Saas, Cloud, and Cloud Computing: What’s the difference?

Buzzwords float around synonymously describing many of the online applications used today.  SaaS, Cloud and Cloud Computing, are just a few of the terms used to describe a portion of these online technologies.  What is the difference though?  If my vendor is Saas, doesn’t that mean they are in the Cloud and utilize Cloud Computing?  The short answer is: Not Always.

SaaS – Software as a Service

Saas, Software as a Service, is not a new term by any means.  SaaS, as the term simply implies, refers to the ability to serve applications as a service.  Therefore we as consumers, do not need to worry about the overhead of managing the hardware, infrastructure, and software itself, but rather the application is delivered remotely and the back-end management of the application is owned and operated by the application vendor.  This reduces the total cost of ownership for a consumer, since hardware and software maintenance are not a concern.  Although the application might seem to be in the Cloud itself, it is possible that a SaaS application is simply hosted by the vendor (referred to s an Application Service Provider model..but we can discuss that later).

The Cloud

Just as SaaS provides an application as a service, the Cloud provides computing power, storage and infrastructure (to name a few),  as a service.  There are many types of Clouds, including Private, Public, and Hybrid (which we will discuss further in the future).  To break it down even further, the Cloud could simply be viewed as any processing or storage that occurs outside of your company’s network.

Cloud Computing

Although in the Cloud, some applications might not truly be using Cloud Computing.  Since the Cloud serves up computing power as a service, one would think a Cloud application utilizes Cloud Computing.  Again, this is not always the case.  Cloud Computing refers to the true scalability of an application to simply utilize processing power across a Cloud, regardless of the hosted environment.  Cloud Computing is much like the smart grid used within utilities.  Within the smart grid, if power at one substation is not being utilized, it is re-routed to another station which requires more power.  Likewise, Cloud Computing refers to the fact that if additional computing power is required by an application, it is shared between other Cloud resources.

In Summary

As  briefly described by Providence GIS Solutions blog post, we agree that SaaS (in its many forms) and the Cloud, including Cloud Computing, are here to stay.  As stated before, utilizing the Cloud to provide SaaS application reduces the overall Total Cost of Ownership that we incur as consumers.  A true SaaS offering, based in the Cloud, allows for additional cost savings across the board.  We look forward to discussing this topic further in the future, especially with respect to security, utility usage data, and the proper use of Cloud resources.

 

GreenSuite provides a Cloud based SaaS platform to assist utility providers in reducing overall operating costs by engaging end consumers in behavior based efforts to improve energy efficiency.


Cyber Security with Smart Meters

Guest Blogger
Providence GIS SolutionsJason Tuck of Providence GIS Solutions

This week the blog KrebsOnSecurity, authored by Brian Krebs, detailed an FBI investigation involving a utility in Puerto Rico in which there has been a substantial loss in revenue to the tune of $400 million dollars loss due to hacking into the meters and using the tried and true method of magnets. The customers were hiring former employee(s) of the smart meter manufacturer or the utility to hack into the meters at $300 – $1000 per residential meter up to $3000 per commercial meter. Krebs goes into very specific details as to how this occurs through devices which are readily available online.

It does not shock me that smart meters have been hacked or consumers have figured out how to steal electricity from the utility. This little cat and mouse game has been going on for a very long time; I suspect it will always be an issue. I find it hilarious that with all the technology at our disposal we still can affect a meter reading by the use of a strong magnet. The use of magnets does not shock me nor does the hiring of former employees to pull this off either. The one area of Krebs’ article which shocked me is the lack of encryption in some of the smart metering software where the access is allowed. My question is why is not all the data encrypted? At the end of the day companies like Cisco can provide all the security solutions in the world but if the smart meter manufacturers do not encrypt their data fully, what is the point of spending the money on expensive security solutions?

It is easy to get caught up in the big numbers of the how much money the utility lost or the hacker(s) gained in the manipulation of the meters. Do not let those figures cloud the real issue where for a $400 piece of equipment which allows a meter to be linked to a laptop on-site. If the hacker knows where to look in the software the access codes to the meter is not encrypted making for easy access to manipulate the meter. The fortunate part of this process is the hacker must be on-site with the meter. This cannot be done remotely according Krebs.

Electric utilities that are deploying the smart meters across their system must develop a high security standard forcing the smart meter manufacturers to encrypt all the data in their hardware and software. These same utilities must also hold cyber security for the entire smart grid technology roll out at a much higher standard than has previously been held. Corners cannot be cut.

One last cyber security item to think over is tying the cyber security solution for the smart grid hardware to the security with the data being sent to the geographic information system (GIS) for the utility. This data as it is distributed out to the end users or consumers in many different forms must also be protected. This is sensitive information and must be handled in such a way as to not compromise the utility as well as the customer’s personal information. Data is currency in today’s world and we cannot afford for it be compromised. The liability to the utility is astronomical if the unthinkable happens and the data is hacked with consumer data being compromised plus the utility’s sensitive backbone data being compromised. It is at this point that losing $400 million no longer sounds so bad.


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Incentivize Energy Efficiency with Reward Points

Loyalty or incentive point programs currently thrive in a majority of industries from groceries to restaurants. GreenSuite’ software contains reward point functionality that is utilized by utilities to incentivize energy efficiency efforts from their customers.

One example of how a utility is incentivizing energy efficiency is by offering reward points for those customers that show through GreenSuite’s reporting platform a percentage increase in efficiency on 90 degree days or higher. Those points accumulate over time and then can be redeemed for gift certificates or services from businesses within the local community.

Read more about how your utility can incentivize energy efficiency


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