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/blog Defining Cloud Terminology

by ChrisLawless

Cloud Terminology

Defining Common Cloud Acronomyns: SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, DBaaS

In part one of this blog, I mentioned that the cloud has been around for quite some time but we just didn’t call it the cloud. In this post, I focus on the different types of clouds that exist today and go into the differences of those clouds variants and how people use those clouds.

There are many different types of cloud vendors. There are 4-5 companies that dominate the cloud market, there are dozens of regional cloud vendors that specialize in niche markets and there are some who focus on certain market verticals.  As with most things in the IT industry, the cloud world is full of acronyms.  Several new acronyms have popped up with the rise of the cloud model.  Each of those acronyms represents a different type of cloud. We will discuss SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, and DBaaS to see what each of those acronyms really means.


The really powerful thing about this model is that this allows small companies access to the exact same powerful software that was previously only attainable by large organizations.

SaaS (Software as a Service) is a centrally hosted model that you access remotely (typically via the web but not exclusively).  The software is usually, but not always, licenses and sold on a subscription basis.  The software that you are using could be something like an email service that you connect to, it could be a small program that allows you to create memes or it could be a large and complex CRM (Customer Relationship Management) module allowing you to connect to all of your customers.  The one feature that is important is that you, as the user, are not directly involved in maintaining that software.  No upgrades, no worrying about what database is underpinning that software, no control over uptime and lack of visibility into what is going on with the software behind the scenes.  The really powerful thing about this model is that this allows small companies access to the exact same powerful software that was previously only attainable by large organizations.  Companies that couldn’t afford DBAs and system administrators to maintain and operate a large CRM now are able to have that luxury. SaaS has leveled the playing field.  Just being able to connect and use the software allows the flexibility that was previously unheard of.  One of the downsides that some people say about SaaS is that ‘you have no control’.  Your data is not onsite, you can’t control the vendor’s downtime and some things may not be customizable.  But often the benefits outweigh the negatives.  SaaS is here to stay and so many other types of products will be turned into the SaaS model that will allow businesses large and small to focus on what they do best rather than worrying about running software programs.


PaaS (Platform as a Service) is ‘one step down’ from SaaS.  PaaS has also occasionally in the past called aPaaS (Application Platform as a Service).  The cloud provider is in control of the servers, storage, database, and middleware components. The customers control the application on top.  Depending on the cloud provider, the customer would be able to manipulate the application to suit their needs and some providers even allow a variety of different customizations.  Organizations can focus on the application and how it suits their business needs but don’t have to worry about storage, database, and other components.  


IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) has been called HaaS (Hardware as a Service). IaaS is often one of the first cloud offerings that many companies choose. IaaS is a cloud offering that often mimics the infrastructure that companies are used to with their data centers. IaaS offerings provide the storage and operating systems but allows customers to install their own databases which they would then manage.  It gives the customers the most control of their environments and allows them to customize anything on top of the operating systems, it does allow the cloud vendor to manage the server themselves.


DBaaS (Database as a Service) might be called a subset of PaaS in some ways, but because it is becoming more and more important and is a fast-growing cloud offering, it might be important to point this out in its own group.  Databases and the applications that run on top of them are often the lynchpins of today’s business.  Their most valuable asset could indeed be their data.  Using DBaaS allows the organizations to focus on their data allowing the cloud vendor to handle the database administration.  All of the time-consuming tasks that are often considered mundane chores are handled by the cloud vendor rather than the customers’ DBAs.  While some database options are allowed most of the database options are locked down and controlled by the cloud vendor.

Who is in Charge 

Don’t let the acronyms scare you, the different acronyms are usually just shortcutted names for different cloud models. If you break the different models down it really comes down to who is in charge of what parts.  In SaaS, the cloud vendor handles just about everything involved and the user is just that, a user.  in PaaS, the company might be in charge of the application and the data while the cloud vendor manages everything else. In IaaS, the cloud vendors handle only the server and storage, and the customer worries about all the other layers.  IaaS is often the most similar to what many customers have in their own data centers.

I forgot to mention a new aaS that I heard recently,  XaaS was used recently on a slide deck that I saw. XaaS stands for Everything as a Service or Anything as a Service.  This usually incorporates all of the many different types of aaS.  It basically covers the gambit of all cloud offerings. In a way of thinking you could say that XaaS and cloud have merged into meaning the same thing.

Now that we have the different types of cloud services explained, in future posts, we will talk about the different cloud vendors in the market and see how their cloud products map out into the aaS models and why customers would choose certain options.


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