Today we had our good friend from Microsoft, Shabaz, talk to our salespeople about various Microsoft technologies. He was using typical Microsoft PowerPoint decks that were describing the incredible work that Microsoft is doing with Azure. Microsoft’s love of acronyms was on full display when the discussion turned to IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. Many people will recognize these as Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Software as a Service. These are the three key ways Microsoft and other technology companies provide cloud services to their customers. I have discovered that even senior technical reps often have trouble describing the differences between these technologies (although Shabaz had no such problems.)
Shabaz was, however, using a Microsoft PPT deck to explain the differences, and the more I listened, the more I think the analogy Microsoft uses could be significantly improved. They talked about IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS in terms of baking a pizza. I won’t bore you with the details (my blogs are often too long,) but I will try to explain my modified version of their explanation to help you dear reader keep these three cloud strategies straight in your mind.
A Modern Fable – Let’s Get Cooking
Three friends are sitting in their college dorm room, discussing the three main food groups of all college students: pizza, pizza, and of course, pizza. “It’s the perfect food,” they declare. It is filled with meat, cheese, vegetables, and bread. The pizza includes everything a young college student needs to survive. (Authors note: my college roommate for my Freshman and Sophomore years was my best friend Neal, who order a Dominoes pizza every night for dinner!) They fantasized, “If we built our pizza parlor next to our dorm, we could eat pizza daily.”
Even though they have no money or jobs, they start thinking through the process of building their pizza parlor. They realize that the first order of business is to hire an architect to build the restaurant. They will need a well-stocked kitchen with a big brick pizza oven in it, and a front room filled with tables and chairs decorated with an Italian theme. The parlor would represent IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service.)
IaaS is about hosting the equipment you need online to conduct your business. Do you need a computer server? Need to send E-mail? Need a webpage? These are infrastructure pieces that you will need to get up and running for your business to get up to speed. Just having these systems running does not mean that you will start getting e-mail. IaaS provides the technology, but it does not work without the owner providing people to set up and run the systems. In the pizza parlor analogy, just because I have the building and the kitchen does not mean that it will all start making pizza automatically.
OK then, the second task will be to hire the cooks. Someone has to make and cook the pizza, using all the things that were set up with the Infrastructure. PaaS (Platform as a Service) includes all the Infrastructure in IaaS, plus it adds more resources to get the services up and running. If I am a business owner, but I do not want to build out my online servers and provide staff to keep the machines running in top shape, I would look at PaaS. In the Pizza world, I now have a kitchen, an oven, and the cooks who will make and cook the pizza. Even though this all is well and good, my customers are not allows to walk back into a working kitchen to get their food. We need someone to bring the food to them in the dining room (along with their bill.)
Lastly, we need to hire waiters and waitresses. These are the people who will go get the food, bring it out to the customers, and take their money. This, in cloud speak, is SaaS (Software as a Service.) SaaS is where the cloud vendor (Microsoft in our case) is providing not only the Infrastructure for our e-mail to run on (IaaS), as well as the administrators who will keep the systems running efficiently and free of spam and viruses (PaaS), but also will deliver the e-mail via Microsoft Outlook application (the waiters) to users. Businesses who use SaaS want full service, where all they have to do is pay the price and all their systems are working properly and delivered right to them. So with SaaS, we get pizza anytime we want in our restaurant.
IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS are different levels of service that customers can buy from cloud vendors, depending on how much work the customer wants to provide. If I have my staff to run my servers (the cooks) then I just need IaaS. If I don’t want to worry about setting up or maintaining the servers for my business, then I would get PaaS. If instead, I don’t want to have to do any work to utilize the technology, I could opt-in for SaaS. The decision is up to the customer. The more work my cloud provider has to do, the more expensive it is for my the customer, but the less worry I have because everything is being taken care of by Microsoft.
An so ends our modern fable. Do you just need a building to make pizza in? Get IaaS. Do you need cooks to help make and bake your pizza? Then get PaaS. Lastly, do you have wait staff to service your customers, bringing them the food and the bill? Go with SaaS.
Hopefully, this now gives you an easy way to differentiate the services that cloud providers like Microsoft offer.
Now, who’s hankering for a Chicago deep dish?