I frequently find there’s more than a little confusion over what ‘cloud’ and ‘cloud platforms’ actually mean. So before we get into the relative product offerings, let me just quickly define terms. (Nothing so useful as a guide where you’re not quite sure what is being discussed).
With pure SaaS platforms the application or platform itself is a cloud service – by which I mean that the infrastructure is made for the cloud. You can only interact through it with APIs, and rather than owning it, you pay to use the model and the platform sits in the cloud, where you interact or customise it as you wish.
By contrast, a cloud-hosted model takes a pre-existing software application and offers a hosting service for it. This means, as with pure SaaS platforms, there is no need to set up the infrastructure. However, the platforms are modified for the cloud versions of an existing software.
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Pure SaaS platforms
Hosting options: Platform is version-less. The version of the platform that’s up there is it – rather than changing versions, the software vendor continually upgrades this single platform. This means, however, that new features are pushed to you, even if you didn’t request them, or decide that you don’t need them. It might be that features are incorporated at the wrong time for your business.
Maintenance: Although new features are rolled out to you automatically, you still need to check that these new features don’t clash with your existing site. The need to regression test the changes still exists, and you have no choice about what time to undertake this effort as you are not in control of when the new features are pushed.
New features: The depth of roadmap delivery may not be as extensive although there are new features typically each quarter, these go out to a live environment, so there is a greater need to consider backward compatibility. The vendor also has to ensure that all of their customers are not affected, which means that the rate of evolution may not be as progressive.
Hosting Costs: Hosting costs are included. This is great for clarity, but can mean that you are paying for extra server capacity that you’re not using.
Capacity: Any peak utilisation is managed by the cloud. You don’t need to worry about capacity.
Customisation: You have limited customisation. Intrigued about whether this is a good or bad thing, or just keen to read more? Read my recent blog on platform customization.
Hosting Options: Here you have flexible options about your hosting. Your platform is probably hosted on a private cloud, which means that you can tier different software hosting to suit your needs. The deployment architecture of your software can be customised more.
Maintenance: Some level of maintenance is now going to be required. This might be done through 3rd party application support, but potential issues such as capacity planning, disaster planning etc, need to be considered.
New features: You can skip versions but you have to be wary – skip too many versions and the gaps between versions become too big and any future upgrade will be tough.
Hosting costs: You pay for whatever hosting you actually use – although this does mean that your hosting costs need to be considered. With this type of platform comes commercial considerations of what your hosting costs are going to look like.
Capacity: Infrastructure can provide more servers dynamically to provide capacity.
Customisation: Software is fully customisable, as this type of platform allows for wider changes from the provider. Your cloud is your cloud, so you can make whatever changes to the software you want to suit your business.
Upgrades: Here, you manage when and if you want to upgrade. However, effort is still required on your side to ensure that there are no regressions or clashes if an upgrade is installed. You choose when to upgrade, but you still need to undergo a proper upgrade process to correctly onboard your new features.
Which platform is right for me?
Both pure SaaS platforms and cloud hosted platforms have an impressive range of features. Depending on your business needs, either could work – the key is to make sure that you are informed about the choices that you’re making and the commercial considerations on the software offering. As with all impactful decisions, it is vital to have all of the information available and to hand when making your choice.