What’s the Difference Between a Cloud App and a Web App?

Hopefully, this will help you and your company decide which type of app will best suit your needs.

Emma White
Apr 7 · 5 min read

Once upon a time, everyone knew what an app was. Applications were installed on computer desktops, were used on computer desktops, and stored data on computer desktops. But then things began to evolve. The state of applications went from the traditional model to the client/server model, where applications were installed on the desktop but used and stored data on a remote server. This was very common when an application required the use of a database.

Next came mobile applications, where tiny apps lived on small devices and required a server to function. Those mobile apps gave rise to cloud and web applications. Although you might think the difference between the two is simple, it’s not quite that easy. In fact, it can get rather confusing, because web apps are often considered a subset of cloud apps. And even though your company is focused on cloud application development, you might not be able to offer web apps. To deliver both, you might even need to hire different developers for each.

Let’s take a look at the differences between these two types of applications.

The Obvious

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. The biggest difference between these two types of applications is how you access them. You access a web application (almost) exclusively through a web browser, whereas you can access a cloud application from anywhere, including a web browser. Cloud apps can be used from a mobile device, the desktop, a web browser (from either a mobile device or desktop/laptop computer), and even IoT/edge devices.

Now that we have the obvious out of the way, let’s take a look at the not-so-obvious.

One important shared aspect

One of the unique aspects that both cloud and web apps share is multi-tenancy. This is a type of computing architecture wherein a single instance of a software stack serves more than one customer (each of which is called a tenant). Tenants can customize parts of the application (user interface, policies, and access), but can’t modify the code that serves up the base service. Each tenant is integrated into the system but separated such that one tenant can’t interact with another.

Examples of multi-tenancy include Amazon AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

Both cloud and web apps can be served up from multi-tenant architecture. Even though your company might design a web-specific application, it can still be hosted on a multi-tenant cloud-based host.

You see, it can get confusing. So let’s take a look at the aspects that make each type of app unique.

Cloud apps

Cloud apps (also called Software as a Service — SaaS) are used to access information stored in public, private, or hybrid clouds. These applications can function in either online or offline mode, which is possible thanks to syncing services. When a cloud app goes offline, data will be stored locally. When the app is back online, the data will then be synced with the remote cloud account.

Advantages of cloud apps

There are a number of benefits to deploying cloud apps:

  • Supports different user configurations (such as data backup and security).
  • Can be used from either a web browser or a custom app from a desktop or a phone.
  • Can be used in offline or online mode.
  • Data is stored in a public, private, or hybrid cloud.
  • Can access on-demand computing cycles, app dev platforms, remote storage services.
  • Make collaboration easier.
  • Reduce hardware and software maintenance costs.
  • Offers massive storage capabilities.
  • Data security.

Disadvantages of cloud apps

Cloud apps aren’t perfect. In fact, there are some disadvantages that might lead some businesses to opt for the web app instead. These cons include:

  • Vendor lock-in (your company might have trouble migrating from one provider to another).
  • You have no ownership or management of the architecture hosting your cloud app.
  • All company and customer data is housed on third-party servers.
  • Poor internet connectivity can cause a poor user experience.
  • Cloud providers are always under attack from hackers.
  • The cost rises parallel to usage.

Examples of cloud apps

Open your mobile phone and look at the installed apps — you’ll surely see a number of cloud apps installed, such as:

  • Google Docs
  • Office 365
  • Dropbox
  • Airtable
  • Evernote
  • Instagram

Languages used for cloud apps

The most popular languages used for cloud apps include:

  • Java
  • PHP
  • .NET
  • Python
  • Golang
  • Ruby
  • JavaScript

Web apps

Web apps are a different beast altogether and can only be accessed via a web browser. These apps are created with a combination of server-side and client-side scripting, such that the client depends on the server to communicate to the infrastructure which provides functionality.

Web apps can’t function without a working network connection and don’t include a sync option for storing data locally until you’re connected. You are either online (and can use a web app) or offline (and can’t use a web app).

Advantages of web apps

There are a number of important advantages for using web apps over cloud apps, including:

  • You have control over the architecture.
  • High customization.
  • No need for local software installation (all operating systems have a web browser).
  • Reduced costs.
  • Fast and reliable updates.
  • Consistent user experience.
  • Secure logins.

Disadvantages of web apps

The disadvantages of web apps can be a real deal-breaker for some businesses. These include:

  • No offline access.
  • Limited mobile device usability.
  • Not all web browsers will render an app the same.
  • You must have a website that can reliably serve up the app.
  • If your site goes down, your app will go with it.
  • Not available in mobile app stores.

Examples of web apps

Here are some of the more popular web app examples:

  • WooCommerce
  • Pixlr
  • Facebook
  • Forbes
  • Pinterest
  • Google
  • LinkedIn
  • Quora

Languages used for web apps

The most popular languages used for web apps include:

  • JavaScript
  • Python
  • Java
  • C++
  • C#
  • PHP
  • Perl

Conclusion

You now understand what cloud and web apps are, and the differences between the two. Hopefully, this will help you and your company decide which type of app will best suit your needs. Of course, if you can’t decide (and you have the staff able to handle both web app and cloud-based application development) you can always get the best of both worlds and deploy a web app and a cloud app.

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