IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS

Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Written by Kelsey Kinzer on June 16, 2022

Share This Article

Cloud computing has emerged as an essential IT infrastructure component across all industry verticals because it allows businesses to scale and maintain flexibility while focusing on core operations. 

If you’re considering transitioning your on-prem IT infrastructure to the cloud, understanding the differences and advantages of various cloud computing services will help you make the best decision for your IT environment. 

Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and software-as-a-service (SaaS) are the three main categories of cloud computing models. In this post, we’ll discuss the main differences, advantages, and use cases regarding IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS so you can make an informed choice.

Cloud Computing Models

Organizations are experiencing an unparalleled burden on their IT infrastructures as they struggle to meet customer expectations in today’s fast-paced, ever-evolving, and complex environments. 

Developing and maintaining scalable and secure on-prem IT infrastructure is a complex undertaking for most organizations, especially small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) with tight budgets.

By embracing cloud computing, your company can move beyond on-prem IT infrastructure and instead rely on the internet to deliver computing, networking, storage, and other essential services. By hosting these components remotely, cloud computing frees up the time for organizations to concentrate on their core objectives. 

For this reason, cloud computing platforms have grown significantly in the recent past, with a total global market size expected to rise from US$ 445.3 billion in 2021 to US$ 947.3 billion by 2026. With growth like this, cloud-based services are quickly becoming the norm as organizations start to phase out on-prem IT infrastructure entirely. 

Although cloud-based services — usually labeled “as-a-service” — are growing by the day, there are three popular models: IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. Let’s briefly define each of these models.

IaaS

This is an on-demand service that allows organizations to access cloud-hosted virtual servers, networking, and storage resources. You can think of IaaS as the cloud-hosted back-end IT infrastructure that companies need to run applications and workloads. 

PaaS

This is an on-demand service that allows companies to access complete and ready-to-use platforms for developing, deploying, and managing applications. PaaS solutions enable organizations and developers to host, build, and run consumer-facing applications. 

SaaS

This is an on-demand service that enables organizations to access ready-to-use cloud-hosted applications. SaaS is by far the most common cloud-based service, allowing companies and consumers to access cloud-based tools for everyday use.

A comparison chart of which IT components you manage and which ones the cloud service provider manages in IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS computing models.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service

IaaS is a cloud-based service where a cloud service provider (CSP) manages the back-end IT infrastructure components like servers, networking, and storage resources. It delivers them to organizations as virtual machines (VMs) accessible via the internet. Customers can choose between VMs hosted on shared physical servers — where the CSP manages virtualization — or bare metal servers on dedicated physical hardware. 

IaaS lets organizations bypass the costs and complexities of procuring, purchasing, and managing on-prem servers and data center infrastructure. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, Google Cloud Platform, and Alibaba Cloud are all examples of CSPs that provide IaaS solutions.

IaaS Characteristics

Typical characteristics of IaaS solutions include:

  • It is highly flexible and scalable. Organizations can quickly scale up or down in response to business requirements.
  • It leverages the “pay-as-you-go” pricing scheme. The company only pays for the services consumed. 
  • It relies on a multi-tenancy architecture. Most IaaS allows multiple subscribers to share a single piece of hardware. However, an organization can also opt for a single-tenant architecture at a higher price. 

IaaS Use Cases

IaaS can be leveraged for a variety of use cases, including:

  • Software development. Developers can leverage IaaS to set up VMs for testing and development environments much more quickly than they would in on-prem IT setups.
  • Web applications. IaaS provides all the infrastructure organizations need to deploy, manage, and scale web applications quickly.
  • Disaster recovery. The company can avoid large upfront costs associated with setting up redundant servers and instead use IaaS to handle unpredictable IT demands. Organizations can also leverage IaaS providers’ multiple data centers to back up their IT systems.
  • High-performance computing. IaaS is an excellent option for companies that want to power high-performance computing (HPC) workloads such as scientific computing, product design, and financial modeling. 

Benefits of IaaS

Compared to on-prem IT infrastructure, IaaS gives organizations many benefits, including more flexibility to build out computing resources on an as-needed basis. For example, e-commerce sites can easily scale up in response to spikes and scale down where traffic slows down. Organizations can also avoid enormous upfront costs associated with buying and maintaining costly hardware when opting for IaaS solutions.

Most importantly, IaaS eliminates the constant trade-offs that businesses have to make between purchasing excess on-prem IT equipment to accommodate spikes versus poor performance resulting from not having enough capacity to deal with traffic bursts or growth. 

Drawbacks of IaaS

Despite its appealing features, such as the “pay-as-you-go” pricing model, IaaS billing can be problematic for some organizations. It can be challenging for businesses to track every resource being consumed when there is a lack of visibility into the process. 

Lack of insights is another common problem with IaaS. Since IaaS providers own the entire IT stack, some details may not be transparent to organizations, making it difficult to manage and monitor services. Some older systems may also not be compatible with IaaS and cannot be upgraded or replaced. 

Platform-as-a-Service

PaaS is a complete development and deployment cloud-hosted platform with resources that developers can leverage to fast-track software development processes. Like IaaS, the CSP hosts and manages all the hardware, including servers, networking, and storage resources.

However, the CSP also hosts and manages operating systems (OSs), databases, middleware, framework development tools, and runtimes. The primary goal of PaaS is to support the complete application lifecycle, including development, testing, deployment, and management processes. 

Google App Engine, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Heroku, Windows Azure, Force.com, and Apache Stratos are typical examples of PaaS.

