Cloud Computing’s World of Acronyms: Enter at Your Own Risk

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What hasn't the high-tech industry done to the poor "Cloud Computing" moniker? For the past couple years or so, "The Cloud" has been hyped up like a LeBron James appearance, contorted like a Yoga-practicing Swami, poked and prodded again and again, and then hijacked by just about every apps vendor in the known universe.

Sucked up in the marketing vortex of cloud computing's hurricane were software-delivery models SaaS (software-as-a-service) and "Web-based" or "on-demand" computing. Along for the ride now—and further flummoxing market watchers and IT customers—are more aaS's: PaaS (platform-as-a-service) and IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service). (And don't forget about "private" and "public" clouds!)

Perhaps our favorite was the Governance-as-a-Service solution we heard about this winter. Yes, that's GaaS, friends. (But I digress.)

On occasion, it seems that even the most informed tech-vendor executives and marketing folks are just as confused as the rest of us. Or, perhaps even more insidious, they do know what they're saying—how they're bending truths and glossing over factual, technical inaccuracies—all in the name linking their product or service to The Cloud.

Defining cloud in the broadest of terms is not forbidden according to today's marketing rules. Many a vendor now calls any old app that runs via the Web a "cloud computing solution." (I'm actually doing "cloud blogging" right now!)

Nevertheless, it appears that The Cloud and its marketing-licious brood are here to stay. So what does it all actually mean?

In a new Forrester Research report, principal analyst Paul Hamerman provides definitions for each as well as examples of vendors that offer products and services in each category. It's a great place to start if you're a little overwhelmed by cloud lingo. Let's do it together!

First, this is how Forrester defines cloud computing:

Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

OK, I buy that. Then the report then drills down further into the mix:

  • Software-as-a-service (SaaS): Finished applications that are available on a rental basis.
  • Platform-as-a-service (PaaS): A developer platform that abstracts the infrastructure and middleware.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS): A deployment platform consisting of virtualized hosting services.

In addition, there are third-party vendors that sell hosting and application managed services (AMS). "These offerings typically consist of dedicated hosting plus outsourced application support," Hamerman writes, "and more recently, they may incorporate cloud IaaS technologies."

If you're still with me here, then let's look at a couple of vendors that are in the mix and what they actually offer.

Any IT pro is likely to hear from their vendor about their "cloud-based services," as Hamerman points out. Boiled down, this is IaaS served up by a third party. An example is Lawson Software's partnership with Amazon's Web Services Elastic Compute Cloud—Amazon EC2. EC2 hosts the infrastructure for Lawson's ERP customers who choose that option.

However, it appears some

vendors are playing fast and loose with the "cloud-based services" terminology. "Adding to the [marketplace] confusion are 'cloud-based' or 'on-demand' offerings that are actually SaaS applications," Hamerman writes. These include such vendors as:, Intacct and SuccessFactors.

Some of those true SaaS providers—such as NetSuite and—also offer a full array of cloud services, Hamerman writes, such as PaaS and IaaS.

(Really, I was trying to keep this simple.)

Hamerman points to ERP vendor UNIT4, which owns the Agresso Business World and CODA Financials software brands, which "announced its subscription-based IaaS deployment option, available as a multitenant or private cloud for the Agresso suite. UNIT4 also offers application managed services." Got that?

What about SAP and Oracle? What are they up to in the cloud?

This month, SAP will finally make generally available its much-heralded and long-delayed SaaS ERP application: Business ByDesign (ByD), which is a suite of ERP apps hosted by SAP partners. It also recently announced a partnership with Cisco, VMware, and EMC that will offer a virtualized cloud infrastructure service, notes Hamerman.

As for Oracle, that's an easy one: Oracle's most notable SaaS offering is its CRM application: Oracle CRM On Demand. It does offer a hosted, managed-service model called Oracle On Demand, but as Hamerman observes, "Oracle has historically downplayeSaaS as a software delivery and business model, preferring to offer its applications via a licensed, on-premises model."

Comments (1)

  1. brad says:

    I agree that vendors are liberally associating cloud computing with their products.  Another site that has definitions and examples of vendors in the cloud computing space is

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