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Web services vs. cloud services: Are they the same?

Learn how Web services and cloud services differ, and how working together impacts business efficiency.

The similarities between Web services and cloud services have become an age-old concern. The short answer is, "no,"...

they are not the same. However, they are increasingly dependent on each other if users want the full speed and ease of use effect that such services offer. Technically, organizations can have a Web service without a cloud service or vice versa, but one gets greater business efficiency when the services are combined. Web services are the tools that allow users to interact with software over the Internet. Cloud services are the servers that store the data, security and other infrastructure pieces needed to allow Web services to provide unique value as Web-accessible applications. The two services are currently mingling, intertwining and becoming nearly inseparable. Even though they aren't the same thing, they both work together to provide the maximum value of using either for a business. An observer can see the shift as all sizes of software companies offer a combined all-in-one Web and cloud service package. It's like bundling in the insurance business. Bundling gives users the maximum impact of the service, while the parts can still be used separately if desired.

Web services

Web services provide developers methods of integrating Web applications over the Internet.  XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI open standards are used to tag data, transfer data, describe and list services available. Web services allow organizations to share data without having direct access or knowledge of systems beyond the firewall. They're essentially communicators for the organizations' Web applications. The communicator is the API, which allows applications to interface with each other and link to GUIs to provide end-user applications.

Unless a business has a compelling reason not to maintain its own data centers and servers, they can effectively use Web services as standalone. One disadvantage is fewer configuration options and the resource and cost associated with managing and securing the internal infrastructure.

Cloud services

Cloud services provide access to a server infrastructure that's managed by the provider.  Typically, cloud services provide data storage and access, security, scalability and the associated updates. Cloud services provide the back end that Web applications need to function. Again, companies can choose to provide the same "service" with their own IT resources independently.

Cloud services have an advantage in that data in the cloud has greater scope and potential because data can be provided online for others to use. Amazon.com started the trend by allowing developers to retrieve data about products within seconds from a single source. Developers use APIs to retrieve data and interface between applications for increased functionality. Data empowers the application by providing a nearly endless amount of possible uses. APIs provide a way to share and use data to an organization's advantage.

You need two to 'tango'

Web services and cloud services are currently frequently combined into a single set, proprietary or open source tools. Providers are still coming together on standards to increase integration ease and use between systems, but it's a work in progress. For that reason, the most efficient method of cloud computing is a combined use of Web and cloud services from a single provider. Similar to "one size fits most," businesses gain the most value from using a single provider source for both tools. Integration between systems is never an easy task, and in order to reduce the impact, the services work best together. Shared services provide greater consistency in Web application function and performance.

Another advantage of combining Web and cloud services in a single provider is having managed security. Security for data, messaging, APIs is a daunting task to manage and keep up to date. Granted, many businesses worry about the security of their data managed by another provider, but most data breaches are caused by device loss or from internal sources. Putting data under the security of a cloud provider may reduce both exposure points.

Web and cloud services have vastly improved the quality and functionality of applications for end users. Think about and compare your experiences with standalone applications versus Web applications. Web applications provide a higher quality and an immediate end-user experience.

Creating APIs and interfacing applications to share data is an endless wealth of opportunity and challenge for software developers as well. Developers can create systems that connect anywhere with anyone willing to create an API. Higher quality and nearly limitless functional possibilities are positives for customers and business viability.

For a business to "tango" with greater mobility and grace, combine Web and cloud services under a single provider for greater efficiency and positive business impact.

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This was last published in November 2014

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In many ways, SaaS providers that host these apps and services have been doing this for quite some time. Our company offers our application both on dedicated servers for customers who want them, and cloud/web services for those who prefer that approach. Ultimately, the administration, after the initial setup and configuration, is relatively similar. If the devices in question are Linux based, there's almost no difference in perceived response or performance (at least to my eyes). Having both in the same space makes a great deal of sense.
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