PaaS Characteristics

PaaS platforms are:

  • Built on multi-tenancy architectures. Multiple users often share the IT infrastructure.
  • Scalable. You can select from various tiers of computing resources depending on the size of your organization and business requirements. 
  • Easily customizable. Developers can easily customize and update applications without worrying about the back-end and software maintenance. 

PaaS Use Cases

Typical use cases for PaaS include:

  • Application programming interface (API) development and management. Developers can quickly build, test, and deploy APIs by leveraging PaaS’s built-in frameworks.
  • Agile development processes. PaaS provides all the requirements that developers need for software development and IT operations (DevOps) and automation to fast-track the development of applications. 
  • Cloud-native developmentstrategy. PaaS usually supports cloud-native development technologies such as serverless computing, containerization, and microservices. Developers can leverage these tools to build cloud-native applications.

Benefits of PaaS

By providing a complete software development infrastructure-as-a-service, PaaS offers the same benefits as IaaS. However, PaaS also provides additional features such as middleware, databases, and development frameworks that provide more advantages, such as:

  • Accelerated development of the software. PaaS tools enable developers to cut the time it takes to build new applications. 
  • Develop applications for multiple platforms. Some PaaS providers give developers more options for building applications that run on various platforms, including PCs, mobile devices, and browsers. 
  • Support geographically dispersed development teams. Development teams can easily collaborate on a project in a PaaS setup because the environment is accessed via the internet. 

Drawbacks of PaaS

PaaS has some potential drawbacks, including:

  • Developers have limited control over the infrastructure behind the platform. 
  • The organization doesn’t manage and store data, posing a security risk to its application users. 
  • The organization is limited by the PaaS providers’ terms of service, so they cannot extensively customize how the platform works on their end. 

Software-as-a-Service

SaaS is a software distribution framework where the CSP hosts the application and database on behalf of the customer and makes it available over the internet on a subscription basis. Unlike the PaaS framework, where in-house developers have access to the code, the CSP hosts everything — including the back-end IT infrastructure, databases, and the source code. 

Under this model, an independent software vendor (ISV) may use the services of a third-party CSP such as AWS or Azure to host the application and deliver it to its users. Google Workspace, Salesforce, Cisco WebEx, Dropbox, and Jira are some examples of SaaS solutions.

SaaS Characteristics

SaaS solutions have the following characteristics:

  • They are hosted on remote servers by third-party CSPs.
  • They are accessible through the internet.
  • They are ideal for startups or SMEs that cannot develop their own applications.

SaaS Use Cases

SaaS solutions have numerous use cases that span web and mobile applications. For example, virtually all employee productivity applications such as Jira, Asana, Trello, and Slack that organizations use today are offered as a SaaS. If you find a SaaS solution, that product will most likely provide a simpler and more scalable alternative to an on-prem software.

Benefits of SaaS

The primary advantage that companies can derive from SaaS is that it offloads all the infrastructure and application management to the software vendor, enabling them to focus on core operations. With SaaS, all the organization has to do is create user accounts, pay the subscription fee, and begin using the application while the software vendor manages everything from the back-end IT infrastructure to application patching and upgrades.

SaaS also allows employees to work at any time from any location. Employees can work with SaaS applications from any endpoint with a browser so long as they have internet connectivity. 

Drawbacks of SaaS

SaaS has some potential drawbacks, including:

  • The integration process is left to the software vendor, making it impossible to patch the application from the organization’s end. 
  • The application’s security is at the mercy of the software vendors’ security measures. If the leak happens, all the organization’s data may be compromised. 

IaaS vs. PaaS

Both IaaS and PaaS are similar in that they allow the organization to leverage back-end IT infrastructure components like servers, networking, and storage resources. However, while IaaS offers IT teams more direct control over the OSs, applications, and databases, PaaS doesn’t. 

This is because the CSP hosts and manages all the back-end IT infrastructure and software development frameworks that include OSs, middleware, databases, and runtimes. While this gives developers greater flexibility and ease of operation, they don’t have control over development environments.

IaaS vs. SaaS

IaaS is about managing cloud-hosted computing resources — servers, networking, and storage. The organization only handles the OS, middleware, and applications. In this regard, IaaS simply provides the framework where IT teams have more flexibility and control over the cloud environment. 

However, in a SaaS model, the software vendor takes care of everything — including computing resources, OS, middleware, and applications — while users consume the services on subscription-based pricing. 

PaaS vs. SaaS

Both PaaS and SaaS allow the organization to build new products on top of their existing IT environments. For example, PaaS providers host the hardware and software, allowing developers to accelerate the development and deployment of applications. 

SaaS also allows the organization to integrate its existing solutions with other offerings. However, while PaaS offers more flexibility for developers to customize the applications, SaaS provides the company the option of not building, therefore saving time. 

Leverage JumpCloud Directory to Streamline Identity and Access Management in the Cloud

IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, and even on-prem IT solutions are not mutually exclusive. You can use more than one, and many organizations use all of them with on-prem IT infrastructures. Obviously, whatever solution the organization chooses largely depends on the functionality that it needs and the level of IT expertise it has. 

Regardless of what solution you select, the future is definitely in cloud-based services. The JumpCloud Directory Platform® is an out-of-the-box cloud-based directory that organizations can leverage to provide both identity and access management (IAM) and cross-platform device management in IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS environments. Learn more about why JumpCloud may be a great fit for your organization.

Kelsey Kinzer

Kelsey is a passionate storyteller and Content Writer at JumpCloud. She is particularly inspired by the people who drive innovation in B2B tech. When away from her screen, you can find her climbing mountains and (unsuccessfully) trying to quit cold brew coffee.

Continue Learning with our Newsletter