You may use the acronym SaaS, and you may know what it stands for, but do you know what it means? What it does? Do you get confused by the other ‘aaS’ terms, like IaaS and PaaS? If so, then read on! This article will explain what SaaS is and why you’ll want it.

These terms are relatively new, but the concepts behind them are not. In fact, early mainframes used the same model. Users accessed a central computer through “dumb terminals” (keyboards and monitors only). Likewise, the first World Wide Web consisted of university mainframes sharing data through dial-up message boards.

Software ownership took hold with the spread of personal computers, both at home and at work. The growth of personal computers in the workplace meant growth in IT costs. Traditional software required purchasing a license you would own, much like you own a car or other asset. And, like a car, you had to have certain things to make it work, like a place to park it (server), a way to maintain it (IT staff), and a plan to upgrade it after a while (disk space). All of these functions have related costs. For software, this means you would be charged for networks, servers, disk space, IT staff, and so on.

As maintenance became more burdensome, the market responded. Virtual machines and virtual desktops centralized the storage, memory, and computing resources. Users accessed the virtual desktops through “thin clients,” much like the dumb terminals used with mainframes. Now, you don’t have to own the software to access it — that’s where ‘as-a-service’ comes into play.


Here is where thing gets more interesting. SaaS, or Software-as-a-Service, is like Uber—something you don’t own but simply use for a time. The Uber driver maintains the car, puts gas in the tank, and makes upgrades as needed. You call the service when you need it.

With SaaS, a software vendor maintains the software and provides access to it through the internet via a web browser—no installation required. SaaS provides the benefits of low up-front costs, no maintenance, and no commitment. The long-term cost benefit depends on many factors each person should consider. Those factors could include number of users, custom requirements, data privacy, etc.


Let’s stick with the vehicle analogy. Perhaps you want to drive yourself, but you still don’t want the hassle of maintenance, nor the overhead costs of ownership. What would you do? You could lease or rent a car. This is the idea behind IaaS, or Infrastructure as a Service. You gain access to virtual servers in the cloud and use those servers for whatever you need. The same way a car rental company for a vehicle you lease maintains the vehicle you’re renting, the cloud hosting company is responsible for all servers, maintenance, and networking. This option also allows you to expand the capacity of servers as needs grow—like renting a truck so you can move to a new house.


What if you don’t want to drive or be driven by someone else, but you do want the benefits a vehicle provides? For example, say you need to move your stuff to a storage unit but you don’t want to buy or rent a truck. You would pay someone to move it for you. This would be Platform-as-a-Service, or PaaS. The most common example of this is a cloud-hosted database. You don’t want to maintain a database server—you just need the data stored and delivered on demand.

Although these concepts have been around for a long time, they’re now growing in sophistication and popularity with the advancement of cloud-based options and security. It’s important to know the difference between the methods people use to access and deploy software so you can make informed decisions about what works best for you and your business. Welcome to the “gig economy!”


Author: Warren Bean, Product Development Manager at Zasio Enterprises, Inc.