Don’t SaaS me! – What exactly is Software-as-a-Service?

August 15, 2017
Brandon S. Harter

In an era of ever expanding uses for our smart devices, we know that we rely to some extent upon cloud based services. (I almost said smartphones until I responded to a text on my Huawei Watch while typing that sentence). These come in many flavors such as software-as-a-service (SaaS or “sass”) platforms like Office 365 or Gmail or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS or “I don’t have any idea how to pronounce this so I call it i-a-a-s”) platforms like Amazon Web Services. But explaining the differences between these tools can be tough.

I recently ran across an article posted back in 2014 by Albert Barron, a senior software client architect at IBM who analogized these cloud offerings to pizza. This example was too delicious to pass up.

Traditional software licenses, such as Windows or Microsoft Offices, are a traditional on-premises solution. This is comparable to making a pizza from scratch at home. Your equipment, your ingredients, your labor.

At the other end of the spectrum are SaaS licenses, like Office 365. These tools do not require you to own an oven or know how to make the pizza. Just log into your web browser and enjoy the delicious pizza. Wait… I may be crossing my analogy with reality. (I really must stop writing about pizza at lunchtime). SaaS solutions take the pressure off the user to set up the system correctly. While the reliability of the SaaS vendor is critical, these solutions relieve you of the burden of maintaining a sophisticated IT infrastructure.

In between are platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and IaaS offerings that incrementally increase what the software provider brings to the table and decreases what you must manage on your own.

Which type is best for you? That depends on your company, the required infrastructure, and the strength of the vendors. Most companies, including our firm, uses a combination of these solutions. Considering signing a SaaS, IaaS, or PaaS agreement? Or planning to license your company’s software through one of these solutions? Give one of the attorneys in our technology law practice group a call for guidance on the things to watch out for!

Brandon Harter is an attorney and technology guru at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from William & Mary Law School and advises clients on issues of Business LawCivil Litigation & Dispute ResolutionMunicipal Law, and Information Technology & Internet Law.