IaaS, PaaS, SaaS: What’s The Difference?


Dani Nolan


2019 March 12th


Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS) are three different cloud solutions designed to help businesses perform.

But what do those terms even mean? Today, I’ll walk you through the differences between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, and give you examples of each to help you figure out which of these cloud services is best for your business

What is IaaS?

IaaS, or infrastructure as a service, gives companies access to scalable computing resources. With IaaS, your company typically gets access to computational, networking, and data storage servers over the cloud. You can then access these resources through an API or custom software dashboard.

Essentially, IaaS provides all the same resources as a traditional in-house data center without the expense of buying hardware and the pain of maintaining it.

The main advantage of IaaS is that it is highly scalable. Your company can increase its resources temporarily for work on an intensive, short-term project. Or, you can gradually purchase more computational power and storage space as your business grows.

Best of all, maintaining the hardware behind these server resources is left to the vendor rather than your IT staff.

AWS and Microsoft Azure are infrastructure as a service examples since they offer virtual data centers for companies to use. Similarly, Digital Ocean, Rackspace, and Google Compute Engine also provide infrastructure as a service for companies.

IaaS PaaS SaaS Amazon EC2

What is PaaS?

PaaS, or platform as a service, is used to give software developers a cloud-based environment for creating new software and applications. These platforms are delivered over the Internet and don’t require installation on individual computers or an in-house server.

Better yet, PaaS environments can vary depending on the needs of your software development. In fact, many PaaS providers offer versatile platforms that can be customized to fit your task.

IaaS PaaS SaaS Google App EnginePaaS offers a number of advantages for businesses of any size.

With PaaS, you can get access to one or more operating systems without installing them on your company’s machines. You can also get scalable server storage and infrastructure.

Many PaaS solutions come with some level of server interface or pre-installed software.

That makes it easier to hit the ground running without having to build an environment from scratch.

In addition, the PaaS vendor is responsible for maintaining the development environment so you can focus on developing your project.

Platform as a service examples include Amazon Web Services and its competitor Microsoft Azure, both of which provide highly scalable cloud computing platforms. Google App Engine and Heroku, which cater specifically to app developers, are also well-known examples of PaaS.

What is SaaS?

SaaS, or software as a service, refers to software that can be delivered and used over the Internet. In contrast to traditional software, SaaS applications rarely need to be downloaded onto your computer or server. Instead, software as a service is typically run directly over a web browser.

In this case, you are using the software developer’s servers to host the application and provide computing power.

There are several advantages to software as a service. The most important is that you eliminate the need to install new software on multiple computers across your business or on a central server.

In the end, that can save your IT staff a huge amount of time and frustration. It also means that the software developer is responsible for keeping the application up to date, rather than putting the burden of software maintenance on your business.

There are many software as a service examples. These include cloud storage software such as Dropbox, online office applications such as Google Apps (including Google Docs and Google Sheets), and even video conferencing software like GoToMeeting.

IaaS PaaS SaaS GotoMeeting

When to Use IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS?

IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS provide very different resources for very different needs. Before diving into the use cases that each is best for, let’s take a look at the difference between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS in tabular form:

IaaS PaaS SaaS
Virtual Environment
Operating System
Runtime Environment
Application Data
Application Software

IaaS provides a virtual data center, which makes it ideal for companies that want complete control over their servers without buying physical hardware. The scalability of IaaS also allows it to be used by companies that want to pay only for the resources they are using.

For these reasons, IaaS is an excellent option for growing businesses that don’t want to commit to a specific set of resources or that have variable data and computational needs over time.

PaaS provides a platform for software developers, making it ideal for specific projects. The cloud-based nature of PaaS offers significant advantages over in-house development environments when working with a collaborative team or third-party vendor.

In addition, PaaS is well-suited for rapid app or software development. That's because it eliminates much of the preliminary development and maintenance involved when using IaaS or in-house servers to establish a working environment.

SaaS offers finished software designed to fulfill a specific purpose. Whether SaaS is better suited for your company than PaaS or in-house software depends on several factors.

These include the size of your IT staff, the complexity of your business’s computational resources, and the suitability of an existing SaaS product for your needs. SaaS is also useful for applications needed once in a while, or for those that require data syncing across multiple desktop and mobile devices.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, the choice between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS depends on your company's goals and how much customization and control you need to achieve them. IaaS offers the most flexible solution since it allows basic hardware to be switched out as needed. Meanwhile, PaaS offers a moderately flexible solution that allows you to develop custom software.

SaaS is relatively inflexible since the delivered software is typically built with a limited set of functions designed to fulfill a specific purpose.

IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS each offer cloud-based solutions for your business that can save your company time, money, and work.

However, it’s important to understand the differences between these services. That includes knowing how they can be used and when they are advantageous so that you choose the right service and provider for your business’s needs.

Did this article help you better understand IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS? Let me know in the comments below!

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