The idea of cloud computing has been around for decades, but its implementation came about relatively later in the internet age. In a way, cloud computing is just another evolutionary step in what s referred to as Web 2.0, in which we have more user-generated content and better, more dynamic methods of communication.

What makes up the cloud computing arena are services that are often described as acronyms that may seem foreign to you if you aren t already familiar with the world of cloud storage and services. It s important to know what the difference is between PAAS, IAAS and SAAS so you can make smart decisions for your business.

Before internet-based services, end users and companies alike would purchase physical hardware to hold data and physical copies of software to use. Now you can purchase virtual licenses to use these services   and it doesn t have to cost thousands of dollars. Many cloud computing services are pay-as-you-go, so you can pay to use a service monthly or annually.

Platform as a Service - PAAS
In an ever-changing world of mobile applications and services, developers have to stay on top of the latest in programming languages and code, and they need a place to design and develop their apps and programs. Google App Engine and Microsoft Azure are good examples of PAAS providers. If your business requires your developers to create new applications and work on projects together, a platform as a service could be the solution for you. However, if your devs need to use a programming language that is not supported by a PAAS or you aren t comfortable with storing proprietary content outside of your in-house servers, you should stick to traditional methods of software development.

Infrastructure as a Service - IAAS
This is the backbone of cloud computing   the foundation. If you ve ever used Dropbox, you ve used infrastructure as a service, or IAAS. The company offers users storage services, or virtual hard drives. Often IAAS  are free to a point. Once you or your business start using more storage space or bandwidth, Dropbox starts charging a fee. Many PAAS also serve as cloud infrastructure.

Software as a Service - SAAS
Software as a Service, or SAAS, is the most commonly used cloud computing among businesses and end users. Many types of SAAS exist that eliminate the need to purchase physical software, which also eliminates the need for manual updates or fixes. Microsoft Office 365 is a good example of a SAAS. Small businesses in need of software like this can pay a low fee per user per month with an annual contract, which reduces costs   a necessity for any business. Basecamp is another example of an SAAS   a project management tool that an enterprise pays for monthly per user, and it can be used from a browser from any computer, not like in the old days when the software and license could only be used on the computer it was installed.

Cloud computing offers small businesses, large enterprises and their employees freedom to create, design, collaborate and work without being tied to desks, computers, offices or licenses.

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