By Martin Capurro

Cloud computing is one of the most transformational trends in business technology right now. Even if you aren’t an expert, chances are cloud computing touches your life multiple times each day.

If you use DropBox, Gmail or an online backup service, for example, you’re putting cloud computing into action. It’s simply a way of a way of developing programs, running applications or backing up data via the Internet.

While that’s easy for most businesses to grasp, it gets tricky when you see the hailstorm of acronyms emerging from said cloud. If you’ve done your research, you’ve likely seen terms like IaaS, PaaS and SaaS thrown around a lot, often with little explanation.

Cloud-based hosting and a wide array of other services can be extremely valuable solutions for small businesses, so don’t let the acronym aggravation stop you from exploring your options. Here’s a primer for getting started:

Layers of service

The term “layers of service” refers to the different categories, or “layers,” of cloud computing. The topmost layer is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), the middle layer is Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and the bottom layer is Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

SaaS is the cloud computing layer that people are most familiar with and most likely use on a regular basis. If you’ve run any Google Apps or get your entertainment via Netflix, you’ve used SaaS.

Essentially, SaaS is any application you can access via the web that is not hosted on your local server. You simply log into an account to use the application via the Internet. This model is ideal for businesses that need applications but don’t want to hassle with owning and maintaining the infrastructure or the software itself. With SaaS, you typically subscribe to the service on a per-user basis, and with that you get automatic software updates and can increase or decrease your subscriptions as needed.

PaaS is commonly referred to as “middleware” because it sits in the middle of the cloud layers. The PaaS layer contains virtual or cloud servers as well as operating systems, allowing you to create, deploy and manage applications over the Web.

IaaS can be seen as cloud-based hardware that functions as your server closet – minus the costs of powering or maintaining a server onsite. Through it your business can access storage, server and networking services that you effectively rent and access via the Web. Among the benefits of IaaS for small businesses is instant scalability. You can scale your virtual server up or down based on your needs as your business grows, and you never run out of closet space.

Finding your cloud

Small businesses have a lot to gain from the cloud model. The flexibility and scalability they can offer are well suited for growing businesses that want the benefits of the latest technology without the capital costs, operating and maintenance burdens that go with it. New on-demand, pay-as-you-go solutions for cloud – including infrastructure, computing power, storage and app development – are emerging and targeted right at the mid-size business market.

Because there’s still a lot to consider before you head for the cloud, it’s important that businesses find providers that understand their needs and can de-complicate the cloud for you. If they speak only in acronyms and jargon, go elsewhere.

Look for a provider that gives clear explanations of the service features and offers bundles or packages that help you get everything you need in one place.  Make the cloud work for you.

Martin Capurro serves as director of product management, savvisdirect, at Savvis, a CenturyLink company. Learn more about how savvisdirect cloud products and solutions make the cloud simple and easy to use for businesses of all sizes at the savvisdirect blog.

Image used under license from Shutterstock