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Sassy SaaS Lingo: When Is the Right Word Right?

How many names can you think of for cloud computing? Take a moment.

Are you ready? Here's what I come up with: Cloud computing. Application service provider (ASP). Managed service provider (MSP). Outsourced. On-demand. Hosted service. Software as a Service (SaaS). And let's not forget Microsoft's personal entry into the list, Software Plus Services (S+S), a name about which I've commented before.

I'm sure there are other names; feel free to tell me what they are. The reasons for this plethora of designations are probably due both to the fact that the concept has been developing over quite a few years, plus the fact that the idea has really taken off and grown dramatically over the last year or two—an overnight success after a lengthy gestation period. As companies, such as Microsoft, look to put themselves forward in this arena, they come up with terminology they feel will make them distinct from their competitors. That's only natural: It's called marketing.

But if you look at my list again, I think you'd agree that many of these terms have subtle—or not so subtle—variations of meaning. For instance, the term outsourced might bring up negative connotations—sending jobs overseas to places such as India. (A sidenote: It's interesting when I talk to service providers these days how some of them are highlighting the fact that all their workers are US-based because that could be a factor on which some prospective clients might base a decision. For instance, I spoke yesterday with representatives of a company called Movêro Technology that provides complete lifecycle management for mobile devices as a hosted service, and one of the things they pointed out was that in addition to having support available at any time, all their support technicians were trained, certified, and based in the United States.)

Other off-center terms from my list: ASP and MSP actually refer to the providers, not the service or concept itself. It's interesting to note that MSP wasn't originally specific to IT services, but the term has become more and more so recently.

And then I wonder about the difference between cloud computing and SaaS. Is there a difference? I sense that they have a slightly different meaning—that cloud computing is larger than SaaS. Perhaps cloud computing encompasses things such as cloud OSs—Windows AzureAmazon EC2—and applications in the cloud, but SaaS is more specific to application-level hosted services. I'm reminded of a Monty Python bit where John Cleese as the logician explains that "All of Alma Scoggins is dead, but not all of the class of dead things are Alma Scoggins." Or something to that effect. So is it the case that all SaaS is cloud computing, but not all cloud computing is SaaS?

While talking about the terminology related to the cloud, here's one on the other side: on-premise vs. on-premises. A simple consult of your dictionary will reveal that a premise is an idea and premises refers to a location or real estate (there is no singular form of the word for this meaning). Therefore, if you host your applications yourself, they are on-premises.

However, a simple Google search reveals that the use of on-premise is far and away more common. (Indeed, you'll find this incorrect usage frequently even in our articles on—shame on us!) I suppose the incorrect version is more common because people don't realize that the word is only in plural form. Also, it's easier to say.

Or is there another reason? Marketing! As one of my editorial colleagues pointed out, "I like to think we have marketers to blame for such widespread yet obviously incorrect usage, because the alternative seems to be that the IT populace wants to develop its own bastardized form of English." Of course, there is something to be said for IT creating its own lingo—can you say iSCSI, IOPS, or SaaS for that matter?—but ultimately that's different from simply using a term in an ungrammatical way. Marketers are more interested in sounding good than being right. IMHO.

Here's a final thought: All of our readers are brilliant IT professionals, but not all brilliant IT professionals are among our readers. If you've read this far, give yourself a pat on the back from me.

Related Reading:

Aritcles on the bad side of SaaS

Articles on the good side of SaaS

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