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Cloud Computing Takes Off With SaaS

In 2013, enterprise organizations spent a great deal of time offloading servers into infrastructure-as-a-service or platform-as-a-service models. Software-as-a-service was just as popular, but you can look for the software-centric cloud to thrive as companies hand over more of the IT management reins.

IaaS and PaaS gained popularity primarily because they allowed organizations to test cloud providers without giving up complete control over managing applications. IT decision makers often pushed brand-new applications and services into a SaaS model, but they were hesitant to offload the full management of highly customized and mission-critical software in production. As a compromise, they experimented with IaaS and PaaS to offload infrastructure to a third party while allowing application-level management by in-house IT staff.

For many of us, 2013 proved that cloud computing was not only cost effective, but also reliable and flexible. Enterprise cloud adoption rates are staggering. Because of continued growth and customer confidence, cloud providers are hoping to transfer additional infrastructure services to the cloud while converting IaaS and PaaS customers into SaaS customers. And for enterprises that may cut IT budgets for the year, investigating cloud services is a logical place to start -- though there are a couple caveats.

When discussing the possibility of moving to a full SaaS model, IT managers must consider the level of expertise a particular cloud provider has with a specific piece of software. You can forget about cloud providers supporting homegrown or highly customized applications. SaaS models are far less flexible and tend to support generic configurations. Also, keep in mind that software updates and new feature releases will be performed when the provider is ready, not when you want them.

Another drawback to SaaS is that you must relinquish control of application security to your cloud partner. As IT security becomes increasingly important, some enterprises are figuring out that cloud providers aren't providing the level of security control and visibility that they would like. Instead, only the most basic level of security features are enforced -- on application front ends as well as backend databases.

When looking for a SaaS provider, make sure you choose one that offers flexible contracts that allow for specialized treatment of application-level security to keep data safe. It may cost more, but it could be well worth it in the long run.

In a sense, I've always viewed IaaS and PaaS as a set of training wheels for IT departments. These services give organizations the opportunity to migrate applications from in-house infrastructure and into the cloud. And now that many companies have grown comfortable with the idea of cloud computing, they will look to leverage cloud services even more. Despite concerns over software flexibility and security, the benefits -- and cost savings -- will likely outweigh most negative concerns. Say goodbye to PaaS and IaaS; we're moving on to SaaS.