As an old supply chain leader (professionally pre-Gartner days) I was drawn to an article that appeared in my inbox, written to a supply chain user: “Fundamentals of Cloud Computing – What is SaaS, PaaS, IaaS and How They Affect Your Business“. I was drawn to this due to my focus on how firm’s can leverage IT (think cloud computing) to drive innovation and productivity. But after reading the article I was left with at least two gaps.
First I have to say that it’s a reasonable article. It captures about 2/3rds of what you need to know about what the ‘cloud’ is. This helps at a high level. In fact much aligns with generally accepted understanding by the wider market. But from where I sit, a non-technical business leader that looks at how dat fuels business processes and apps, spanning lots of systems and cloud services, I feel that there are some significant gaps that ultimately lead to different decisions and different outcomes. One aspect will add another key component to the cloud ‘stack’; the second will alter that way the various parts should be viewed and this changes (or should) CEO (and other business leaders) and CIO investment plans.
From a stack perspective, the article asks, “What is SaaS, PaaS, IaaS?” Conceptually these three cloud elements comprise:
- SaaS business apps
- PaaS custom apps via application development
- IaaS elastic storage and compute
These layers make sense. They are also sold by vendors to very different roles. For example, SaaS is really a business dialog about standardized business process support, otherwise known as multi-tenant SaaS. Single tenant SaaS or hosted apps do not offer as much long-term profits to vendors.
PaaS is most often sold to technologies since it is seen as supporting application development. But what does app development offer? It provides a means for businesses to deploy or access unique, customer business apps. This is therefore a message related to innovation and differentiation.
Finally IaaS is actually about infrastructure. It is all about elastic storage and compute. This offers IT a more economic route for securing core IT services; and it also offers business users the ability to process almost unlimited amounts of data.
But these three “layers” they are incomplete and miss something that happens to be core to every organization and also happens to be very hot in the market today. Data is missing. Analytics are missing. So data as a service, or DaaS, is the missing layer.
Data or the analytics on data augment either standardized business processes, supported by SaaS, or unique or differentiated business processes, supported by PaaS. Yes, Daas solutions could be built with PaaS using IaaS; SaaS solutions could equally be built using PaaS and IaaS. This is not relevant. Data and analytics is as different as standard or custom apps as chalk is to cheese. And this new layer may make more sense once you explore the second flaw in the article.
The second question asked is, “How They [SaaS, PaaS and IaaS] Affect Your Business?” If we assume the stack is incomplete is it fair to assume that answer to this question is accurate? Let’s look at what the underlying technologies do.
- SaaS supports standardized business process. There is no source of differentiation in these business processes. The whole point of SaaS is standardization.
- PaaS is the app dev platform that allows for custom business process support. Currently the market associates this with either unique one-off business models or narrowly defined personal productivity offerings. In the future PaaS will help users build and deploy systems of innovation and systems of differentiation that extends SaaS apps.
- IaaS is the quintessential cloud offering. This is what cloud was originally about: elastic storage and compute. This IaaS enables SaaS and PaaS to work faster, cheaper, and more broadly.
The gaps should be self-evident by now.
Data is used in apps. Data is used to power analytics and AI. Thus owning data seems pretty important. Additionally analytics offer an ability to add differentiated or innovative change to either standardized apps or custom apps. This leads to an interesting viewpoint that is definitely not mainstream. Most industry pundits argue that vendors with a strong IaaS offering should offer PaaS capability due to a strong complementary relationship. If you are a business person this is counter-intuitive. Business processes and analytics are closer together than business processes or analytics to infrastructure.
This leads me to conclude that the battle of the cloud has not even got going. The battle for the infrastructure is over. Who cares? The battle for the business process is about to begun.