A Guide to Cloud-Based Service Models: SaaS vs. PaaS vs. IaaS

You are a business leader, sitting at your desk asking yourself; what cloud-based solution is best for my business? You've heard of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS – but what does all of this technical jargon mean? How do you know what's best for your company?

Not to worry, we're here to help by providing you with a comparison of each as well as suggestions and tips so you can choose what's for your business.  

The cloud is a hot button topic for businesses of all sizes and covers a wide array of infrastructures and systems, which is why it is essential to be informed before switching you and your team to the cloud. Like any decision you make, you want to be sure that you have all the facts and compare the advantages and disadvantages of the AAS's before choosing what is suitable for you. 

Below, we will break down and explain each software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and their pros and cons to help you choose what is best for your organization. 

Software as a Service (SaaS) 

Software as a service is a standard cloud-based solution for businesses in the market for a cloud solution. SaaS is itself a cloud computing software that is offered to users in the form of a service. 

In simple terms, it is a software distribution framework where the service provider hosts applications or technologies for consumers, making them available to said consumers via the internet. SaaS solutions allow businesses to access programming and software via the internet, freeing them from hardware installation and management challenges and expenses. As is evident, SaaS thus eliminates the need for an IT staff to download and install applications within each company workstation. Think, for example, when you and your team licenses WebEx or GSuite programs instead of downloading software. 

The significant advantage is the reduction in expenditure for the software as it is licensed as opposed to purchased and downloaded. The result is a decrease in the expense of time and money on tedious tasks such as installing, managing, and upgrading programs – freeing up critical technical staff for more pressing matters. In addition, vendors are responsible for managing all technical issues such as data, malware, servers, and memory storage resulting in a streamlined maintenance and support program for your business. 

While the advantages are inherent, there are also drawbacks to choosing a SaaS solution for your business's cloud integration. Disadvantages include lack of integration, lack of customization; vendor lock-in; and security concerns. Because SaaS is a one-size-fits-all browser-based solution, it limits the customizing you and your company can do; it may not integrate with your other software solutions and means that your data is in someone else's server. Vendor lock-in is also a concern as many times, and it is easy to sign up for a SaaS solution but not as easy to get out if you are unhappy with the product. You need to consider these limitations when choosing if SaaS is right for you as a cloud service model. 

Software as a Service is the ideal solution as a cloud system for businesses that do not have an IT staff or are looking for an entirely external, all-inclusive software option. This option is excellent for small companies or startups that need to launch quickly and don't have the time or resources to deal with server issues or software concerns. 

SaaS can also be beneficial for short-term projects. They provide a quick, easy and affordable solution to software requirements without burdening a company with the long-term costs of having the software installed. In addition, if your company requires software for limited use, SaaS may be right for you. Take tax software you may only use once a year as an example; you don't want to be burdened with downloadable software that doesn't automatically update annually. 

Platform as a Service (PaaS) 

Platform as a Service is another cloud service model. This model provides cloud components to software while being used for applications. 

In simple terms, it provides a developer with a shell or a framework that they can build on to develop their customized application. It is similar to SaaS in that it is delivered via the web – but instead of providing the software, it simply provides the platform for a developer to expand without the worry of operating systems, updates, and infrastructure. An example is the google app engine which allows developers to build scalable web and mobile programs in a serverless platform. In this example, Google will enable developers to take advantage of Google's storage infrastructure without managing the minor details when building their scalable programs. 

Advantages to the PaaS cloud service model are that it builds on existing technology; so, it can easily be scaled up or down as your development needs change. Technical advantages include scalability; reduction in necessary coding as the base is already created; high availability, and seamless customization as your developers will be able to move forward without the stress of software maintenance. Lastly, one significant benefit of choosing a PaaS solution is that you are only paying for what you need and use while keeping the option open for scaling as your company grows. 

The limitations and drawbacks of a PaaS cloud service model are like those with the SaaS model. Security is a concern because even though you manage the data, it still resides with a third-party vendor-controlled cloud service which should be considered when choosing a PaaS provider. Vendor lock-in is once again a concern – for example, if you are locked with one vendor whose platform is unique, it may not be compatible with alternative PaaS options that your company may explore in the future. The last significant limitation to consider is who you partner with as your PaaS provider – keep in mind your product or solution is only as strong as the platform it is built upon. 

So, is PaaS suitable for you? PaaS is great for businesses with developers in place and requires a platform to finish a project. In essence, it is ideal if your business can handle the data and application but would prefer that the rest be outsourced to the platform provider. As is evident – to run PaaS, your company will have more management requirements than SaaS. 

Infrastructure As a Service (IaaS)

Finally, we have infrastructure as a service – the most self-reliant of the three cloud-based systems. IaaS is the closest of the three discussed to being an on-premises solution. It enables you and your company to have more management responsibility than either of the other solutions above. 

This model is self-service for accessing and monitoring systems – the business buys resources on-demand and as needed instead of buying the hardware outright. The provider provides the company with a server allowing them to have complete control over the system infrastructure. 

Compared to the other two models – IaaS users are responsible for operating and managing their applications, middleware, and data. An example of IaaS would be Google's Compute Engine which allows clients to run their workloads on Google's physical hardware, including virtual machines and compute clusters. 

The IaaS solution as a cloud service model is the most flexible, easy to automate, is based on consumption, and allows clients to retain control of their infrastructure and data. In addition, the solution is also among the most stable as it is entirely self-service as opposed to operating on a shared system. 

The most significant drawbacks to this solution are cost, security and internal resource expenditure. This solution is arguably the most expensive of the three as it adds flexibility and security to the cloud transition process for your company. Additional costs may incur as resources and training will be required to ensure the workforce can manage the infrastructure. Your organization will be responsible for all security and backup of relevant data. While heightened as you control your data, security can also be a concern if the VM's are transferred to another customer and the vendor fails to adequately secure and maintains all past data on the hardware.  

While more expensive, IaaS can be best for companies that wish to increase their level of flexibility while improving their ability to scale and direct access to their servers and storage. This solution can benefit small and large companies who wish to avoid spending time and money on hardware and software and prefer to retain control of their data. Companies experiencing growth spurts may also benefit from the adaptability of IaaS. 

Each of the three models that have been discussed has advantages and disadvantages – but if used effectively, it can serve a great purpose for your organization. There is a cloud service for you regardless of your needs – storage, development, or data control. 

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