Defining the Cloud vs. Multi-Tenant SaaS…Yet Again

I received a comment/question on my last post.  The individual asked me to explain how Microsoft is more application-centric in its cloud vision, and to better define my definition of the cloud. I responded in the comments section, but I liked my definition so much I wanted to make a post out of it.

Below is my knee-jerk response…I think most of it makes sense in defining true cloud computing vs. multi-tenant SaaS providers stealing the term for their own devices…

…The true essence of cloud is about scalability, and utilizing resources as needed. You can argue that a per-user licensed concept like CRM is anathema to what the cloud promises. What I mean is – the cloud is a delivery platform for either computing resources or applications. The apps themselves are NOT clouds or cloud computing. There is nothing you can do with Salesforce.com (or any other SaaS CRM) that you cannot do in any other environment – actually you have less power in a monolithic multi-tenant cloud environment because you are fixed to the vendor’s resources, SLA and terms of service. The cloud is a limiter, not an enabler here.

Now, if you take a product built for the open cloud such as SugarCRM – now you have choice. Choice in deployment options (public cloud, private cloud, vendor-hosted, partner-hosted etc.) – and you have various access levels therein. And, when needs change, you can move from one cloud environment to another. That limits risk, and opens up options for greater (or less) access, control, costs, as needed. None of the old multi-tenant SaaS products can do this – as they are tethered to that singular, limited environment. It is not a “bad” thing necessarily – but it is simply a limitation and NOT indicative of the openness and portability I associate in my definition of true cloud computing.

How does Microsoft fit in? They are creating an environment that is well suited for application deployment, development, or both. Instead of taking a Salesforce.com lock-in approach and saying “only Microsoft apps are going on Azure!” they realize the value of true, open clouds and are saying “come one, come all!” because it is the flexible, scalable environment (not the lock-in app strategy) that will enable the cloud concept to thrive among businesses of all sizes.

To put it more shortly: Clouds are operating environments that enable users to either scale compute power or deploy applications without having any infrastructure in-house.

Multi-tenant SaaS is NOT cloud computing, it is just a delivery model for static, traditional applications.

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