Cloud Computing Architectures Compared – IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS

Cloud computing has come a long way whether you mean the technology itself or the ways companies have adopted it over the past years. If your organization is making the leap or considering switching architectures, we could help you better understand the different offerings.

Cloud computing architecture comes in many different flavors. The most three popular architectures among enterprises are detailed below.

  1. IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service
  2. PaaS – Platform as a Service
  3. SaaS – Software as a Service

IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS

Though the three architectures take up different positions,  the only difference is all about where they sit within a technology stack.

IaaS sits at the very bottom of the stack and involves the virtualization of your core network infrastructure like data center servers and storage. PaaS moves a little further up your stack and is more focused on streamlining some of the more time consuming and redundant IT tasks like application development and managing operating systems. SaaS is at the topmost level of cloud services and is essentially hosted versions of software which eliminates the need for IT to manage hundreds of different applications.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

With IaaS, a brand essentially buys or rents server space from a vendor. They can then take advantage of the scaling potential guaranteed by the vendor while managing every detail of their applications,  from operating system to middleware to runtime without any assistance from the IaaS vendor.

IaaS is often used to describe “cloud services” or “managed infrastructure services”. IaaS involves providers offering dedicated or cloud-based server and network infrastructure where the provider generally manages the hardware (swapping failed hard drives and that sort of thing) and sometimes the operating system of the infrastructure itself.

IaaS is generally a good fit for organizations looking for high levels of customization for their infrastructure and hence it requires a high degree of technical proficiency within an organization. It gives you total control by managing your own infrastructure in a public cloud, but you’ll need the resources and expertise to comfortably configure and manage your own infrastructure.

Examples,

  • AWS (Amazon Web Services)
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Google Compute

IaaS Best Use Case

IaaS solutions are best suited to brands with a highly skilled set of developers who work to build applications and digital experiences from scratch, manage traffic loads and server maintenance and then scale when required. If you have a technical team, you may ask them to spin up a service or application with IaaS, which gives them full control over everything that happens.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

With platform-as-a-service or PaaS, the vendor provides its customers with the same server space and flexibility, but with some additional tools to customize applications more easily. Furthermore, a PaaS vendor handles things like operating system, runtime, middleware, virtualization, and storage although the client or customer manages their own applications and data.

PaaS describes both the infrastructure and software for building digital applications. PaaS providers generally specialize in building certain types of applications, like eCommerce applications. PaaS providers offer dedicated or virtualized hardware, and some hide the infrastructure layer from the customer for ease of use. Though PaaS requires a high degree of technical proficiency, PaaS providers often include features that make it easier for non-technical clients to create digital applications and experiences.

PaaS is a good fit for organizations if you don’t have the level of expertise in the infrastructure needed for IaaS but still want your development teams to deploy their applications and websites themselves.

Examples,
  • Google App Engine
  • OutSystems
  • Heroku

PaaS Best Use Case

PaaS is best suited to a team of developers who want the freedom to build their own applications without having to worry about underlying tasks like runtime and traffic load management.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Software-as-a-service basically handles all the technical stuff while at the same time providing an application (or a suite of applications) that the client or customer can use to launch projects immediately — or at least, faster than they would do with an IaaS or PaaS solution, both of which require more technical input from the client or customer. Coincidentally most SaaS vendors use IaaS or PaaS Solutions to support their suite of applications, handling the technical elements so their customers don’t have to.

SaaS is the least hands-on of the three cloud computing solutions and is good if you don’t have developer resources but need to provide capabilities to end users. You won’t have visibility or control of your infrastructure and are restricted by the capabilities and configuration of the software tools. This can be restrictive when you want to integrate with other systems you may own and run, but does allow you to get up and running quickly.

SaaS providers allow customers to take advantage of the features of the software they provide without the customer having to purchase infrastructure or use IaaS or PaaS solutions.

SaaS services are generally chosen based on the features and quality of the software. Customers choosing server software on IaaS and PaaS providers generally do so over SaaS because of the need for high levels of customization to the core software or aggressive security requirements.

Examples,

  • Google G Suite
  • Microsoft Office 365
  • Mailchimp

SaaS Best Use Case

SaaS solutions are the most popular of the three because they cater for non-technical companies and startups who wish to deploy their websites and applications rapidly, while the vendor takes care of hosting, security, server uptime and pretty much everything else on the technical side. With a SaaS solution, you can launch and scale faster and test the market with pre-built solutions. SaaS benefits really come into their own when you want to do multiple instances of a system.”

Which Cloud Architecture is For You?

Taking into account the definitions and explanations given above, it’s clear to see the differences between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. In infrastructure-as-a-service, you get what the name implies, just the infrastructure. You’ll then need to ask your technical team with building on top of that infrastructure, building applications and digital experiences largely from scratch. With platform-as-a-service, you get some additional building blocks on top of the infrastructure, giving developers the tools they need to build and innovate, without spoon-feeding them applications that they can launch with immediately. Finally, the software-as-a-service solution gives the client or customer direct access to pre-build applications and solutions which they can use to rapidly deploy sites and apps. The technicalities are taken care of, and there isn’t the need — nor, in most cases, the possibility — for developers to delve into the code and customize the solution.

Thus, the type of cloud architecture you should choose depends on the plan, team and timeline you have. If your product or service is too unique and complex for pre-built applications to support, and you have a technical team ready to build from scratch, then IaaS or perhaps PaaS is the solution. If, however, you want to launch a string of web publications or eCommerce websites, both of which are relatively straightforward projects, then a SaaS solution would probably be best suited.

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