The "War of the Words:" SaaS, Paas, Cloud, etc.

One sure sign of an emerging technology and market is the proliferation of monikers and acronyms to label it. And the truly promising markets are even further blessed with a "war of the words," a controversy over competing labels.

By this standard, the markets you and I follow are indeed promising. Though "grid computing" and "utility computing" have been cast aside, and "hosting" and "ASP" have been more clearly defined, there's still an active debate over the proper use of "software-as-a-service," "cloud services," "cloud applications," "platform-as-a-service," and other labels.

Lots of smart people have weighed in with well-considered arguments in favor of one label or another. I'd recommend, among others, Jeff Kaplan's thoughts on this at THINKstrategies. No need for me to jump in with yet another entry.

But I will note that the label the industry does finally settle on, and the debate itself, does have an impact on what we do in marketing.

For one thing, never underestimate the power of a label. Government officials knew exactly what they were doing when they dropped the term "bailout" when referring to the $750 billion rescue plan for banks, preferring the label "recovery plan" instead.

With that in mind, I like the imagery of the "cloud," and envision cumulonimbus clip art formations emerging on Powerpoint decks everywhere. But clouds don't exactly convey stability and reliability. Winning the confidence of the CIO may get a bit more difficult when you explain that the applications vital to running their business are "running in the cloud." They're looking for "hardened data centers," not vaporous masses that blow away or evaporate.

A second issue is the name game debate itself. Anytime there's confusion or a lack of standards, marketing needs to work that much harder. Besides the name we use to describe our offerings, we're still lacking standards around pricing, contract terms and conditions, enhancement procedures, and any other number of other vital elements. Explaining and negotiating each of these issues with the prospective buyer extends the marketing and selling process.

We'll make it through this. But in the words of Bette Davis in "All About Eve," "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night!"