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November 2, 2021 | David McKenney

Cloud Computing: IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS – What’s the Difference? 

IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS: What Does Your Business Need?

Cloud computing allows you to offload tasks to an organization that can manage them faster, better, or more affordable than you can. Before you decide how much of your IT workloads you want to migrate to the cloud, you need to understand: 

  • the differences between IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS
  • which service makes sense for your hardware and software and overall business needs  

What is SaaS?

We’ll start with Software as a Service (SaaS), often an organization’s first introduction to cloud computing. With SaaS, the software is offered as a service, usually on a subscription basis, through the cloud. You may also hear the term “cloud application services” in reference to SaaS. 

The rapid “SaaS-ification” of applications by vendors has shifted the load for many organizations. Instead of having to manage and maintain software in-house, you can now consume an application as needed, while allowing a third-party vendor to manage the rest. Most SaaS applications don’t require installations or downloads for clients and are run through a web browser.  

Many applications have made the shift from on-premise to cloud. Microsoft Office started as solely on-premise, but now offers a SaaS version (Office 365). In some cases, such as Microsoft Office and Office 365, the SaaS and on-premise versions can work together across the enterprise.  

While many applications have made the shift from on-premise to cloud, some popular solutions were SaaS-only offerings from the beginning. Salesforce (originally Salesforce.com) is probably one of the best-known examples.  

Examples of SaaS applications include:  

  • Dropbox  
  • GoToMeeting  
  • Google Apps
  • Salesforce  
  • Office 365  
  • Zendesk 
  • Slack 
  • DocuSign 
  • MailChimp  
  • Hubspot  

Why Migrate to SaaS?

A common reason organizations migrate to SaaS is so they can convert capital investments into monthly, predictable operating expenses. SaaS apps also tend to receive features and benefits faster. More and more, applications that are being offered as both SaaS and on-premises versions are seeing their on-premises versions being retired. 

We anticipate this trend only continuing in the years to come. For the on-premises applications that aren’t adapting to a cloud model, we’re also seeing the “replacement” methodology, where organizations are replacing certain apps with similar products offered via SaaS.  

Because your IT team doesn’t have to configure and maintain SaaS applications on every computer the way they have to for on-premises, cloud applications allow them to free up their time to be spent elsewhere. SaaS vendors manage any technical issues that may arise. Cloud application services are also easier and faster for vendors to maintain and update.  

When to Use SaaS Applications  

Software as a Service is growing in popularity, and the use cases are growing as well. While there are still some limitations with some SaaS products, such as integration shortcomings or limited customization, applications are also rising to the occasion and becoming more accommodating. One example is Acumatica SaaS, an ERP solution that offers completely cloud-based software that is customizable and easy to integrate, all while allowing users to own the rights to their data.  

When choosing SaaS applications for your business, make sure you understand how they will work in conjunction with what you already have, what services are included, and what happens if you decide to leave for another application in the future. All in all, SaaS products are ideal for work environments that require quick collaboration, flexibility, and access via web and mobile.  

What is IaaS?

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is the next logical step for organizations that are comfortable with the concept of having workloads in the cloud. With IaaS, you can start migrating workloads that aren’t cloud-native to either a public- or private-hosted cloud. Instead of having to purchase resources up-front, oftentimes, with IaaS, you can purchase when needed. IaaS is a highly scalable solution for businesses looking to grow quickly or have flexibility due to seasonal or one-off demands.  

Public Cloud

Public cloud is a cloud environment where the physical compute resources and storage are shared among multiple “tenants.” The three most popular public cloud providers are Amazon (AWS), Microsoft (Azure), and Google (GCP). Many smaller providers also offer multi-tenant cloud environments  

Private Cloud

In a private cloud environment, physical resources are reserved for one organization’s use only. In some examples, such as colocation, these resources may remain the property of the enterprise, even though they are hosted in third-party data centers.  

Why move to IaaS?

