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Difference between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS

Cloud services have made a lot of noise as they have revolutionized literally every aspect of business operation online. The terms “cloud computing,” “IaaS,” “PaaS,” and “SaaS” have firmly entered our lives as we use a variety of apps on our smartphones, work in the Google Docs, and share/use links to documents and media stored in the cloud every day. 

However, there are hardly many laypersons who really know a thing about what is IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. In this review, we provide all relevant data about these concepts, explain the difference between these three models, and give several examples of their personal and business use.  

So, cloud computing presupposes on-demand use of both hardware and software resources, and the advanced virtualization technology forms its basis. In simple terms, the cloud is a set of shared computing resources that serves as a handy alternative to hosting of applications on local servers. This service may be utilized for the implementation of complex web-based systems and in many application scenarios. Users understand the cloud as a virtual service, meaning that the services are easily accessible only with the Internet connection, with no excessive equipment and technology purchases, as well as avoiding the drain of the user’s computer capacity stemming from running some powerful software. Here you will find more details about the kinds of cloud computing (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS) and will review cloud service examples to understand the concept better. 

What Is IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS?    

Let’s start with these concepts’ definitions to draw the distinctions between them. First, you should understand that all of them fall under the category of “cloud as a service” – a virtual environment that interacts with clients (both users and systems) in many ways due to its service functionality. 

What does IaaS mean? It is an abbreviation for “infrastructure as a service.” This model presupposes the provision of machines, storage space, and network capacity that software engineers and businesses can lease to install their software on which their corporate apps and supportive structures function. In other words, IaaS is a remote data center where a variety of users may rent space for their systems’ setup. After that, they manage and upgrade that system (both hardware and software) on their own. 

PaaS is a “platform as a service.” As its name suggests, this model represents a virtual platform on which programmers work on their apps. A typical PaaS usually incorporates hardware (including the critical equipment such as servers), a variety of OSs and a coder’s toolkit for software creation and administration. PaaS resources are managed by the owner, so developers are freed from the hassle of hardware or operating system upgrades – in fact, they rent cloud capacity to perform their tasks. 

SaaS stands for “software as a service.” It is a ready-made virtual environment equipped with an intuitive and convenient user interface (UI). In other words, SaaS represents a cloud-based foundation for the creation of any software without excessive coding, only by customizing the front-end features and design. Correspondingly, any software solutions developed with SaaS comprise the web-delivered content accessible by any user via a browser.  

So, to recap the distinctions: IaaS is an infrastructure – software and hardware – that powers servers, storage, networks, and operating systems and allows the developers to create their own platforms and software. PaaS is a set of tools and services that allow the coding and deployment of applications quickly and efficiently; it possesses a built-in infrastructure and the platform, thus allowing the developer to create his/her program and launch it. SaaS is the most advanced form of a cloud service model because it already incorporates the infrastructure, the platform, and the software on demand. Thus, SaaS applications are multi-purpose software already designed with an end user in mind and are delivered over the Web. Because of such flexibility and ready-made functionality, SaaS tools may be easily applied in a variety of niches including e-commerce, education, corporate solutions, etc.

Examples of IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS   

There are few purely PaaS, SaaS, or IaaS examples as many businesses resort to a certain combination thereof depending on their technology needs. Here we give some common cloud services examples popular among developers across the globe and possessing a strong growth potential. 

Examples of IaaS: Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Cisco Metapod, Microsoft Azure, Google Compute, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Rackspace, Digital Ocean, Magento 1 Enterprise Edition, Joyent. The typical IaaS use-case is the extension of current infrastructure for handling temporary traffic increases (for instance, your e-store faces an enormous increase of site traffic during the Christmas holidays, and you use the IaaS capacity to support its functioning and not to lose profits because of the website’s failure).   

SaaS examples: Salesforce, Google Apps, TurboTax, QuickBooks, Workday, Concur, Citrix GoToMeeting, Cisco WebEx. Google Docs is also an example of software as a service – this application has gained global popularity not only among businesses but among millions of regular Web users. The common case-use of SaaS is that of replacing traditional software with on-device, on-demand software accessible through the Web. 

