Computing as a Service

The advent of cloud technology has seen massive shifts in both business and personal computing. In case you're a little hazy on the details, cloud computing is the practice of locating applications and data on third-party server space that's accessible over the Internet, rather than on your own hard drives or servers.

The technology has become extremely popular in a relatively short period of time. What many people may not realize is that there's more to cloud computing than your SkyDrive or Dropbox account. Usage of the cloud is making computing as a service possible on several different levels.

What is computing as a service?

This term is fairly synonymous with cloud computing. Computing as a service means that rather than investing in hardware, software, networks, and IT infrastructure, you pay to use someone else's equipment with the capacity you need. This is the essence of the cloud.

With computing as a service, you can enjoy the benefits of readily available software applications, or entire network systems, without the hassle of installation, maintenance, and upgrading. Additionally, you only pay for the applications, capacity, and storage space you actually use.

Depending on your needs, there are varying levels of computing as a service available.

Software as a service: Skip the licensing investment

For those who want access to powerful software but don't want to buy the full version or can't swing the upfront investment, there's software as a service, or SaaS. Many software vendors offer this type of arrangement—for a monthly fee, you can access the complete software platform through the Internet, and use it the same as if it was installed on your machine.

The most commonly known software as a service is probably Microsoft Office 365. There's also Salesforce, a popular provider of CRM software as a service. In addition to the big players and general software providers, there are plenty of industry-specific software vendors offering their products in SaaS form.

With SaaS, you can pay only for the licenses you actually use, rather than buying a bulk license for 50 or 100 machines when you only have ten. Because these services don't require a long-term contract, you can cancel whenever you don't need it, without having to pay software costs.

Platform as a service: Managing your OS for you

With platform as a service (PaaS), the vendor provides a managed operating system and offsite database that they maintain for you, so you can take resources typically reserved for configuring and maintaining your OS and dedicate them to development instead.

Most providers of platform as a service offer either Windows or Linux operating systems. Not surprisingly, Microsoft has one of the most popular PaaS offerings, which is Windows Azure. With platform as a service solutions, you can typically package SaaS and web hosting within the managed operating system.

Infrastructure as a service: All cloud, all the time

If you're heavy on IT needs but light on resources and physical space—or if you just want to save on IT costs—you might need infrastructure as a service. This all-inclusive offering means that the cloud service vendor provides the infrastructure, network, servers, and applications of your choice. Simply log on, and your network is there waiting for you.

Like the other services, IaaS charges a monthly fee. However, instead of a flat rate, you pay only for the capacity and storage you actually use. Infrastructure as a service is a flexible, scalable solution that can be extremely advantageous to the right company.

The benefits of computing as a service

Whether you opt for a little or a lot, just about anyone can benefit from using computing as a service. Some of the advantages include:

  • Lower cost. With no upfront hardware or software investment, the ability to avoid hiring a dedicated IT staff, and the space-saving benefits of not needing your own servers, businesses can enjoy substantial savings.
  • Higher mobility. Since computing as a service is structured through the Internet, you or your employees can access your business applications and data from PCs, laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
  • Great flexibility. Because you can add or subtract services as needed, computing as a service is highly scalable, and able to adapt to your needs as your business grows.
  • Time-saving. Skipping the software installation means that any added services will be available within minutes. Most cloud software vendors will handle any updates as well, so there's little to no downtime involved.

More businesses and individuals are turning to computing as a service to supplement or support their IT infrastructures. The convenience and cost savings are attractive, and the flexibility means that even the wary can take advantage of some aspects of this service, while keeping their existing infrastructures intact.