What is software as a service?
Software as a service (SaaS) is a software delivery model in which the user has access to one or more software products offered through the Internet. It is a cloud-based option, meaning that it requires no maintenance or updating on the part of the user, as these services are provided by the supplier.
Software as a service should not be confused with the managed IT services model, although both are modes of technology service delivery. Managed IT services encompass a broader range of technology services, such as the management of software and other specific elements of IT systems.
Traditional Software versus Software as a Service
- Cost: Traditional software involves a one-time purchase, while SaaS uses a subscription model.
- Updates: Traditional software requires download and may require purchasing, while with SaaS, updates may require download.
- Infrastructure and storage requirements: With traditional software, the program and all files related to it are stored directly on a user’s computer. With SaaS, web-based programs have no storage or infrastructure requirements, while app-based programs only require storage of the application.
- Accessibility: With traditional software, accessibility features are only available on the computer where the program is installed. With SaaS, accessibility features are available on any internet-connected device.
Software as a service, platform as a service and infrastructure as a service: what's the difference?
When learning about cloud computing, there are a few important terms to remember. These include Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Software as a Service. First, let's talk about information technology or IT. Its infrastructure can be likened to a vehicle. When you buy a vehicle, you're responsible for its maintenance and you can buy a new one if you wish to upgrade. Infrastructure as a Service is like leasing a car. When you lease a car, you choose the car you want and drive it wherever you wish to, but the car isn't yours. Want an upgrade? Just lease a different car! Infrastructure as a Service offers organizations the use of a basic computing platform. In other words, it is a virtual data centre that generally includes the following features: Website or application hosting: You can run your website or application with the help of Infrastructure as a Service. Virtual data centres: Infrastructure as a Service is the best solution for building virtual data centres for large-scale enterprises that need an effective, scalable, and safe server environment to store data. Data analysis: Analyzing huge amounts of data requires incredible computing power; Infrastructure as a Service is the most economical way to get it. Infrastructure as a Service provides major advantages, such as no need to buy hardware infrastructure. Vendors provide and maintain hardware infrastructure: servers, storage, and networking resources. This means that organizations don't need to invest in expensive hardware. It's scalable, reliable and secure. Although all cloud-based solutions are scalable, this is particularly true of Infrastructure as a Service, as additional resources are available in case of higher demand. Apps can also be scaled down if demand is low. Vendors need to provide infrastructure that ensures the security of their cloud service. Major Infrastructure as a Service providers used by the Government of Canada include the following: Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Oracle, Salesforce, ServiceNow and ThinkOn. In our government context, who does what in Infrastructure as a Service? The government manages hosted applications, development and management tools, and the operating system. The vendor or cloud service provider manages servers and storage, networking resources, and the data centre. Platform as a Service is like taking a taxi. You don't drive the taxi yourself, but simply tell the driver where you need to go and relax in the back seat. Platform as a Service precludes the need to manage the underlying infrastructure, usually hardware and operating systems, and allows you to focus on the deployment and management of applications. Platform as a Service examples used in the Government of Canada include Salesforce and Google App Engine. As cloud providers are adding new features, the differences between Platform as a Service and Software as a Service are becoming increasingly blurred. Who does what in Platform as a Service in government? The government manages hosted applications. The vendor or cloud service provider manages development and management tools, the operating system, servers and storage, networking resources, and the data centre. Software as a Service is like traveling by bus. Buses have assigned routes, and you share the ride with other passengers. Software as a Service is also known as "software on demand" and provides you with a completed product that is run and managed by the service provider. You don't have to think about how the service is maintained or how the underlying infrastructure is managed, but only about how you will use the software. Software as a Service is a subscription service, making it more affordable than purchasing licenses. And it's usually fast, with the application ready to go as soon as you get your login and password. However, buyer beware! It is important to know the boundaries, protocol, and who to talk to before signing up for any Software as a Service. For example, your Software as a Service may require Infrastructure as a Service, and some may be a security risk. Email services like Gmail are a familiar example of Software as a Service. Microsoft 365 is one example that is being implemented across the Government of Canada. Who does what in the Software as a Service in our government context? The government (which might mean you as an individual employee) manages software setup, including user IDs, passwords and access control. The vendor or cloud service provider manages hosted applications, development and management tools, the operating system, servers and storage, and networking resources. Let's summarize. In all service models, the management of where you want to go is your responsibility. You plan your route and stop or get on and get off as you please. So before planning your "as a service" trip, be sure to know your destination and map out how you want to get there. One final note. If the vehicle analogy doesn't work for you, take a few minutes to search online for an analogy that resonates. Pizza as a Service is a popular one but be forewarned that it just might make you hungry!
