Cloud Computing and Software as a Service – What all the fuss is about

In a departure from my usual topics and somewhat driven by much of what I have learned in my first couple of weeks in my new role, and also driven by a number of recent ads I’ve come across online, I’ve decided (in something of an effort to help my own understanding) to put some thoughts down on the area of Cloud Computing and Software as a Service.

To most people the terms Cloud Computing and Software as a Service seem somewhat distant to their day to day lives, you’ve heard about it, it’s the next big thing, but you’re still not quite sure what it is and pretty confident that it has nothing to do with you for the moment; right? Well actually you could be wrong, cloud computing is much more integral to your day to day life than you realise!

So What is Cloud Computing?

Put very simply Cloud Computing refers to the storage of your data on a server that is accessed over the internet. Still seem a bit far removed? Think of it in terms of a simple example that affects most of us – Email. If you work in an office your emails are probably is stored either on your computer or on the network someplace. However, if you have a Gmail / Yahoo / Hotmail account for personal use for example  your emails are stored on a server somewhere and you can access them over the internet. Doesn’t seem so far removed now does it?

So where does Software as a Service come in?

Software as a Service (or SaaS) is a means by which you access your data. Instead of the software being installed on your computer it is installed on the aforementioned Cloud and you can use it by accessing it over the internet. Again let’s look at the email example. On your office computer you might have the programme Microsoft Outlook and this performs the functions around daily email usage, whereas for your personal email the programme that accesses the email and performs similar functions to the programme installed on your computer but the programme itself (be it Gmail, Yahoo, Hotmail etc) operates on a server on the cloud.

What are the benefits of Cloud Computing and Software as a Service?

For day to day personal use the benefits of Cloud Computing and Software as a Service are huge.

  • Your computer doesn’t get clogged up with lots of big files causing it to run slowly
  • The software doesn’t have to be installed on your computer so there is less time and effort required in trying to figure out how to install software and actually going through the process of doing it.
  • The software doesn’t need upgrades etc to be installed, they are simply applied by the experts and next time you log in it does new and better stuff.
  • You can access your programmes and files from a number of locations, no need for disks, flash drives or even to bring a heavy laptop around just for the sake of running a programme or downloading your emails.
  • No need to remember where you left the disks (thrown in a drawer usually) for programmes if you need to re-install etc.

Now think of it in terms of the advantages for a business, the benefits are magnified,

  • Your computers no longer need to have massive hard-drives to install software on, so there is a cost saving on hardware
  • No need for multiple software licences and the associated cost and difficulty of tracking these.
  • Less data is stored locally so you need less server hardware with a knock on effect of less hardware to maintain – a  cost saving!
  • The programmes can be upgraded in one location, saving a trawl around the office upgrading software on lots of computers.
  • Staff on the road, at home etc can access both the programmes and associated data without having additional programmes and software installed on their other devices (phones, laptops, home computers, tablets etc)
  • Data is secure to level that would be difficult to maintain for a local team but has dedicated resources in a location that’s sole aim is to provide secure and reliable access to data.

So the real questions are

  1. When is cloud computing and SaaS going to be understood by the mass market as what it is?
  2. When are businesses going to start making more use of these and will the tipping point come when cloud and SaaS replaces the obligatory server rack in every office?

By Simon Bell


6 comments on “Cloud Computing and Software as a Service – What all the fuss is about

  1. Nice article Simon, I wonder though, is our data infrastructure up to the task? Cloud computing as it grows will be heavily dependant on a decent bandwidth. Bad news for those on High contention ratio DSL lines or Wi-max style efforts.

    I welcome it !


  2. Couldn’t agree more, needs serious investment in broadband infrastructure here otherwise we are going get left behind the rest of Europe. From IDA perspective this is surely going to be a major stumbling block to attracting the big technology multi-nationals very soon unless its addressed.

  3. Simon, really good introductory article for us novices…

  4. A good introduction to a pervasive technology that has unfortunately become clogged up with so much expert terminology to almost make it inaccessible to the people who might most value it! Thank you!

    I would make the small point that outsourcing storage to the cloud service provider is, of course, only one benefit, and one to which people often cite the limits of today’s access networks such as DSL etc. The actual execution of software applications in the cloud is just as compelling and revolutionary.

    Consider, for instance, being able to try out enterprise-grade server apps, by being able to simply click and drag them on your cloud service provider’s web portal. No waiting for IT to install a server, install operating system etc.

    In answer to your second question, IT managers are, I think, understandably nervous about a major change in technology for fear that they might lose control of a lot of their business data. Realistically, of course, it is simply a case of delegating the activities common to almost all IT departments to a service provider who can do it better at a larger scale, while leaving the local IT department to deal on the real technology problems that affect their business.

  5. Adam, Thanks for your comments.

    Couldn’t agree more with your comment in relation to the second question. I was reading somewhere today that the major concern of IT managers with cloud is that they get bypassed in the decision making process as to implement or not, because of the topline cost savings that are provided to executive level management by the “business” teams.

    It moves the debate into psychology and organisational behaviour somewhat but I think it would greatly facilitate IT managers in accepting this change by “bringing them along” in the decision making process, and helping them to understand a slightly modified role for them as data curators.

  6. On a somewhat related note from my company’s Blog that may be of interest

    How to Run A Business From An iPad

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