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IaaS, PaaS and SaaS: Different Clouds for Different Crowds

IaaS, PaaS and SaaS: Different Clouds for Different Crowds

Picking the right technology solutions for your organization can be daunting, especially if you’re going it alone or if you’re just not a ‘tech person.’ Selecting the right cloud services is no exception. But you don’t have to be overwhelmed by the cloud.

First off, it can be tremendously helpful to familiarize yourself with what ‘the cloud’ even refers to; when you have a basic understanding of what the cloud is (a way of giving people and organizations IT services and resources that utilizes the internet) and what it’s not (it’s not a place, it’s not in the sky, its performance does not tend to fluctuate with the weather), the idea of moving to the cloud becomes much less scary. So, if you haven’t already, check out the first blog in this series for a straightforward overview of cloud computing, and the second to learn about the top 3 benefits of moving your business to the cloud.

In this piece, we’ll be looking at three types of public cloud service models that individuals and businesses can use:

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)

If you’re a business owner thinking about making more use of cloud computing, what you want to know is: Which service model is right for my organization?

This article will help you get a handle on IaaS, PaaS and SaaS — what they are, how they differ, and what benefits you can expect from each. But remember, when it comes to receiving guidance on large-scale IT projects, there’s no substitute for having a strong IT team behind you, either in-house or outsourced. A managed service provider (MSP) can be especially helpful for business owners who are looking to make significant changes to their IT environment.

IaaS, PaaS and SaaS: Buffet or Menu Items?

If you think IaaS, PaaS and SaaS present three mutually exclusive options, think again. Instead of asking which one is right for your business, you should be asking: Which combination of cloud service models best suits my business? There’s no rule saying you have to use only one of the three. Much like a buffet, you could — if it makes good business sense — have a little of each. Indeed, a lot of businesses, especially larger enterprises, use more than one, and oftentimes some combination of all three.

Less Responsibility = Less Control

IaaS, PaaS and SaaS — that’s the order in which you generally see the three cloud service models listed, and there’s a reason for that. IaaS is the most basic type of cloud service model, followed by PaaS, and finally, SaaS. In this context, “basic” is defined in terms of how much control over your IT environment you’re ceding to your cloud provider. So, with IaaS, you’re giving up the least amount of control, and with SaaS, you’re giving up the most. More specifically, with IaaS, you’re moving the fewest number of IT functionalities to the cloud, and with SaaS, you’re moving the most.

Check out this chart depicting exactly which aspects of your IT environment you’re handing over to your cloud provider under IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. As you can see, with all three types of service models, you have fewer IT responsibilities compared to a fully on-premises set up.

SaaS might seem like an attractive choice if your preference is to not have to worry about IT. However, it’s important to keep in mind that less responsibility also means less control. The more of your IT environment you choose to host on the cloud, the less control you have over it. SaaS, for instance, leaves very little room for customization, as SaaS products pretty much come “as is.” In some industries — such as financial services — regulations require certain levels of control over data for security purposes, and some cloud service models might not allow you to achieve those levels. Bottom line: know your industry.

IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS: A Closer Look


Now that we’ve taken a look at the three types of cloud service models from a ‘bird’s-eye view,’ let’s zoom in and look at the specific features of each. This will help you begin to get a clearer idea of which one(s) best serves your business’s needs.

We’ll start with IaaS. IaaS, as its name suggests, delivers IT infrastructure on an on-demand basis. This infrastructure typically includes servers, networking and storage. IaaS can be a good option for smaller businesses that don’t have the time or money to establish their own data center, and need infrastructure quickly and cheaply. It can also make sense for companies that want to leverage the general benefits of the cloud (scalability, cost-effectiveness, etc.), but still require ample control over their applications and IT infrastructure.


PaaS gives your company the same cloud-based services as IaaS, plus a few more (namely, operating systems, middleware and runtime). PaaS is a popular cloud service model for software developers, as it enables them to build applications in a quick and scalable fashion using a cloud-hosted platform. Developers who use PaaS don’t have to worry about maintaining and managing operating systems or software updates, as those are handled by the cloud provider. As a result, they can put all their energy and focus into creating and testing new apps.


SaaS is the most common type

of cloud service used by individuals and organizations, and it’s not surprising as it’s also the easiest to use. SaaS involves the delivery of applications over the internet to users. Chances are, your organization already utilizes SaaS (popular apps such as Gmail, Google Drive, HubSpot, and the apps in Microsoft 365 are all SaaS offerings). The primary appeal of SaaS is convenience; you’re getting a ready-to-use application, and all you need to use it are a web browser and an internet connection. This means no downloads or installations, as SaaS offerings are hosted entirely on remote servers.

The advantage of SaaS — that it requires very little from your organization in the way of IT management — is also the source of its main limitation; because SaaS products are hosted on the cloud, they don’t typically allow for much customization. However, if you don’t require a high degree of customization from your apps, SaaS can be a perfect solution. SaaS is also suitable for short-term projects and apps that aren’t used very often (e.g., tax software).

Concluding Remarks

If you’re looking into cloud services for your business, and the choice between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS is making you anxious, take a deep breath and remind yourself …

The fact that you’re looking into matters more closely and researching the different types of cloud service models means that you’re miles ahead of the business owner who is avoiding the cloud altogether, whether out of sheer bias, fear, or simple complacency. The businesses that aren’t fully confident navigating the world of cloud services aren’t the ones that should be worried. It’s the businesses that aren’t even entering that world that need to be concerned, because they’re the ones who aren’t prepared for the digital future.

Besides, the three types of cloud service models all share the general benefits of cloud computing: increased business agility, greater scalability, cost-effectiveness, and robust BDR. So, a gradual migration to the cloud, involving some trial-and-error, is far superior to the strategy of ignoring cloud computing altogether and stubbornly doing everything on-premises.

This doesn’t mean you can choose any type of cloud service model and expect it to do wonders for your business. Adopting cloud-based computing is tied up with various challenges, such as maintaining your security posture, integrating cloud solutions with your on-premises infrastructure, and so forth. And so, migrating to the cloud should be done with care, deliberation, and the help of a trusted IT provider or in-house IT team. That’s the only way to make sure you maximize the benefits of cloud computing for your company.

That said, even if it takes you months — or years even — to find the right cloud-based solutions for your company, by deciding to take steps toward becoming a cloud-based business, you’re ensuring that your business is on the right track. That’s because cloud services have evolved to the point where it’s simply not sensible to opt out entirely. Staying away from the cloud isn’t being ‘down to earth’ so much as it is being a ‘stick in the mud.’