Your guide to the ‘as-a-service’ phenomenon

December 26, 20164 Minute Read

In a world of millennial IT users, it seems as though almost everything is moving to an on-demand model.

In doing so, it seems like the suffix ‘as a service’ is being attached to, well, everything. At the heart of this model is the ability to shift from a capital expenditure model to an operating one where IT teams don’t have to procure large amounts of equipment upfront. It also makes it possible to deliver the same kind of rapidly-delivered, user-focused technology that millennial IT users expect.

A lot of buzz, more acronyms

A 2015 report from Accenture and HfS surveyed 716 enterprise business buyers, advisors and service provider executives, and highlighted several broad benefits of the model. These included a shift from cumbersome legacy investments to ‘plug-and-play’ business services, and a focus on business-driven outcomes rather than contracts and service levels.

The concept has generated significant buzz—and an awful lot of acronyms. Here’s a quick walk–through of the as-a-service alphabet soup to help put some of the terms in context.

  • Software as a Service (SaaS): The acronym that spawned a thousand startups, SaaS refers to the provision of online software on a per-use or subscription basis. From Evernote to Freshbooks, these services help small and large businesses alike. The benefit for users? Specialist applications, accessible from any device, with no capital outlay or licences to worry about, and no local data storage to corrupt.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS): The problem with many SaaS offerings is that they’re a one-size-fits-all affair, aiming to satisfy most of the users most of the time. Many companies have specific requirements for their software, but don’t want to develop the whole thing from scratch or run it themselves. The answer for them is PaaS, which provides a basic framework for developing software, with the appropriate libraries and tools. Once they have configured it to their requirements, the PaaS vendor runs it for them.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): Some IT teams still want ultimate control, which means the ability to provision and configure virtual machines of their own and put whatever they want on them. IaaS providers offer them this capability. It’s worth noting that companies running their own private cloud infrastructures in-house can also provide IaaS internally using self-service platforms that allow users and developers to provision their own systems.

… And even more

SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS were the first three as-a-service acronyms, and they are still the most important and commonly used. Others tend to revolve around specific application-level functions. Here are some examples:

  • Desktop as a Service (DaaS): Running powerful endpoints with lots of storage and fully installed operating systems may increase performance, but it is expensive to maintain. DaaS replaces them with thin clients designed to run little more than a browser. All of the desktop software runs in the cloud instead. It’s the cousin of virtual desktop integration, which runs the desktops on a local server.
  • Security as a Service (SECaaS): Modern cybersecurity is hard. At the very least, IT teams must scan email and documents for viruses, and monitor outbound web traffic to ensure that employees aren’t visiting malicious sites. More sophisticated teams will have intrusion detection systems to prevent compromise. Companies finding this difficult to manage can rely on third-party service providers with constantly updated threat intelligence systems to do it for them.
  • Identity as a Service (IDaaS): Storing and security employee credentials and using them to check employee identities when they log on can be a daunting task for smaller firms. There are now service providers who will offload the entire process, managing your directory services, employee credentials and verification processes for you. They’ll offer not just password and two-factor authentication, but biometric verification too.
  • Monitoring as a Service (MaaS): How well-resourced is your IT team? Do your administrators have the time and expertise to spot and deal with critical systems events? MaaS tracks the state of your applications and infrastructure, delivering either real-time notifications should they exceed a threshold, or regular reports for later review.
  • Communication as a Service (CaaS): Even voice communications can be outsourced today. Companies need not run their own internal switchboards, but can have a service provider manage their voice calls using cloud-based software. This goes beyond simple voice communications (Voice as a Service), though, making instant messaging, videoconferencing and online collaboration possible.
  • IT as a Service (ITaaS): This can refer to the provision of an entire IT service by a third-party provider, but it can also involve an internal IT department. It’s a philosophy that caters especially to millennial IT users, treating them like customers. They can choose the IT services they want—often from a catalogue—and even self-provision them via a portal. In ITaaS, users choose and get exactly what they pay for, often forcing the internal IT team to compete with other service providers for the same business. It puts the customer at the centre of the conversation.

An evolving concept

As-a-service culture won’t change the world overnight, but it is gaining traction. In the Accenture/HfS study, in particular, four in ten organizations with under $1 billion in revenue were already using it to source their core enterprise services, or would be within two years. Another 43 percent said that they’d be there within five years. In that time, who knows how many more acronyms the concept will spawn?

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