Lately I am more involved in discussions with customers about Office365, and Microsoft’s cloud offerings in general. This kind of discussions always starts with the introduction of cloud hosting concepts such as Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Software as a Service. You have probably seen this slide before:


It very easy to position well known products on this map, for example:

  • Amazon’s cloud is clearly IaaS.
  • Windows Azure is clearly Paas.
  • Gmail, SalesForce is clearly Saas.
  • What about Office365?

(note from the future: re-reading this 4 years later makes the AWS\Azure comparison look naive, but when both platforms were young it made more sense)

Office365 is commonly presented as a SaaS solution by most people, maybe because it is a direct competitor to Google Apps which are all about SaaS, but I think that there’s more to that to discuss.

Here is a typical slide that presents Office 365 as a Saas:


When talking about Exchange Online and Lync Online – they are most definitely SaaS Products. Is SharePoint Online the same? I think not. In my opinion, SharePoint online is as much PaaS as it is SaaS. It depends on how you use it, but this question is also relevant for on-premises SharePoint.

I work with some organizations that see SharePoint as their mainstream development platform. Every new business requirement is developed on SharePoint, and most of the developers there are SharePoint developers. For them, SharePoint is clearly a development platform, regardless on weather it is on the cloud or in their data center. If I had a discussion with them about SharePoint Online, I would probably present SharePoint Online as a PaaS solution, just next to Windows Azure.

On the other hand, some customers go to SharePoint Online in order to get a quick and easy document collaboration platform, or a social platform. They just want to know what features SharePoint has for them, and use them as is. For them SharePoint online is nothing more that SaaS. They will use it just like Yammer, or Zoho which are obvious SaaS products.

The bottom line is that SharePoint is an odd beast in the landscape of enterprise software. It is a product, which is also a platform. This applies to SharePoint Online as well which is part of Office365. So don’t be to rushed to present Office365 as a SaaS solution because then you might put yourself in uncomfortable position when discussions about SharePoint online solutions will come to the table, and they are expected to fall in the “almost no management” bucket, where they clearly don’t belong.