IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS: A Definitive Guide

Oct. 5, 2021, 6:52 p.m.
SaaS · 7 min read
IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS: A Definitive Guide

Cloud has been the buzzword in the business world for some years now. From SMBs to enterprises, everyone wants to move away from on-premise infrastructure and adopt cloud-first technologies. After all, the clear advantages of cloud computing over physical and legacy software and hardware suite is undeniable. On top of providing greater security and convenience, the "as a service" model helps businesses scale and drive down costs.

There are three ways you can approach the "as a service" cloud model: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). In this article, we'll discuss each 'as a service' model, how they differ from each other, and their use cases.

But before you dive in, this chart from LeanIX should give you an idea:

SaaS PaaS and IaaS chart from LeanIX


Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

IaaS is the first step in breaking away from on-premise business operations. Here, you don't have to build the data center for your business. The IaaS provider gives you all the equipment needed for storage, virtualization, and networking. All you need is a dashboard or an API to control the elements of your business. 

Think of IaaS as a partnership. You handle your data, applications, runtime, middleware, and OS whereas the third-party provider takes care of servers and networks. 

What are the benefits of IaaS?

Cost-effectiveness: The main advantage of using IaaS is cost savings. Since everything required to operate these virtual machines is already installed, users only pay for what they consume - compute time, bandwidth usage, etc. The pay-as-you-go model is particularly attractive for small businesses trying to retain maximum control without shelling out too much. 

Scalability: Another benefit of IaaS is scalability. Since one VM can host multiple websites/applications, you can upscale and downscale according to your needs. For instance, if you have 10 sites running on 1 machine, then scaling up to 100 sites would not require buying additional servers but just increasing the number of instances within the same environment. 

Automation: IaaS is conducive to automated business operations. The flexibility provides businesses enough room to automate critical tasks without worrying about disruptions. 


What are the drawbacks of IaaS?

IaaS, despite being promising, comes with a few challenges. 

Security: With more control comes more responsibility. As a business owner, you're in charge of handling regular cyber-attacks, data risks, and legacy software maintenance. 

Training: To facilitate a seamless migration to IaaS, you need to extensively train your employees and prepare them to address disruptions. You may end up spending a big chunk of money and resources training in-house users. 


What are the examples of IaaS?

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

The most common example of IaaS is Amazon Web Services. AWS provides virtual machines that run Linux operating systems with preinstalled software packages like Apache web server, MySQL database management system, etc. These VMs are hosted at data centers across the globe and accessed via the public IP address assigned to them.

Microsoft Azure

Azure is a leading IaaS option spearheaded by Microsoft. As a managed infrastructure, it offers small businesses the necessary tools to quickly deploy and maintain unique operations. The Microsoft data centers are ideal for businesses that want to tap into enterprise-grade analytics and security without paying a premium. 

Google Cloud

Google Cloud leverages Google's unbeatable reservoir of usage data to improve and streamline day-to-day business operations. It's also a refreshingly unique part of Google's portfolio that puts security at the front and center. 



Platform as a Service ( PaaS) 

Platform as a Service is primarily geared towards developers who want to build apps quickly and deploy them anywhere. Similar to IaaS, PaaS also offers flexibility through the provisioning of different configurations. Unlike IaaS however, PaaS gives more control over the platform being used. Developers can choose between open-source platforms like Java,.NET, Ruby, etc., proprietary ones like Microsoft Azure AppFabric, Oracle JDeveloper, etc., or even custom solutions built around specific programming languages. The choice depends upon what type of application businesses want to develop.

What are the benefits of PaaS?

Easy to use: The main reason why most organizations opt for PaaS is that they don't have time or resources to invest in the components to build applications. Instead, they prefer to focus on core competencies while outsourcing development tasks to experts who specialize in web-based software. In a nutshell, PaaS offers a platform that can be developed and scaled further. 

