Contemporary discussions about cloud computing typically revolve around the concepts of Infrastructure as a Service (Iaas), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). Amazon Web Services (AWS) constitutes the paradigmatic example of IaaS whereas Microsoft Azure aptly exemplifies PaaS while Salesforce.com illustrates SaaS. Where does Apple’s iCloud stand in relation to the Iaas, PaaS and SaaS trinity? Technically speaking, iCloud constitutes a SaaS application insofar as it represents a software product, delivered over the internet, that empowers users to:
•Synchronize photographs, music and iWork files across multiple devices such as iPads, iPhones and personal computers
•Remotely access iTunes or music files by matching them against iCloud’s online collection.
•Resume working where they left work on one device, upon opening a different one.
•Synchronize user settings such as passwords and browser settings across all devices.
•Enjoy free email, calendars and online storage.
•Leverage pushed updates to applications across all devices.
But taken as a whole, these features amount to a disruptive technology with the power to transform user relationships to personal computers in a way that the SaaS moniker fails to accurately capture. In other words, whereas cloud computing has traditionally acted either as a (1) platform for software development (IaaS or Paas); or (2) a mechanism for software delivery (Saas), iCloud promises to use cloud computing to create an infrastructure for personal productivity across PCs, Macs, iPads and iPhones. As Apple CEO Steve Jobs remarked in his keynote address at the 2011 WWDC conference, “We’re going to demote the PC and Mac to being a device. We’re going to move the digital hub into the cloud.”
Apple’s iCloud features all of the benefits that enterprises obtain from cloud computing in addition to some functionality specific to personal users. For example, just as enterprises often use cloud computing to harmonize updates across an ecosystem of machines, the iCloud serves the same purpose of keeping machines in sync. iCloud transforms the role of the personal computer from a platform for personal productivity to a means of inscribing upon a virtual environment for personal productivity. The personal computer becomes one point of access amongst many to an online space in which all of one’s personal productivity is performed. In other words, the iCloud promises to turn a cloud based, virtual environment into the fundamental plane for accessing music, pictures, writing, spreadsheets and more. Understood in these terms, the iCloud is less SaaS than an online space from which multiple SaaS applications originate and interact with a constellation of machines.
Read more about Apple’s iCloud, in Jobs’s own words, here.