Not all clouds are born equal: IaaS vs. SaaS vs. Paas


I like to compare the different enterprise content management (ECM) cloud deployment types to my children playing with Legos.

We have a large box of Lego pieces that my children can use to build anything. My eldest daughter loves this ground-up style of playing and can make some fascinating creations – simply by combining raw bricks and her imagination.

This compares to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) in that all of the raw components to host a cloud solution are provided – servers, virtual machines, load balancers and so on. What is required is the guile and skill to combine these components (Lego bricks) with the required software tools (imagination) to create the desired effect.

The IaaS approach is not for the fainthearted, and tends to be used by those with high levels of technical competence and the desire for total control over the infrastructure and solution. (My daughter will be delighted to know that she has high technical competence as a Lego engineer!) From an ECM perspective, this is the option chosen for those who want to do their own hosting; perhaps for an organization that has already purchased an ECM solution, but wants to take it to the next level by combining it with the benefits of cloud.

IaaS Legos in a box with instructions

IaaS is the next progression, working at a slightly more abstract level. Here certain building blocks are already in place – operating systems, database servers and so on – allowing the user to build a solution much quicker, albeit with less freedom.

This is like my son playing with Legos – he likes to build the Lego models that come in a box, with instructions, and a fixed amount of pieces. He has less freedom than my eldest daughter, but still ends up with a Lego model at the end of the day.

Some ECM platforms work on a similar basis as this – the building blocks are available, along with some instructions (apparently) and the end user crafts solutions that fit their exact needs. There is still a major time investment required with this option to get the solution that you want, and many people don’t realize that. Instead, they end up with half-built, not-fit-for-purpose projects.

SaaS – a big box of Legos

Software as a Service (SaaS) is the most prevalent cloud model seen by end user organizations. In this case a solution has been pre-built – very little configuration is allowed. The scope of use/functionality may well be limited, but the solution can be used straight away.

This is much akin to my youngest daughter playing with Legos. She does not want to build models from the ground up, even with instructions (although in truth she is only 12 months old, so perhaps I’m expecting a little much). She is quite happy playing with the Lego car or train once someone else builds it for her.

The issue here is that the model built is limited; you can’t change the car into a helicopter, for example. It’s the same with SaaS ECM solutions – the functionality provided is not only fixed, but in many cases it isn’t actually that comprehensive. Indeed, many so-called SaaS ECM solutions are little more than simple scan, store, retrieve offerings with limited workflow, reporting, records management and integration capabilities.

The end user expectation for cloud is often that of a SaaS solution, but the truth is that the shrink-wrapped nature of this deployment model often leaves users with a solution that only delivers part of what they wanted. IaaS allows the user to craft exactly what they want, but requires effort. So neither really fits the bill.

A different model – flexibility

The OnBase Cloud sits in the middle of these two methods. It allows users to determine their ideal ECM solutions and then delivers it as a shrink-wrapped offering – but with all of the set-up, configuration and maintenance performed by Hyland.

It’s a bit like my youngest daughter wanting a brand new three-wheel motorcycle Lego toy. She knows what she wants, but doesn’t have the skills to build it, and no one is offering it as a pre-built model. In step the experts (normally a combination of my eldest daughter and son) to build a new model, defined by the customer and delivered as a finished piece at the end of the process. Everyone is happy!

In the same way that my children all have different Lego preferences and styles, each organization will need to select the best cloud approach for them. Large organizations with significant in-house IT expertise may wish to go with Platform as a Service (PaaS). At the other end of the spectrum, an SME will likely go with a SaaS solution because they do not have IT capabilities and just want to use a generic ECM solution.

However, for those who need to do things a little differently, the flexibility of the OnBase Cloud might just help them build the ECM masterpiece that they have been looking for.

David Jones

Dave brings over 20 years’ experience of working across the globe on projects ranging from enterprise content management (ECM) to Big Data, and for clients ranging from the BBC to... read more about: David Jones