IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, and Other Cloud Computing Buzz Words For Dummies

1 January 2012
IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, and Other Cloud Computing Buzz Words For Dummies

As you contemplate using cloud computing architecture this year, there are certain lingo you need to know. As with any new and innovative technology, buzzwords abound and cloud computing is no different. Most folks have heard about it but few know they are actually using it every day. Even fewer know there is much more to the cloud than Google Docs or Gmail. It’s easy to get lost in all the hype and misinformation going around so here is a list of buzzwords explained about cloud computing to help you sort out what is all the rage these days.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

IaaS is what started it all. IT departments were looking for ways to lower their data center costs because every time they needed to add more processing power for their applications, it was very expensive and time-consuming to implement. Third-party vendors were aware of these issues and began to offer computing infrastructures for rent. This way, IT shops would not have to hassle with physical machines, data center floor space, cooling requirements and physical security. They would simply rent what they needed from someone else.

IaaS has evolved significantly since its inception with players such as Amazon, Rackspace, Microsoft, GoGrid and others. Each offers something unique but in the end the core services are storage, operating systems, network components such as firewalls and load balancers, and the capability to provision and monitor these resources.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS was born out of the need to provide a consistent and inexpensive platform with which to develop enterprise applications upon. It combines IaaS with software and tools so developers can have the freedom to build innovative web applications and services offered entirely over the Internet.

By using PaaS, IT shops no longer struggle with all the environments required to develop applications, such as testing and quality assurance infrastructures. They simply provision these resources via cloud management tools and deploy their applications to them. If a mistake is made, environments can be deleted and the developer can start over easily, all with little downtime.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Often used interchangeably with PaaS, SaaS is actually a subset of PaaS, providing an on-demand delivery model for applications that are accessed over the Internet using a web browser. Typical applications include customer relationship management (CRM), content management and collaboration apps found in most medium to large enterprises.

Other familiar SaaS applications the general public uses everyday are Gmail, Google Docs, Amazon, WordPress, The Weather Channel, etc. All of these apps use the cloud to store data and expose services that developers can use to integrate features and functions into their own applications, resulting in innovative apps at a much lower cost than if they were built from scratch.


This term is used to describe a whole slew of cloud computing buzzwords such as architecture, hosting and services. It simply means that there is a single application running on a server and multiple clients, or tenants) are able to use the app as if they were the only one using it.

This is a giant leap forward from the days where a vendor would use many instances of the same application and each client would have their own instance. A multi-tenant application drastically reduces computing resources and makes upgrades and ongoing maintenance much easier on everyone.

Public Cloud

A public cloud is a set of resources offered by a vendor that provides data storage and applications to the public over the Internet. Some resources are free such as Google Docs while others charge by how much you use them. Information is not really public per se, just publically available to subscribers and is usually accessed with a username and password.

Private Cloud

A private cloud is a set of resources that are typically behind a firewall, such as in a corporation. These resources are available in a limited fashion because of information sensitivity or corporate security policy. An example of a private computing cloud is a Human Resource application that might provision some server computing power on-demand (IaaS), use some software components (SaaS) and a proprietary database that only the HR app is allowed to use.

Web Services

A web service is a component of software that provides a standards-based interface to a function exposed by an application. In other words, it lets a user have access to part of an application that normally would never be available to use. For example, if you want to display the current temperature in your city on your website, you can use a web service from a weather provider to get the temperature. This way, you do not have to provide a weather station in the area you want the temperature for.

Even More Buzzwords

There are many more cloud computing architecture buzzwords and new ones seem to be invented every day. This list covers the major ones that should allow you to hang with cloud computing crowd. Consider yourself armed and dangerous now and your boss will be impressed with your new-found wisdom.

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