“Anything” as a Service (XaaS) .. you knew this was coming ..

In the Cloud Computing world, where so many things are in flux, it should come as no surprise that virtually “anything” can (and will) be provided “as a Service”. For starters, we had (I go into more detail on this from my “Cloud Computing: IT as a Service” post):

  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service): Virtual, but logically-physical hardware. Servers in the sky that you can connect to remotely as though they were actual hardware. You expend a lot of effort into managing servers (imaging, patching, load-balancing, etc.), but have high flexibility as they support most types of existing applications you can deploy without rewriting or porting code.
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service): A virtual platform, where applications are deployed as services. You have next to no server management, and automagic scalability is built-in, but an existing application code must be written or ported into the new environment.
  • SaaS (Software as a Service): An application you customize / configure atop a base application, owned by the service provider. Some allow only configuration (tailoring organization- and and user-specific information), while others have higher levels of UI customization opportunities; think adding applications to Facebook or customizing your iGoogle or MSN home pages.

Then, realization and logical extension brought us (in no particular order):

  • IT as a Service (ITaaS): Standard IT applications, like Email, online file sharing,  online backup, online meetings online workspace collaboration and more.  The keyword here is ‘online’, of course, but these are commodity (common, and available from multiple providers) applications that every organization utilizes to one extent or another. ITaaS creates the opportunity for an organization to make a ‘rent’ versus ‘buy and maintain’ decision that can help them preserve capital.
  • Extended ITaaS applications grew out of the above and include online disaster recovery (backup plus online storage), online synchronization (synchronization plus online storage), online content sharing (photo uploads, players for slide shows plus online storage) and more. Thanks to Cloud Computing, any size company can offer value-added services to enable these functions, acquire customers and pocket the difference between what they collect from their users and their monthly Cloud Computing fees.

For background, let me discuss some earlier methodologies and new technologies:

  • Application programming interfaces (APIs): Command and content structures exposed by a software program to allow access by another program. APIs allow the second program to control and obtain data from the first. We’ve had APIs for years and years.
  • Web Services: APIs exposed to the Internet and accessible by web sites, web applications and other web services. Web services are used to provide data to most client applications .. odds are, your mobile phone gets weather data from one web service, bus information from another, and so on. I discuss this at length in “Composite Applications: Do You Use Them?”. The answer is: “yes”, though you may not realize it.

With these, evolution brings us to:

  • Content as a Service: Previously known as “web pages” (I’m kidding .. a little). Once a standard connection methodology (Web Services) allowed programmatic access to applications (via APIs), the sky becomes the limit. Content contained web pages and enjoyed by end users could now be mashed into other applications on other sites. The new content enhances the host application, making it a more valuable resource. Zillow is a good example of a site that does this: publicly-available data like maps and real estate tax records are mashed together with local multiple-listing services data (which may or may not be available at no cost), resulting in a site that displays map with home plats, taxes, prices and realtor references (and more) that the user can use to do research.
  • Data as a Service: Lots of companies have lots of accumulated data. Some accept the data in the form of online customer backups from their products, like Intuit (Quicken). Intuit could (I do not know if they do this) create an anonymous data warehouse with this end user data, assembling income and spending patterns by geography, and providing this data as a service to companies making business decisions about branch locations based on these criteria.

While assembling these data is only an API access away, creating and validating business use cases for these assemblies is the real magic in this cauldron. Many companies are providing programmatic access to composite content and data as a service, and for a price. Aggregators of these data (Microsoft’s Windows Azure Marketplace, for one) broker transactions and collect fees for data access. Virtually any company can buy and sell data through this kind of marketplace, making even more interesting business models.

There’s more (there always is). Applications as a service is a paradigm that has been around for a long time, but are now expanding into more fee- and transaction-based models, including those with API access.

Back to the original topic: Are we now in the world of ‘anything-as-a-service’? Does XaaS exist?

It does, and you’re using it .. even though you might not realize it.

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About Michael Coates
I am a pragmatic evangelist. The products, services and solutions I write about fulfill real-world expectations and use cases. I stay up-to-date on real products I use and review, and share my thoughts here. I apply the same lens when designing an architecture, product or when writing papers. I am always looking for ways that technology can create or enhance a business opportunity .. not just technology for technology's sake. My CV says: Seasoned technology executive, leveraging years of experience with enterprise and integration architectural patterns, executed with healthy doses of business acumen and pragmatism. That's me. My web site says: Technology innovations provide a myriad of opportunities for businesses. That said, having the "latest and greatest" for its own sake isn't always a recipe for success. Business successes gained through exploiting innovation relies on analysis of how the new features will enhance your business followed by effective implementation. Goals vary far and wide: streamlining operations, improving customer experience, extending brand, and many more. In all cases, you must identify and collect the metrics you can apply to measure your success. Analysis must be holistic and balanced: business and operational needs must be considered when capitalizing on a new technology asset or opportunity.

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