Although there are lots of different letters you can put in front of “as a service”, there are typically three that everybody agrees about. The following picture sums these up:
In this article we will look into some of the top providers in these three areas.
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) providers
One of the biggest and most well known in this category is Amazon with its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). It of course started out as a company selling books, CD’s and DVD’s through the internet, but they realized that a lot of their computing resources were doing nothing most of the time, just waiting for the holiday season to hit its peak. Renting this capacity to others through the internet turned out to be a very good business model. Their current portfolio is really big and diverse, which makes it a bit daunting to start using it.
Another big player in this area is Rackspace. They started out as a regular hosting provider, renting out space in their racks, providing managed hosting and dedicated servers. In the last year they have moved into the cloud business as well and are doing just fine. One of the things might just be that their offering is more understandable than Amazon’s and their lowest prices are a lot better as well.
Third on our list is Joyent. This company has been delivering cloud computing services even before the term was there to describe it. Their portfolio is quite big, and it is not limited to IaaS either. They do seem to lack in public relations, because they are not as well known as the first two IaaS players.
Fourth on our list is GoGrid. Like the other IaaS providers, GoGrid offers virtual machines to be rented by the hour, but they also offer dedicated servers for specific tasks that tend to be slow on virtual machines, such as databases. They call this setup a hybrid cloud, but this seems to be confusing because this term is also used for a mixture of a private and a public cloud.
The final name on our list of IaaS providers is Terremark. They target two different types of users: the type that wants to have resources available quickly without a lot of hassle, and the type that wants to have a solid and secure environment that can run enterprise applications. For the second type of user, they provide dedicated resource pools and integration with private networks.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers
The company with probably the biggest cloud of its own, also provides cloud services in the form of PaaS. Google App Engine is a framework that allows you to build software in Python or Java that is automatically distributed and scaled as necessary on the cloud. If you have the luxury of writing new applications in one of these two languages and want to adhere to the Google way of programming, this is one to take a look at.
Another really big name in this area is Microsoft. With their Azure platform, they want to give Visual Studio programmers the ability to build software for the cloud as easily as for real servers in the datacenter. There are currently two types of cloud service: Windows Azure, the operating system as an online service, and SQL Azure, a fully relational cloud database solution. If you are familiar with the Microsoft development tools and want to take the cloud for a spin, this is where yo start.
Last on our list of PaaS providers is force.com. Created by salesforce.com, the company that grew big by providing software on demand. They started out with subscription fees, but are moving to a pay-as-you-go model. Force.com is a development platform that allows users to build business applications in the cloud. If you are willing to create software that only works in the force.com cloud, this is a simple start into cloud computing.
Software as a Service (SaaS) providers
First on our list is Google Apps, not because they have the widest range of applications, but because they are probably the best known for their web-based offerings. These include of course their e-mail service, calendar, document editor, spreadsheet, and some others.
Second on our list is salesforce.com. They provide CRM software on-demand and started out with subscription fees, but are moving to a pay-as-you-go model. Currently they offer two SaaS services: Sales cloud and Service cloud. The first contains accounts, contacts, leads, quotes, etc. The second contains a customer portal, knowledge base, analytics, etc.
Last on our list is zoho.com. This company might be less known than Google and salesforce.com, but they offer much more types of applications that you can try out for free. These include an e-mail service, document editor, presentation tool, invoicing, reporting, applicant tracking, and many more. You only start paying for these services when you want to use the more advanced features.