Cloud computing has been around for a few years now, and at this point it seems evident that the question is no longer if you will move your business to the cloud, but rather when and how. Many software developers (including giants such as Microsoft) are already dramatically scaling back the development of desktop software applications, and new entrants into the software field are often skipping desktop applications altogether.

Before moving to the cloud, it is important to understand the difference between available cloud services, and determine which type of service is most appropriate for your situation.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS)

IaaS is the most basic (and flexible) of cloud services. It is essentially a self-service model that allows users to access, monitor and manage remote data centre infrastructures, eliminating the need for in-house systems. PaaS is the next step up in the hierarchy where operating systems and various other services are managed by the cloud service provider. The lines between IaaS and PaaS are becoming blurred, and most of the business oriented service providers no longer refer to these acronyms in their marketing materials. Providers in this space include big names such as IBM, Microsoft and Amazon. If ensuring that your data is stored in Canada is an issue, most of the major Canadian telco’s also have business cloud solutions with data centres located exclusively in Canada.

With these types of solutions business owners can continue to use the same software applications that they currently run (such as Microsoft Office or QuickBooks) without having to deal with issues such as hardware upgrades or network maintenance. Glossing over some technical considerations, think of this type of setup as being the same as your current IT configuration except instead of having that server in the closet, you are connected to it over the internet. Assuming that you have good internet connectivity, the end user will see virtually no difference between a cloud configuration, and how they use their current desktop applications.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS solutions are the fastest growing area of cloud services, and typically what most people think of when they talk about cloud computing. There are many players in this field (think of Office 360 or Quickbooks Online). The advantage to SaaS solutions is that not only do you no longer have to deal with hardware and network issues, but now even managing your software is taken care of for you. Software upgrades are a thing of the past, as you will always be using the most updated version, available to you anywhere you can connect to the internet.

The downside is that SaaS solutions are still not as robust as their desktop rivals – they will be sufficient for many smaller businesses, but if your requirements are more complex they may not meet your needs. It is also more difficult (though not impossible) to find providers that will ensure that your data is stored in Canada if this is a concern.

My View

Migrating to the cloud is inevitable. The concerns over data security in the cloud will soon be replaced by the realization that our data is far more vulnerable when held on local storage that is likely not state-of-the-art, with firewalls that are nowhere near as strong as a commercial data centre. Costs for cloud computing will continue to fall compared to the costs of maintaining a local network.

SaaS solutions are improving exponentially, and with the amount of capital being invested in their development, are likely to surpass the sophistication of their desktop countertops in the very near future. Ultimately, I believe this is where we will all end up, but if you can’t wait for applications that meet all of your needs, a hybrid solution may be the best in the interim.