One cloud provider offers his view of the competitive infrastructure sky

Vendors compete on three types of cloud computing models.

Sinclair Schuller, CEO of software-as-as-service cloud platform Apprenda, recently offered me a view of the infrastructure sky as he sees it. His customers are primarily independent software vendors looking to convert their wares to a SaaS offering. I found his viewpoint to be interesting in helping enterprises navigate though the confusing cloud-filled sky. He divides the cloud into three areas, raw compute power (which he calls infrastructure-as-a-service), an app platform delivered as a service, and the traditional software-as-a-service model. He penned this guest column which details his taxonomy.

Much like most of today’s infrastructure and software models, the cloud model is developing in a layered, stack-wise fashion. The bottom-most two layers in the cloud stack, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS), have evolved to provide a significantly lower capital investments in moving applications to the cloud by being able to provision infrastructure in an on-demand fashion, a way to fine tune infrastructure capacity to meet demand requirements, and provide access easily to enterprise grade infrastructure.

IaaS Players v. PaaS Players

IaaS players such as Amazon, Rackspace and GoGrid are offering fine grained application building blocks such as storage and raw compute in the cloud (e.g., S3, Elastic MapReduce), as well traditional server infrastructure offered up as virtual machines (e.g., EC2) where IT can call up new server infrastructure with a few clicks. PaaS offerings such as Google AppEngine and Microsoft Azure have taken it a step further and evolved offerings that attempt to bring popular runtimes such as Python and Java (Google) as well as .NET (Microsoft) to their respective clouds so that code can be uploaded and executed without worrying about any of the underlying infrastructure pieces.

The cloud stack described so far has proven to address problems related to infrastructure provisioning and simplification of getting code to run in the cloud – all of which are naïve to the delivery paradigm shift of SaaS that requires companies to offer their software in a centrally distributed fashion to customers who will pay for and use the service.

SaaS challenges

SaaS delivery has lots of challenges -- scale-out, multi-tenancy (how to allow many customers to efficiently and safely share the same, single application footprint so that my COGS and incremental delivery costs are a few pennies on the dollar rather than a few dimes on the dollar), commercialization (charging for a service and tracking access and usage rights based on payment) and operational management. Services like Salesforce.com’s Force.com and Apprenda’s SaaSGrid attempt to solve those challenges, but in slightly different ways.

SaaSGrid is a cloud application server that can be layered either on-top of offerings such as EC2, or on-top of traditional data-center hardware. It attempts to ease the application provider’s engineering of multi-tenancy and linear scale-out, with little to no effort on the part of the application provider. It eases pricing and provisioning through a few button clicks in a web portal. No burden to IT professionals, no burden to the organization.

Salesforce.com through its Force.com PaaS have thrown out the notion of layering best of breed offerings on top of each other in a stack and instead offer a “vertical cloud” as a holistic silo, complete with a new custom programming language and execution environment running on-top of a “canned” infrastructure offering.

To make the right decisions when it comes to building a SaaS offering, companies need to understand the cloud stack. If you have extremely simple applications that could benefit from extending an existing CRM system and gaining access to Salesforce.com’s customers choose Force.com. If you have existing .NET code or no .NET code and a team with .NET skills, you might want to take a look at offerings like SaaSGrid layered on top of IaaS vendor offerings.

The cloud has much to offer. With a little effort in understanding where each solution belongs in the cloud stack, every CTO can make the right decisions and build a successful SaaS business in the cloud.

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