Affordable: Generally, when businesses try to develop custom solutions, it costs them a bank. With PaaS however, businesses can save money by avoiding the cost of resources. Another benefit of choosing PaaS is that they usually come bundled with various third-party products that add value to the overall experience and help reduce operational expenses. 

Platform updates: With PaaS, your vendor makes sure that everything works seamlessly once the deployment process starts. They also take care of system updates, maintenance, tracking, and 24/7 support. This is a nice way to delegate tasks and keep your workforce lean and agile.


What are the drawbacks of PaaS?

PaaS is great for focusing on your core competencies, but it's also a double-edged sword.

Reliance on others: Since you don't actually control the hardware, if anything happens to the hardware, it'll take out your entire software. This also impacts the security of the apps considering the stored data is not in your control.

Vendor terms and conditions: In a fast-paced tech world, the vendor lock-in drags down productivity and innovation. You're restricted by the company's policies which impact migrations to other platforms.

Runtime challenges: PaaS does support a wide range of programming languages but it's not unnatural to stumble upon issues here and there. This is also true for highly customized operations that are not optimized by the vendor. 


What are the examples of PaaS?

Google App Engine

Google App Engine is one of the biggest examples of the potential of PaaS. Developers can easily use Google App Engine to build apps over the cloud. The backend is run by Google data centers across the globe. 


Heroku is a unique PaaS option to develop user-facing apps. It isolates programs into different environments that are inspired by Unix containers.

Red Hat OpenShift

Red Hat OpenShift is another powerful PaaS that compartmentalizes environments to easily develop and deploy apps. 



Software as a Service (SaaS)

Among all the "as a service" models, SaaS is the most popular one.  Software as a Service or SaaS refers to software that can be accessed over the internet through an application programming interface. The basic requirement is a web browser and internet. This means you don't have to worry about installing anything on your computer and you can access them from anywhere.

SaaS is the most "finished" or consumer-centric option among the three as it offers a comprehensive experience. You pay only when you want to use the app and there's no upfront cost, unlike IaaS or PaaS. Users generally subscribe to the monthly packages or get lifetime deals to keep the cost down. The SaaS market is competitive enough to keep subscriptions at a reasonable level.  


What are the benefits of SaaS?

There are many reasons why you might want to consider switching from desktop apps to cloud-based solutions. 

Security: With desktop apps, there is always some risk involved with downloading files onto your PC. Cloud computing eliminates this problem because everything is stored online and accessed through the internet. In addition, if your data gets stolen while it's being transmitted over the network, then no one has access to it since it isn't located anywhere locally.

Cost savings: Desktop apps require hardware resources such as memory and hard drive space which add up quickly. When you're paying monthly fees for those resources, it makes sense to look into ways to reduce them. By moving to a cloud solution, you'll save money every month just by not needing to pay for additional storage space.

Flexibility: One thing that often comes along with mobility is flexibility. Since you won't be tied down to a single device anymore, you can choose whichever platform works best for you depending on where you happen to be at the moment. Whatever your use case may be, you can switch back and forth between multiple computers seamlessly thanks to the power of SaaS.


What are the drawbacks of SaaS?

SaaS is popular for multiple reasons. But there are some cons as well.

Vendor dependency: Since it's a finished product, SaaS totally depends on the vendor. You can not add or remove core functionalities without the manufacturer. 

Lack of customization: SaaS products are for consumers. As a result, businesses can't deeply integrate on-premise software, customize at a granular level or tweak security.


What are the examples of SaaS?

Google Workspace

The entire personal cloud-based app suite is now a successful example of SaaS. Google Workspace apps can be accessed from the browser of any device. 


HubSpot is another major SaaS product that streamlines and enhances CRM, marketing and sales. 


An enterprise messaging platform that is built on SaaS philosophy. Slack is highly accessible, secure, and comes with great flexibility.


So there you have it - a definitive guide to IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS and their specific use cases. This should give you a clear idea about the cloud option that should suit your business the most.

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