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What’s the difference and which one should you use?

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SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS are three common terms that describe different types of service-based computing. In each case, companies consume IT resources on demand from third-party cloud providers, rather than directly purchasing physical assets such as hardware equipment and software licenses.

The as-a-service model maximizes efficiency so can be cheaper than traditional alternatives. Organizations only pay for what they use, making costs easier to allocate and predict. New resources can be provisioned whenever they are needed, allowing you to scale quickly in response to new business needs.

While SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS all share these benefits, they each address different use cases and user groups. In this article, we’ll look at how all three offerings fit into your tech stack and when you should choose one over another.

SaaS: software as a service

SaaS (Software as a Service) is the most widely used of these terms. Refers to full software that can be used for a recurring subscription fee. SaaS products are typically hosted in the cloud and accessed from a web browser or mobile device. The concept can also refer to desktop software that is similarly licensed, such as paying for Microsoft Office programs through a Microsoft 365 plan.

Some popular SaaS apps include Slack for messaging, GitHub for code hosting, and Stripe for billing payments. Each of these gives you an out-of-the-box platform that solves a particular problem for you.

SaaS solutions are typically delivered continuously to improve throughout their life. As part of the ongoing subscription, new features and security patches are delivered on a regular cadence, with no action required from the end user.

Most SaaS providers offer several different payment tiers that allow you to select the mix of features you need. Additional users, storage quotas, and add-on modules can be purchased as needed, rather than paying for everything up front.

PaaS: platform as a service

PaaS stands for Platform as a Service. Unlike a SaaS, PaaS offerings are not directed at software end users. They are tools that development teams use to create, deploy, and maintain applications.

PaaS solutions remove the complexity of provisioning and running infrastructure. Developers used to configure servers manually by configuring the operating system, installing the runtime environment for their programming language, and setting up administrative tasks like backup and monitoring.

PaaS services like Heroku and Firebase handle these tasks for you. They provide an out-of-the-box environment that allows you to deploy code automatically, whenever you make changes. The PaaS provider detects the source languages ​​in your project, provides a suitable runtime, and exposes your service to the Internet.

Using PaaS can provide significant time and cost savings to busy DevOps teams. They make deployments quick and easy, provide built-in scalability, and are generally easier to manage than self-hosted infrastructure. Most PaaS platforms include a graphical dashboard that allows you to monitor deployed applications and roll back problematic changes.

IaaS: Infrastructure as a Service

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) describes the on-demand provisioning of new cloud computing components. Virtual servers are the most common form of IaaS, but private networks, load balancers, and object storage systems can also fall under this heading. All major cloud providers such as AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and DigitalOcean have established themselves offering IaaS solutions.

Resources deployed from an IaaS provider are typically served using one of two models: shared or dedicated hosting. Shared hosting means that multiple virtual computing resources owned by multiple customers are backed by the same physical hardware. This is more affordable but can hurt performance if you have “noisy neighbors.” Dedicated hosting gives you exclusive use of a particular physical asset. It is similar to locating your own server in the cloud provider’s data center.

Infrastructure as a Service lowers costs and offers greater flexibility than traditional on-premises servers. You have the freedom to scale your resources up or down to meet changing customer demands and new product launches. You’re in control of the virtual servers you provision, so you can choose the operating system, install the packages you need, and tune settings for maximum performance and reliability.

SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS: Which Should You Use?

SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS each consider a unique aspect of cloud computing. If you’re looking for new software to help you run your business, a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform is what you should be looking for. Products marketed under this term are off-the-shelf solutions that you can license on an ongoing basis.

PaaS and IaaS are more technical options aimed at developers and engineering teams. These solutions allow you to create and deliver your own SaaS products. Where they differ is in the level of control they provide.

A platform as a service (PaaS) allows you to outsource your infrastructure so you can focus on the functionality of your application. These solutions automatically build your code and deploy it to a properly configured environment. They can help you bring new products to market faster while reducing the maintenance burden over time. However, PaaS approaches can be limiting in the long run, as you are limited to the features of the platform you select.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) gives you full control of your computing resources. You can provision and manage your own infrastructure components while taking advantage of the scaling options of cloud services. The trade-off is a higher maintenance burden, as you will be responsible for setting up and maintaining each system, as if it were a physical machine residing on your premises.

PaaS is often the best option for companies building simple SaaS solutions where quick code releases are the top priority. IaaS is best suited for organizations that already manage their own tools and want the greatest degree of control over their environment.

Summary

SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS are different forms of cloud computing that allow you to purchase resources on an ongoing basis. This is often more flexible and cheaper than buying or licensing the equipment outright.

The three models are not mutually exclusive. Businesses can use them all together: dedicated servers can be hosted on an IaaS platform and application deployments can point to a PaaS solution, while back-office tasks such as payroll, project management and human resources are handled with third-party SaaS products.

Understanding the respective focus areas of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS will help you select the optimal technology for each new scenario. Mix and match may be the most effective procurement approach, allowing you to enjoy the benefits of all three with minimal drawbacks. While IaaS and PaaS help provide software solutions, SaaS is something that organizations can consume and produce.


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