl of consistently. From where we are standing the difference is startlingly obvious but from where the customer is standing the semantics are meaningless. I could argue until I am blue in the face that a single tenant deployment is neither SaaS nor is it Cloud, it is simply a hosted system but does a customer care about the subtleties? Typically the customer cares (or should care) only about one thing – meeting the terms of the service level agreement. They want a system off premise for very specific reasons and none of them should relate to the underlying technology details.
Let me illustrate this by defining the three models from the perspective of the service provider vs. the consumer of the service.
Multitenant, virtualized, self-service application with common, elastic infrastructure, pay as you go.
Cheap and cheerful
Semi-standardized deployment of commercial application with partially shared services and centralized management and control.
Easy and customizable
Single tenant, bespoke deployment of customized solution with dedicated services, storage, etc.
It’s mine, all mine
Seems like we are a little too focused on the technical details and missing the point…who cares? As the infrastructure and service providers we get all uptight about the semantics and we forget that the customer’s view is very different. We might was well advertise like this:
When the customer really wants to hear…
What should we do?
It is not breaking news that the reason that Apple have been so successful is not only that they listen to their consumers but that they present things in a way that grabs consumers’ attention. When Microsoft release a new hardware product they open with the specs of the machine…when Apple release a new product that hold it up and effectively say “ooh, ooh, it’s shiny and you want one” then they take your money, give you the product and THEN you work out what it is and how to use it.
I talk about the Mainframe as a platform for the Cloud (or SaaS/hosting if you want) but I need to remember to always return to the value that the ultimate end user of the system is actually interested in – it’s really, really reliable, it’s cheap and it’s fast. Odd though isn’t it? This description makes the mainframe sound a lot like a commercial for a Toyota Camry which is just not the vehicle you might compare a mainframe to normally.
So all thumbs are fingers but not all fingers are thumbs which adds zero clarity to this article but I just watched that episode of the Big Bang Theory and it seemed to resonate!