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Cloud computing can be broken down into roughly three categories. Many of us use simple cloud services on a daily basis without even realizing it, while enterprise customers utilize the cloud to host their entire infrastructure. Some cloud platforms offer a mix of proprietary development and applications, while others are simply subscription-based services. To designate these different forms of cloud computing, three terms have arisen, Saas, Paas and Iaas. These stand for Software-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service and Infrastructure-as-a-service, respectively. These terms, while they may seem confusing, can be found in the most popular services used by every day people.
Software as a Service is the most basic form of cloud computing. There is no third-party development or resources for the user, but Saas applications can offer powerful tools right from your web browser. The best example of Saas is Google Docs. Google Docs is a productivity-suite that is free for anyone to use. Creating a Google account is free, and all you have to do is login to google.com/docs and you instantly have access to a powerful word processor, spreadsheet application and presentation creator. These online services provided by Google are managed directly from the web browser and require zero installation. You can access your Google Docs from any computer or mobile device with a web browser.
Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, Salesforce.com and Freshbooks are all applications that qualify as Saas. All of these applications are either free to use, or offer more features at a paid subscription price. Another advantage of Saas applications is the ability to collaborate with others cheaply and from any location. If a company is seeking to customize a cloud service or create its own cloud applications, this will require the next step in cloud services known as Paas.
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