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The missing word that adds new meaning to the definition of XaaS

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright April 2, 2018
When the definition of XaaS, or Everything-as-a-Service, focuses on moving IT to the cloud, it overlooks the disruptive effect of being digitally connected

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In 30 years of writing about IT — closely focused on SaaS and cloud computing for the past 20 of them — I've noticed that people always think about new technology from the perspective of how it changes what they already do. This often leads them to overlook the most valuable aspect, which is what it enables them to do that they can't yet do. So it is with XaaS (pronounced 'X-ass'), the catch-all acronym that encompasses SaaS, IaaS, PaaS, and all varieties of Everything-as-a-Service. All the definitions I've seen miss out one crucial word that's integral to the as-a-service model — these services are connected, and that is what makes them so powerfully disruptive.

Most of the definitions of XaaS that you'll find online ignore this aspect because they're defining it in relation to existing forms of IT. The canonical source is the NIST Definition of Cloud Computing (PDF) issued by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2011. While this doesn't use the XaaS acronym, it establishes the *aaS pattern with its three primary service models of cloud computing:

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) — the customer makes use of a complete software application which the provider runs on its own cloud infrastructure.
  • Platform-as-a-Service (Paas) — the customer can build and use their own applications on the provider's development platform, which it runs on its own cloud infrastructure.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) — the customer can install and run any software of their choosing, including operating systems, on infrastructure such as processors, storage and networking that the provider owns and runs.

It wasn't long before a proliferation of as-a-service acronyms sprang up as providers climbed on the bandwagon to offer communications (CaaS), databases and desktops (both DaaS), security (SECaaS), business process (BPaaS) and many other variations. It's hardly surprising that IT people have often shortened this alphabet-soup of acronyms to XaaS, where the 'X' stands for anything or everything. But they still look at it from the perspective of taking what they were already doing on their own premises and moving it to a cloud provider. In a frequently cited ZDNet article last year explaining XaaS: Why 'everything' is now a service, Charles Maclellan talks in terms of "workload migration to the cloud," citing the main benefits as lower cost, simpler access to up-to-date technology, faster implementation, and freeing up resources.

XaaS means a connected service

While all this is true, it ignores the one thing that makes this new model so compelling, and which ensures that the largest segment of the market is the delivery of entirely new services, rather than replacements or migrations of existing workloads.

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What's new is the delivery of these capabilities as a connected service, establishing a continuous digital connection between the provider and its customers, through which the provider can iteratively engage, monitor and improve the customer experience.

If the service provider doesn't take advantage of that connection to continuously add value to the relationship, then nothing has substantially changed from the old model. This is more than a relocation exercise, as I told delegates at one of the very first conferences of application service providers (ASPs, the precursors of SaaS) back in 1999. My argument then was that once software is online, it evolves to adapt to a connected environment. Later on in 2005, I warned the SaaS market to beware the purveyors of Same old Software, as a Service (SoSaaS), who took their existing software and hosted it in the cloud on subscription, again without adapting it to the new environment.

Similar warnings remain valid today, now that the XaaS model is extending beyond the IT industry into many other sectors. Again it's important for providers to embrace the full potential of the new model, rather than seeing this transformation as no more than a minor modification to what they've always done.

Updating the definition of XaaS

Many of the new providers are disrupting existing industries. Kate Harvey of e-billing vendor Chargify, in The Future Is XaaS: What you need to know about Everything-as-a-Service, cites several examples provided by Lesley MacDonald, Programs Manager at Dell EMC:

This model [XaaS] is not only limited to online services. Bricks-and-mortar businesses are also being transformed through digital connectivity. Transportation-as-a-service is being fulfilled by companies like Uber and Lyft; grocery-as-a-service is being offered by chains such as Safeway and Whole Foods; and accommodation-as-a-service is a lodging rental service provided by Airbnb. This is just the tip of the iceberg with many more on their way.

Harvey adds the example of the Nanit baby monitor, which has an optional subscription service that gives parents computerized tracking and analyis of how their baby sleeps. This is just one of many new services emerging in the smart home and wellness sectors.

As we explain in our newly published diginomica d·book, The XaaS Effect, there are many other examples as XaaS spreads into every industry, both business-to-consumer and business-to-business, touching products and services ranging from razors to insurance, and from home heating to earth moving.

Today, therefore, we can update the definition. XaaS, or Everything-as-a-Service, is a catch-all term that originally described the various forms of cloud computing, such as SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) or IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service), but which now extends to include any product or function delivered as a connected service.

It's the connection that makes all the difference.

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