You may be wondering why it’s worth the effort to re-host your workloads in the cloud. Doing so can give you back considerable time that was otherwise spent on managing infrastructure. Much like making the switch to SaaS, IaaS solutions can help you become nimbler and more efficient. Finding a well-positioned IaaS cloud can help you along your journey to digital transformation, saving you time and creating bandwidth on your team that can be used for more complex workload transformations.  

IaaS delivers the most essential elements of a cloud:  

  • Physical servers and storage
  • Operating systems  
  • Hypervisors and virtual machines  
  • Networking  

IaaS can be a do-it-yourself proposition where your team manages the cloud environment remotely. However, many organizations now work with managed service providers to migrate workloads to the cloud, as well as provide additional services, including disaster recovery and security & compliance. If you’re looking to offload most or all of your services, find a provider that offers packages. Otherwise, look for one that does a la carte services to complement what your in-house team already does.  

Advantages of IaaS

IaaS has many of the benefits that managing your own infrastructure has, especially if you use a private cloud, with the added benefit of not having to manage or maintain your own infrastructure. Most of the time, organizations are able to manage their servers remotely through a virtual dashboard. Requests and monitoring can be done from your home or office, so there’s no need to go onsite to manage day-to-day needs.  

Infrastructure as a Service is also a great fit for businesses that may have surges in demand, maybe by a flash sale, seasonality, or a surge in attention due to a recent news story. You may need extra infrastructure for a brief period, but if you had to buy it yourself, it might go to waste for most of the year. IaaS is flexible and scalable and can accommodate these surges and dips in needs.  

What IaaS Doesn’t Include

Using IaaS means your hard drives, storage, servers, networking, and virtualization are controlled by your third-party vendor. However, you still need to manage things like your data, applications, and operating systems, unless you add PaaS and SaaS (more on PaaS next).  

When to use IaaS

If you’re trying to think about whether IaaS is the right move for you, ask yourself the following questions:  

  • Would it be best right now to avoid spending money and resources on purchasing and managing our own hardware and infrastructure?  
  • Are we certain of what our needs will be in a few years from now? A year? A few months?  
  • Is our growth steady? Predictable? Rapid? Unpredictable?  

IaaS can be the right fit for many types of organizations, especially for those growing rapidly or looking to move their team to other types of projects. In addition to scalable infrastructure, a good IaaS provider will have other services on-site, such as security compliance, disaster recovery, and repair and maintenance. This can eliminate worries about data security or specific concerns you may have based on the nature of your business or industry. 

What is PaaS?

Platform as a Service (PaaS) may sound like an offering that would only be used by software companies, but it is rapidly being adopted by enterprises. More and more companies are developing SaaS solutions to complement their products and services or for in-house use. This could include analytics tools or other customized applications. 

PaaS solutions allow developers to create these custom applications, often called middleware, to work with what they’re already using in-house. PaaS offers both cloud-based infrastructure and tools for managing environments that are designed to develop, test, deliver, and manage software applications.  

PaaS, as indicated by the name, provides a platform for developers to create applications. The infrastructure of the platform is managed by the vendor, while the user can maintain and manage the applications that are being created. Some examples of PaaS include AWS Lambda, Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure SAP Cloud, Heroku, and OpenShift.  

When to use PaaS

Much like SaaS and IaaS, PaaS is great for companies that are looking to save money and time on resources to get to the work they want to be doing. PaaS providers will set up the cloud infrastructure necessary to develop applications without customers having to maintain software or go through additional coding to set up the environment.  

IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS: Which one, or which combination, is right for you?

As you might imagine, many organizations will have workloads deployed across all three types of environments. For example, they might use several cloud-native SaaS applications, as well as have migrated some of their mission-critical applications to a private, hosted IaaS environment. For development and testing, they’ll use PaaS, but then they may migrate their production workloads to either a private or public cloud environment (IaaS) for additional security and compliance. 

The possible configurations are endless, so it’s not as much about IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS as it is considering all three working together to tend to your particular organization’s needs. The key is to choose the right level of cloud service for your workload and your environment.  

If you’re ready to figure out what combination is right for you, contact us today. 

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