Cloud and SaaS: what's the difference?

June 11, 2024 - 2 minutes reading time
Article by Gerco Koks

The terms cloud and Software as a Service (SaaS) are still sometimes used interchangeably. Unjustified, because they are different concepts. In this article you will read what exactly is the difference and when you should choose what.

Traditional IT management

To understand what cloud or SaaS solutions are, it is important to first know what traditional IT management entails. This is a model of managing hardware, middleware and software locally (on-premises). For this form, organizations are responsible for purchasing, installation and configuration themselves. This includes managing servers, networks, storage devices, virtualization systems and application software applications. Organizations doing traditional IT management employ teams responsible for ensuring the availability, performance and security of all these IT components.

What is cloud?

The cloud (or cloud computing), on the other hand, is essentially an umbrella term for a wide range of IT management solutions that can be offered as a service. Often, access, configuration and management are made available over the Internet. The purpose of the cloud is to provide customers with access to computing capabilities without having to purchase and manage data centers and further infrastructure themselves. Organizations where IT is not part of the core business thus do not need an IT team, or a smaller one.

Types of cloud services

In general, we distinguish three types of cloud services. The table below explains these three types and reveals their distinctiveness from the IT management aspect.

So what is SaaS?

As you can see from the table, SaaS is the most comprehensive form of a cloud service. The provider manages the entire IT stack, from infrastructure to hardware to middleware to application software. The customer accesses the functionality through a Web browser or an app from a mobile device and is solely an end user.

A familiar example: instead of managing the entire mail solution itself, an organization can use a SaaS service, such as Microsoft Outlook. This makes email functionality available to the organization, and reduces costs to the cost of using the service.

So although cloud and SaaS are often conflated, they are substantially different. The cloud provides a range of IT management services over the Internet, and SaaS represents the most comprehensive form of these services. Not that complicated at all, actually!

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