Arguments over the Semantics of the Cloud

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I read an interesting blog post by Tim Warner earlier this evening, and then watched as a strong debate over the post waged on Twitter.

Tim’s article actually has two points. The second half – the benefits of SaaS/cloud software – are pretty evident to most people now. The first two paragraphs were the ones that drew the Twitter comments.

To summarise Tim’s point, he was saying:

“Some of the more technical questions like “is it true SaaS?” often don’t really mean much to a customer.”

The counter-argument from the eminently respected Naomi Bloom was that these definitions are important, and that people shouldn’t use words like SaaS when selling software if it doesn’t meet the strict definitions of those terms. Naomi has her own definition of SaaS InFullBloom in which she spells out the criteria even more precisely.

My own opinion – not that it was requested by anyone – is that the reality is somewhere in between.

I also roll my eyes when someone obsesses over the exact meanings of cloud/SaaS/’true SaaS’ etc as I really don’t believe that customers care. They care that the price and the functionality is good, and that the systems are managed in the cloud by the vendor who also delivers regular updates rich with new functionality. Do customers worry if the database is multi-tenant or not? In the main, no, they do not.

I do differ from Tim’s opinion slightly with one of his sentences however. He says “If it’s not on-premises it’s SaaS”. I know this is me now focussing on exact meanings of definitions, but I think this one is important to the customer. There is an important distinction between the triumvirate of cloud/SaaS/’true SaaS’ and plain hosting. I could take an on-premises system and move it to some rented physical servers from Rackspace. This is plain hosting and offers few of the benefits of the other three options (eg. elasticity of resources, economies of scale cost reductions, subscription pricing etc). 

So in summary, I think there are important differences for customers between on-premises deployments, hosted deployments and cloud/SaaS/’true SaaS’ systems. However the differences in semantics between cloud, SaaS and ‘true SaaS’ are less important to most of the customers that I’ve encountered.