PaaS examples: Windows Azure, Google App Engine, Apprenda, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Heroku, Apache Stratos. The typical application of PaaS includes the increase of developer’s productivity and utilization rates combined with the achievement of lower time-to-market of the developed application

Advantages of IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS 

Now that you know what PaaS, IaaS, and SaaS are and what examples there are in the market, it’s high time to find out what’s good and bad about each of the service models. This information may shed light on their comparative characteristics and help you choose the one that suits your business and software development/use needs the most.  

Pros and Cons of IaaS 

Using IaaS offers many advantages to the users. 

  1. Cost-effectiveness. IaaS helps to maintain on-premise IT infrastructure that is otherwise too costly and resource-consuming. In traditional systems, purchasing hardware and maintaining your personal infrastructure may involve many expenditures. The hardware is expensive; it has to be operated by an IT specialist, and it also requires regular upgrades to function at its highest capacity. With IaaS, you avoid this trouble and save costs on buying hardware and hiring administrators; the IaaS solution already has it all on a very affordable pay-as-you-go basis. 
  2. Flexibility and scalability. The users of IaaS can easily change the IaaS provider or purchase additional capacity without serious investments or losses, which is impossible in case they own hardware and need to replace it with newer versions.  
  3. User’s control. Using the IaaS solutions does not reduce your control over the infrastructure, leaving it all in your hands. Oversight of IaaS is possible even by an individual developer, which means that you don’t need to hire any additional IT staff to have your infrastructure running smoothly. In case you run into any problems, most IaaS providers offer 24/7 support available for any inquiries. 

Some disadvantages of IaaS also need to be mentioned. The basic precondition for the smooth operation of your infrastructure is an Internet connection. Thus, problems with connectivity, weak or unstable Web connection, and other problems will inevitably cause disruptions in the operation of your IaaS environment. Another con is the dependence on virtualization services, which is not always suitable for a user. Finally, IaaS restricts user privacy and customization.  

Pros and Cons of PaaS 

Now let’s consider PaaS and its relative strengths and weaknesses. The benefits of using PaaS solutions include: 

  • Advanced customization. In case you work with PaaS tools, you can easily customize the existing software and app tools for the generation of unique software products. The best part of it is that you don’t need to go through the entire process of software development and code everything; you can use pre-existing templates and frameworks to build your solutions upon them and tailor them to your individual taste and intentions. 
  • Cost-effectiveness. While creating a new app is costly, no business wishes to use some cheap, standard solutions. PaaS provides a unique combination allowing the generation of great apps without spending much money on them due to its extensive tools and scripts serving as a solid basis for quick and cost-effective customization, 
  • Virtualization and operational efficiency. No matter how much PaaS capacity you need, you are free to utilize it without in-depth system administration skills. The model is intuitive and user-friendly, thus enabling you to scale your software needs depending on business growth without limitations.  

Using PaaS nevertheless comes with certain cons such as the risk of lock-in (creating software within a specific PaaS environment ties you to that platform with its interface, programming language, and interface) and limited scalability (PaaS tools are somewhat inflexible in terms of supplies on demand). Besides, experts recommend performing an additional data backup to the one provided by a PaaS environment to prevent data losses in case of any emergency. 

Pros and Cons of SaaS 

SaaS is currently regarded to be the most flexible and accessible of all cloud service models. It is the most popular service among businesses favouring cloud solutions. SaaS benefits include enabling of app's use by end users without download, directly through an Internet browser. In such a way, these apps save precious space on user devices.

SaaS has benefits for both entrepreneurs and coders such as:

  • Simple integration (all you need to start working is a browser; SaaS solutions are equally accessible via desktop and mobile devices);
  • Low cost (with the data center residing in the cloud, you don’t need to spend much on the SaaS solutions as compared to paying for the hardware and storage facilities for offline, physical data storage)  
  • Scalability (users can easily get more cloud space by purchasing additional licenses). 

Nevertheless, when talking about SaaS, one should still note that it also has some cons, and the main one is security. Many users still find it risky to store sensitive, confidential corporate information in the cloud because of the hazard of cyber-theft and data leakage. 

IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS

It’s also instrumental to find out what distinguishes each cloud service model from the other two counterparts to get a firm grasp of situations in which a certain business needs to choose one of them in favour of the other two. 

IaaS vs PaaS

The basis of PaaS vs IaaS comparison is that PaaS applications are cloud-ready, and IaaS solutions are cloud-native. Being cloud-ready means that the application can run anywhere on any platform, is highly scalable, and loosely coupled. Moreover, it has to be automated for deployment. Being cloud-native means that an app was initially designed for the application in the cloud environment. In such a way, the IaaS-created app is made to take the full advantage of all cloud functionality, which makes it the most suitable solution for the microservice architecture. 

SaaS vs PaaS

When comparing SaaS and PaaS, one should note that the benefit of the former is in the ready-made solution requiring no additional input from the developer. The SaaS provider takes care of everything, while your task is to use the service without taking care of anything behind the scenes, that is, the back end. 

The benefit of PaaS (though some users still regard it to be a drawback) is the loose definition of the environment allowing the developer considerable flexibility and freedom of creating his/her own systems. Some experts see the enormous potential of PaaS in terms of creating Web-intensive functions with the high cost and low predictability, e.g., e-commerce. However, to realize that potential, PaaS needs to develop and acquire features that a modern e-commerce customer requires, such as user-friendliness, customization, and scalability. 

IaaS vs SaaS

As it was explained above, SaaS is a ready-made software application run directly through the Web browser and not requiring any developer input. It is a plug-and-play product that you may use instantly, which is definitely suitable for many business situations. 

The only advantage of IaaS as compared to SaaS is the degree of user’s access to the operational settings and management of the application. While in the SaaS environment, the user has no access to any of the settings, infrastructure, and operational configurations, in IaaS, the user does not participate in the administration of hardware but can adjust the operational and app settings on his/her own. In such a way, users who wish to get more customizable solutions should opt for IaaS instead of SaaS despite its convenience. 

Why You Should Use SaaS 

Now that we have compared IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, let’s focus specifically on SaaS and explore the benefits this model cloud service model offers to any business. SaaS definitely possesses a number of benefits as compared to two other cloud service models:

  • Cost. Now to run any software, you don’t need a server and any complex administration. You actually rent software from a cloud service and use it for as long as you need it, thus avoiding the huge software development expenditures and the administrative hassle.  
  • Flexibility. SaaS applications do not presuppose a costly purchase of software; they mean renting it instead. Thus, you are flexible to shift to another SaaS product at a very low cost in case any aspect of its functionality doesn’t satisfy your business needs. 
  • Time. The time from your idea generation to starting to use the SaaS app is minimal, thus saving your time and money on the idea-to-market period. 
  • Profit. Modern analysis shows that the SaaS-based business model has the potential to increase your business profit by 100 times if you are an IT business. While subscription costs are low and accessible, timely upgrades are also highly affordable, increasing the client base and guaranteeing greater revenues. 

Users also benefit from SaaS applications enormously. By accessing them through the Web, the save space and capacity of their devices with no-download options. Besides, they enjoy the flexibility of subscription-based use because they may refuse from any app at any moment as compared to purchasing a much more expensive desktop version. 

A Recap 

As one can see from the PaaS, IaaS, and SaaS definition provided above, all three are the models of cloud service provision – a buzzword in modern e-commerce. Each of them has its peculiarities, pros, and cons, and each comes with specific requirements as to its use and the degree of user involvement in the process of software development, management, and upgrade. Choosing your ideal cloud computing model depends on the degree of involvement and control you would like to have, as well as the relative risks and benefits each of them provides. 

The key advantage of IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS is that they provide online capacity for running labor- and capacity-intensive tasks in the rented infrastructure, thus avoiding the cost of setting one’s own hardware and administering it. Thus, while businesses are obsessed with cutting costs and optimizing their operations, one thing is for sure: cloud computing is here to stay, and its popularity grows day by day due to the convenience of “rented” virtual environment.  

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