Cloud model comparison: IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS

Cloud computing models explained

There are pros and cons to each type of cloud service. Explore the differences between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS—and determine which is the best fit for your business.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a cloud-based IT model that delivers computing, storage, and networking services to enterprises of all sizes on a self-service, pay-as-you-go basis.

IaaS allows companies to remotely monitor and manage IT and other services and to avoid creating their own costly server network and other hardware infrastructure. Leveraging IaaS via the cloud gives organizations the significant advantage of quickly scaling up or down and paying only for what they need.

The IaaS model allows companies to build platforms on top of remote infrastructure. While a cloud-based IaaS provider is responsible for a lot of hardware and software (the data center, servers, storage, and firewalls), IaaS customers must still perform a number of key functions. These include installing, configuring, and managing their own data, runtime, middleware, and operating systems.

Among the most frequent IaaS business uses are:

  • Storage and disaster recovery. IaaS allows customers to easily scale their storage needs up or down and simplify the management of backup and recovery systems.
  • Data analysis. Mining customer data via structured databases or unstructured data like social media, images, and emails requires massive computing power. IaaS manages big data and pairs it with business intelligence tools that offer competitive insights.
  • Testing and development. Because of its ability to scale compute power and resources, IaaS has become the cloud computing model of choice for organizations looking to rapidly test and deploy new software. The ability to quickly spin up and tear down dev-test prototypes lets companies bring new applications to the market faster than they could with on-prem resources.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

Sitting directly above the IaaS model, Platform as a Service (PaaS) includes many IaaS offerings, including infrastructure in the forms of servers, storage, and networking, as well as middleware, software development tools, database management systems, and other services.

By offering the infrastructure and tools to rapidly test and build applications, PaaS simplifies the process of building, testing, deploying, and updating software.

Some common business uses for PaaS:

  • Framework for app development. PaaS gives developers software tools to build, test, customize, deploy, and continually iterate bespoke, cloud-based software applications. That can include the creation of new APIs and new interfaces for APIs already deployed.
  • Business analytics. PaaS tools allow enterprises to mine data sets for insights about customer behavior, supply chain management, industry trends and more. This helps businesses predict customer needs, supply chain issues, and future demand for products.
  • Internet of Things. PaaS provides an ideal model for supporting application environments and tools that a wide range of IoT deployments will continue to require as their use grows.

Software as a Service

Software as a Service (SaaS) lets business users connect to cloud-based applications that they would otherwise need to build and/or maintain themselves. Unsurprisingly, SaaS has become one of the most popular methods for delivering enterprise software solutions.

Sitting at the top of the cloud services pyramid, SaaS naturally includes all the services provided by IaaS and PaaS, as well as hosted applications. Web-based emails, calendars, and document management programs are examples of SaaS applications.

SaaS gives organizations access to sophisticated applications without having to invest in the required hardware, middleware, and regular maintenance. SaaS also allows customers to access data from any connected device.

Some common SaaS business uses:

  • Enterprise applications. Sophisticated cloud-based apps allow businesses to run enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), document management, financial planning, and human resources management (HRM) applications, to name a few.
  • Pay-as-you-go solutions. Companies pay for the service based on usage or the number of subscribers. This is a welcome departure from older licensing models that required separate payments for software, support, upgrades, and customization.
  • Going mobile. SaaS providers develop secure (and often encrypted) apps that can run across multiple devices, so employees can easily access enterprise solutions from anywhere with an internet connection.