In recent years, SaaS and cloud-native applications have become an indispensable element in the business world. A 2023 report by DevSquad suggests that 70% of the applications that companies use today are SaaS. The trend to adopt cloud-native applications also enhanced. As a report by Tegra published in 2022 shows, 75% of the companies were focusing on development of cloud-native applications.  

SaaS and cloud-native are two closely bundled concepts, as they are both related to cloud computing, a process that enables users to access data and applications remotely over the internet instead of physical hard drives thanks to cloud-based data storage. Therefore, they share similar features like cloud storage and flexible user access. However, SaaS and cloud-native are actually distinctive concepts that account for different aspects in the development and deployment of software based in cloud and cannot be used interchangeably.  

What is the Difference between the Definition of SaaS and Cloud-Native? 

Short for “software as a service”, SaaS refers to a delivery model that allows users to access the service over the internet in a subscription-based manner. This means that users must pay a recurring fee for the use of the service within the timeframe they subscribed for, usually through a web browser. All the infrastructure and data are located in the service provider’s data center, and the service provider is responsible for ensuring the availability and security of the users’ data. Some of the most commonly used applications that fall under this category include emails and Microsoft Office Suite.  

Cloud-native refers to the methodology that utilizes cloud computing principles in the development and deployment of applications. Cloud-native applications break down the functionalities into smaller components called microservices that allow adjustments respectively. The development of these apps relies on cloud providers such as Google Cloud, AWS, and Azure. For more information about cloud-native, you can refer to this article.  

As SaaS refers to the delivery model of a software whereas cloud-native refers to the approach of structuring the software, the two terms are not synonyms but are not mutually exclusive either. Some softwares such as Netflix and Spotify are both SaaS and cloud-native. There are also softwares that are either SaaS or cloud-native, or neither SaaS nor cloud-native.  

Why do Organizations Leverage SaaS Applications?  

SaaS provides the flexibility for companies to access softwares that are otherwise too expensive or energy consuming to develop by themselves. Companies are attracted to SaaS for the following reasons:  

  • Cost effective: SaaS applications reduce upfront costs as vendors are responsible for the development and maintenance of the software. Companies would only need to pay a standard fee for the ongoing service.  
  • Scalability: SaaS offers flexibility in the length and types of services that companies subscribe to. It is easy to scale the SaaS applications based on the different sizes of employees and different organizational needs.  
  • Easy access: As cloud-based service, SaaS applications are accessed through web browsers, and they do not require companies to install or maintain any software themselves. The adaptation to different workspace like the types of computers and mobile devices are taken care of by the vendor, allowing employees to quickly familiarize themselves with the service. Cloud-based storage also imposes little physical restrictions for users, who can access the service from anywhere as long as they have access to the Internet.   
  • Low management overhead: Automated updates and centralized data storage frees companies from hiring technology experts to maintain sophisticated software and data security. The flipside to this convenience is the problem of data security, which makes it important for companies to identify trustworthy vendors to work with.  

Why do Organizations Leverage Cloud-Native? 

Cloud-native also equips companies with a competitive edge in terms of cost efficiency and flexibility, but in a different aspect. Compared to traditional monolithic applications that develop functionalities in a big block, cloud-native applications have higher scalability and resilience thanks to their distributed functionalities. 

  • Availability: cloud-native applications ensure seamless user experience that avoids downtime or hurdles. In cases of disruptions, a well-designed cloud-native application would still allow users to access its service while the problems are being resolved since the services are autonomous.  
  • Scalability and Agility: unlike traditional monolithic architecture, microservices are services that are deployed independently so modifying or scaling one service can be completed without affecting the entire application. This feature enables the cloud-native applications to quickly adapt to changes, along with high automation. Microservices also take less resources and are more adaptive to different scales of platforms.   
  • Cost efficiency: As cloud-native operates in containers, microservices in cloud-native applications allow developers to reuse the components developed from previous projects. Since these components have been tested before, implementation can be carried out quickly. In addition, as all data is stored in the cloud, there is no cost for on-premises hardware.  

Benefits of SaaS vs Cloud-Native Applications 

In comparison, SaaS benefits companies in their consumption of software services, allowing companies to access complicated software at a relatively low cost, less maintenance effort, and flexible timeline. Cloud-native applications, on the other hand, benefit companies from their leverages in software development and deployment, meeting companies’ changing scalability needs and facilitating internal collaboration with steady service and a low cost.

Data Security Best Practices for SaaS and Cloud-Native Applications 

Modern day corporations need to deal with large quantity of data, which has become a strategic resource. The DevSquad report suggests that 78% of organizations store sensitive data on SaaS applications. As both types of applications are closely bounded with cloud data storage, it is imperative to ensure their data security.  

For SaaS and cloud-native applications, a basic yet effective way to secure data access is to set up controls on single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA). There are other data security measures that can be implemented for SaaS and cloud-native applications to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access, leakage, or manipulation. These measures include access control, encryption, vulnerability management, and secure container configurations. 

Here are some best practices to enhance data security for SaaS and cloud-native applications: 

  • Access Controls: Implement strong access controls to limit data access to authorized users or services. Organizations can leverage on Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC) and enforce least privilege access principles to limit access rights based on users’ roles and responsibilities. Strong access controls ensure that only authorized individuals can access sensitive data. 
  • Data Loss Prevention (DLP): Implement DLP measures to prevent accidental or intentional data leakage. Organizations can use techniques such as data classification, and data loss prevention tools to detect and prevent unauthorized data exfiltration. By applying data masking or segregation techniques, sensitive data can be obfuscated. 
  • Secure Logging: Organizations should ensure that logs generated by their cloud-native application, including those that contain potentially sensitive data, are handled securely by authorized users. The logs should be reviewed on a regular basis for potential security incidents or anomalies. To do so, a centralized logging solution can be implemented to provide secure transmission and storage of logs. 

As two facets of the booming cloud computing realm, SaaS and cloud-native applications gained enormous significance in today’s business world. Since both of them are closely associated with the storage and processing of a large amount of data, it is crucial to understand how to ensure data security in their application. To learn more about this topic, you are welcome to read more about NextLabs Entitlement Manager for Cloud Applications and articles about cloud security.