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IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS - Differences & Examples

Updated Dec 10, 2019

If you are looking to shift your business from on-premise infrastructure to the cloud, you first need to wrap your head around its basic concepts. This is because cloud computing is a broad concept and you have to understand the basics in order to select the best cloud service for your business.

The most popular technologies you will come across in this regard are:

  • IaaS (infrastructure as a Service)
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service)
  • SaaS (Software as a Service).

You will be able to access these services on the internet. In terms of their offering, all the services are distinctly different. IaaS will provide you with the basic architecture like networking resources virtualization facilities, storage, and servers for your business. PaaS provides you with a platform for developing and running your applications without worrying about the underlying architecture. SaaS provides you with software that is available over the internet and can be used from any location.

Before selecting a model, let us check out the market statistics of these cloud services. SaaS handles 24 % of the enterprise workload. IaaS handles only around 12 %, and the share of PaaS is around 32%.

Let’s take a closer look at the technologies.

What is IaaS?

In IaaS all the servers and networking hardware is available over the internet. The architecture provides you with computing resources through virtualization. For example, you can log in the IaaS platform and create virtual machines, which are virtual data centres. You can then install operating systems, run databases and upload your workload on that machine – rather than a traditional data centre.

Another plus point of IaaS is high scalability and flexibility. You can scale it up and down according to your business requirements. This will be beneficial for your business as you can change or replace the architecture whenever you want, without extra costs.

Examples of IaaS providers are DigitalOcean, Google Compute Engine (GCE), Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Microsoft Azure.

IaaS Advantages

The advantages of IaaS are as follows:

  • You have complete control over the architecture, which means you do not have to depend on external IT service providers.
  • IaaS follows a pay as you go model, which allows you to purchase infrastructure as per your requirements. This means you can buy only the essentials when your business is at a nascent stage, and purchase more as your business grows. This helps you cut down costs spent on costly on-site resources.
  • Multiple employees can work on the same project remotely. This helps you reduce the workload and complete projects faster.
  • You can save a lot of money spent on maintaining servers and other networking components. This means you also need lesser IT staff.
  • It is highly reliable in terms of its servers and data centres. An example of this is if one data centre goes offline or a server crashes, the others remain unaffected.
  • Some providers may give you additional facilities like message queuing, that lets the applications and services communicate with each other. This improves the overall performance of the system.

What is PaaS?

Platform as a Service sits in the middle of the cloud stack that provides you with a platform for developing your applications. That is why PaaS is mostly preferred by developers.

The PaaS providers like AWS Elastic Beanstalk and OpenShift have their own architecture to host hardware and software. So, you can concentrate on the development process and not worry about those technicalities. Moreover, it is highly flexible as it lets you develop, test, execute and update simple cloud computing applications to complex ones.

Apart from that, you get APIs for various functions such as monitoring, handling version control systems and traffic splitting.

Therefore, as you are freed from the hassles of tackling the architecture, you save money and effort. Some common SaaS providers include Windows Azure, Google App Engine, Heroku and Apache Stratos.

PaaS Advantages

PaaS has the following advantages:

  • PaaS tools will help you reduce the time taken to code, through built-in features like security features, workflow, directory services, etc.
  • You only pay for the features you avail, which mean it is cost effective.
  • The platform has built-in features for security and data protection.
  • You can develop applications that are compatible on multiple platforms. This helps to expand your business by broadening your consumer base.
  • As a developer, you can create customized applications without worrying about managing the software.
  • PaaS provides you with the flexibility to accommodate multiple employees and vendors of your company if they want to work on the same project. As multiple developers can work on a single application, the development time reduces and services are launched faster.

What is SaaS?

In SaaS, the application providers give you access to a single copy of the software over a network. You can access the software from the comfort of your browser and don’t need to install or run any software on your system.

So, SaaS is ideal if you own a small or medium business and do not want to spend much on IT infrastructure. Moreover, the software will be up and running in no time.

You will get the necessary customer support from the providers if you face any issue.

Another important feature is the payment structure. SaaS providers offer a subscription-based payment model, having a fixed monthly amount. So, you are aware of how much you are spending on the software. This lets you budget accordingly and ultimately save costs.

DropBox, Salesforce and Google Apps are the most popular SaaS providers.

SaaS Advantages

The benefits of SaaS are:

  • It works on a pay as you go model, so you pay only for the services you use.
  • The user interfaces are easy to use and operate.
  • You can access the SaaS application data from any location, as it is stored in the cloud Moreover, the data is secured and even if your system crashes, the data is not lost.
  • If you own a business, SaaS applications will be cost efficient as the fee per month is relatively low as compared to other products. The software updates too cost very less.
  • The SaaS providers manage the software updates themselves. So, you are relieved from the hassles of downloading and installing updates manually.

Now that you have better clarity on the three cloud models, let us compare to find out which one will suit you.

IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS


IaaS lays down the foundation of the cloud-computing model and provides you with the resources through an API or via a dashboard. You will be able to enjoy the facilities of a traditional data centre without actually establishing or maintaining one.

PaaS is beneficial for developers to focus on the development of applications rather than architecture. You can buy resources as you scale up your business and thus save a ton of money spent on redundant resources.

SaaS is the topmost layer of the cloud stack and can be considered as a complete package or product. It will help you to save a lot as it reduces the need for hiring technical staff that has to manage, install and update the software. The costs of licensing software are also reduced.

Required Technical Knowledge

For IaaS, you require strong technical knowledge for handling the services offered by this layer as it involves networking resources and servers.

In PaaS, technical knowledge is required to operate it although the layer provides you with the basic setup. You must know how to code for developing and deploying software applications.

SaaS is the final product offered by the company and hence you do not require much technical knowledge. If you can operate Gmail, Yahoo, and platforms like Facebook, you are good to go. You can easily use products like DropBox that has simple features like Drag and Drop, and the application provider will handle the other technicalities.

Pertinent Users

Professional programmers and developers work on IaaS, as they have to use their expertise to configure the resources.

Application developers mostly work on PaaS. This is because although they can develop and execute software, they may not have much knowledge about the underlying architecture.

SaaS is popular among users who have little or no technical skills, as SaaS applications like Salesforce and DropBox are browser-based and simple to use.

Associated Technologies

IaaS consists of hard disks, servers, virtual machines, networks, etc. It provides you with load balancers, VLANs, IP addresses, and disk storage through virtual machines.

PaaS consists of Web servers, Java runtime libraries, Databases like MySQL, Tomcat, etc.

SaaS provides you with different applications like CRM (Customer Relationship Management), billing and invoicing systems. Technologies associated with this layer include online accounts on social media like Facebook, Twitter and email accounts like Yahoo and Gmail.


IaaS or PaaS or SaaS?

At the end of the day, your choice will depend on the size of your business and your technical know-how. If you want more control over your architecture and have the technical expertise to handle it, IaaS is the best option.

SaaS is the most convenient solution if you are a business owner. Or if you are just a normal user as most of these solutions are built on top of IaaS and PaaS. If you want a quick and easy cloud setup to store and manage your data, SaaS is the one for you.

If you are a developer or have developers working under you, choose PaaS.

So, figure out your requirements and weigh the options properly before selecting the cloud service.