As mentioned above, software as a service is a complete product, operated and managed by the service provider. The service provider is responsible for updating the software, ensuring its security, and ensuring that services are improved every year. In addition, the client no longer needs to dedicate buildings to its services and software, which considerably reduces costs.
However, cloud computing offers much more than SaaS. Among the various services offered, there's also platform as a service (PaaS), which deals with the deployment and management of applications. This provides access to a platform for creating applications, carrying out web development and managing other programming projects. It is often the fastest way to create and deploy applications.
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), on the other hand, is a computing platform that provides access to virtual data storage centres. Under such a service agreement, the provider manages the infrastructure, but the client manages the software and applications.
The differences between software as a service, platform as a service and infrastructure as a service lie in the type of resources offered, the deployment and billing methods, and the specific utility of each service. To make an informed decision, you need to determine your needs and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each service.
Advantages and disadvantages of software as a service
- The client generally does not have to worry about updating the software supplied.
- Software is easily accessible through an Internet subscription.
- Most software as a service solutions give clients the flexibility to modify the service to suit their needs.
- Software as a service involves risks of interruption and technical problems. For example, in the event of an interruption, clients may no longer have access to their data or, in rarer situations, may lose data and documents.
- A software as a service provider may change its cloud service provider or geographic location, or switch to another software as a service, without consulting the client. In the context of the Government of Canada, such changes may mean that the service no longer complies with certain privacy laws and policies.
- Updating software as a service may result in changes where the service no longer meets the client's expectations in terms of capacity, efficiency or cost.
Software as a service in the Government of Canada
Like many companies and organizations, the Government of Canada uses a variety of software to improve the services it provides, for a variety of reasons. Here are a few examples:
- Microsoft Office 365, to increase productivity and facilitate collaboration
- Google Workspace, to facilitate email communication and collaboration
- Adobe Creative Cloud, to facilitate graphic design and video editing
- Miro and Airtable, to facilitate collaboration
- Cloud security software, to protect sensitive information
Things to keep in mind
Although software as a service is relatively inexpensive, there are security risks associated with it, and you need to be aware of its limitations and how to use it, as well as who to contact for support. More specifically, rigorous management and awareness-raising are essential to prevent the proliferation of software purchases.
Find out more
As a manager or executive, do you have to approve the use of software as a service? Planning for GC Cloud (DDN211) includes a checklist to help you manage decisions and approvals related to software as a service. See also the GC Cloud for Managers and Executives Learning Path (DDN1-PA1) to learn more about cloud computing in general. This learning path will provide you with the foundation you need to support the Government of Canada’s transition to cloud-based services as part of your organization's mandate. The content of the learning path has been designed both as a learning product and as a resource to be consulted as needed.
- Course | Discover GC Cloud (DDN104)
- Course | GC Cloud for Managers and Executives: Planning for GC Cloud (DDN211)
- Course | GC Cloud for Managers and Executives: Supporting the Procurement of GC Cloud (DDN212)
- Course | GC Cloud for Managers and Executives: Enabling the Deployment of GC Cloud (DDN213)
- Course | GC Cloud for Managers and Executives Learning Path (DDN1-PA1)
- Course | Embracing the Cloud for Business Efficiency (DDN110)
- Article | What is cloud?