Getting Your Head in ‘the Cloud’
Many print service providers have heard the term “cloud computing” and how businesses and consumers are turning to the “cloud” to access software. In reality, while there are core cloud computing definitions, many software vendors are playing fast and loose with their definitions, often using “the cloud” as the basis for marketing Web-based software solutions.
The “cloud” is a metaphor representing the Internet as a whole. It is a simple visualization to describe the complex network that we now tap into constantly in our day-to-day lives.
Cloud computing is an extension of that idea: harnessing and optimizing the power of Internet-enabled technology, including data centers and software, to offer more flexibility, scalability and sheer computing power to consumers, businesses, researchers and anyone else with Internet access.
The availability and affordability of such computing power, coupled with increasingly capable Web development technology, has led to the rapid development of software that is 100 percent accessed through a Web browser. This method of developing optimized, scalable, Web-based software is the basis for the concept of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
Figure 1: Software-as-a-Service Delivery Model
Software-as-a-Service, in addition to leveraging a cloud-computing infrastructure, has its own model for software delivery that allows a customer to “rent” or “subscribe” to software functionality as opposed to purchasing an application license. Unlike the typical software licensing model in which a piece of software has to be set up “on-premise” at a company’s location on its own IT infrastructure, SaaS-delivered capabilities typically only require a computer with Internet access and a Web browser; the product itself is maintained by the company offering it.
In most scenarios, pricing models for SaaS products consist of an initial subscription or set-up fee, along with ongoing monthly subscription or maintenance/support fees. Some companies will offer annual maintenance contracts similar to what is offered for licensed software products. These subscription or maintenance fees often cover general infrastructure costs, software upgrades and updates, customer support and bug fixes. In addition, depending on the scale of the product, there may be additional costs associated with add-on modules that are turned on for customers.