Software-as-a-service (SaaS) is a form of cloud computing that delivers an application—and all its underlying IT infrastructure and platforms—to users. It can be an ideal solution for businesses or individuals that:
- Do not want the responsibility of maintaining infrastructure, platforms, and software.
- Have challenges that require minimal customization to solve.
- Favor software subscription models.
SaaS reduces users’ upfront costs by eliminating the need to permanently purchase software or invest a robust on-premise IT infrastructure—although users should invest in fast network hardware, since service performance is determined by internet conncetion speeds.
Examples of SaaS include consumer-facing services like Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365, as well as enterprise services that deliver human resource software, content management systems, customer relationship management tools, and integrated development environments (IDEs).
How does SaaS work?
Typically, a cloud service provider manages the software. Software updates, bug fixes, and other general app maintenance are taken care of by the provider. Users interact with the software through a web browser or use application programming interfaces (APIs) like REST or SOAP to connect the software to other functions.
Most SaaS applications are preconfigured plug-and-play products where the SaaS provider manages everything behind the app, including:
The SaaS model
SaaS offerings largely rely on subscription models. This software delivery model ties each account to a subscription that grants SaaS access for a period of time—usually on an annual or monthly basis. That subscription fee generally grants access to product documentation and limited tech support, but some SaaS providers charge additional support fees to make custom code changes at the source code level.
PaaS vs IaaS vs SaaS
The term as-a-Service generally refers to a solution that is managed by someone else so you can focus on what’s important, like iterative improvements of custom apps. In addition to SaaS, other major as-a-Service options can include Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS).
IaaS means a provider manages the infrastructure for you—the actual servers, network, virtualization, and storage—via a cloud. The user has access to the infrastructure through an API or dashboard, and the infrastructure is rented. Users manage things like the operating system, apps, and middleware while the provider provides the hardware, networking, hard drives, storage, and servers—and the provider is responsible for taking care of outages, repairs, and hardware issues.
PaaS provides hardware and an application-software platform to users from an outside service provider. Since users handle the actual apps and data themselves, PaaS is an ideal solution for developers and programmers. PaaS gives users a platform on which to develop, run, and manage their own apps without having to build and maintain the infrastructure or environment that apps need to run.