IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS: How to Choose What's Best for You

Tech Insights for Professionals

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Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Do you understand which of the three main cloud computing options is best for you? Here's what you need to know about SaaS, PaaS and IaaS.

Article 5 Minutes

Cloud computing is a way of life for almost every business today. Whether it's a small firm with just a handful of employees, or a multinational brand with state-of-the-art IT systems, it's almost impossible to operate these days without some form of cloud-based solution.

But trying to define what exactly we mean by the cloud isn't always easy. While on the base level its sounds pretty straightforward to define - services that are delivered and hosted by a third party - within this, there are a few key operating models that you need to be aware of.

Essentially, most cloud services fall into one of three categories, each with differing levels of service offered by the provider. These are Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-Service (IaaS). As the names suggest, they all deliver IT tools on a service basis, with the provider owning and managing the assets.

But each of these offer businesses differing levels of control, from allowing users to retain the management of key applications to handing over every aspect of your IT to a service provider. For most businesses, the first question when looking to establish cloud solutions will therefore be which model is best-suited to their needs.

Here we offer a rundown of each of the three main cloud services, their advantages, and some of the best scenarios for each.

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

What is it?

Perhaps the most common form of cloud computing, SaaS refers to cloud-based applications. Most of these can be accessed and used through a web browser and won't require users to download software to their machine. Some of the most familiar SaaS applications are email services such as Gmail, business applications like Salesforce and file-sharing offers such as Dropbox.

What are the advantages?

Not having to install software on site removes one of the biggest headaches for IT departments, as they won't have to worry about licensing issues, patches and updates or the tedious process of rolling out the tools to every PC and laptop. SaaS applications can usually be accessed from anywhere and all of the setup and management is taken care of for you.

When should I use it?

SaaS tools are ideal if you need reliable, up-to-date applications, but you don't have the resources available - in terms of time or money - to handle all the associated admin. It can also come in handy for short-term projects that require a lot of collaboration, or for applications that are only used occasionally, as the subscription model means they can be easily procured as and when they are required.

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)

What is it?

PaaS tools offer developers a framework on which they can build their own software applications, offering all the tools that professionals need to complete the process, including the necessary operating systems, software updates, storage and infrastructure. Popular PaaS solutions include Google App Engine and OpenShift.

What are the advantages?

Because PaaS solutions give developers all the tools they need in one package, they can get a head start on their work without having to build everything from scratch. The tools are scalable, so can be used for projects of any size and ramped up if required. They’re also accessible, helping make collaboration easier.

When should I use it?

These solutions are ideal for software developers who need flexibility and cost-effectiveness, as well as the ability to work closely with others. It allows these professionals to focus more closely on the creative side of their work without having to worry about more mundane tasks, such as managing software updates. When building customized applications, PaaS can greatly reduce costs and simplify the development process.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

What is it?

The third major cloud computing category, IaaS can be thought of as a virtual data center, providing all the basic infrastructure your business needs to operate, including servers, storage, and networking resources. While the provider manages these services, the customer maintains responsibility for all the applications, runtime, operating systems and data that use it. Amazon Web Services EC2 and Microsoft Azure are among the most widely-used IaaS services.

What are the advantages?

A big plus of IaaS is that it eliminates the need for capital investment into hardware, which is not only expensive, but time-consuming and resource intensive to manage. With IaaS, businesses can easily scale up or down as their requirements change, while firms retain full control over their infrastructure.

When should I use it?

IaaS is a great option for rapidly-expanding businesses that need to build an IT estate fast. It means you won't be locked into a specific hardware or software environment that may not be suitable in the future, and its useful for everything from web hosting and testing to high-performance computing operations, such as big data analytics. This means it's also a great option for large enterprises looking to add new services.

So which is the best cloud option for your firm?

The decision on which cloud computing services to use will be dependent on what your business goals are. Each offers similar benefits in terms of flexibility, scalability and choice, but the exact services they provide will vary depending on your needs.

One analogy is to consider cloud computing like a vehicle. If you own your own car, you're responsible for everything from the driving to the maintenance, like traditional on-premises computing.

Alternatively, IaaS can be considered similar to leasing a car - you're still in control of the driving, filling it with gas, etc, but you don't actually own the machinery - and if your needs change you can always swap it for a different car.

Meanwhile, PaaS is more like hailing a cab, as you still have your own private environment and destination, but you get to sit back and let the driver handle the work.

Finally, SaaS is more like a bus, with an assigned route that you hop on and off as needed, along with other passengers.

Ultimately, you still end up where you want to go, but the level of control you maintain over how you get their will vary, so consider what your firm wants to do. If you need out-of-the-box software with little customization, a SaaS service will be ideal, but if you're building a new website from scratch, IaaS will be the better option.

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