IaaS, PaaS, SaaS — sorting through the alphabet soup of “as a service”

May 07 2021

A move to the cloud can seem daunting, especially when you’re unsure if IaaS, PaaS or SaaS is right for your business. Read on to crack the acronym code.

Conceptual image of woman at desktop using a cloud "as a service" model (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) with data/metrics in the foreground

The cloud. It’s the hot topic on the tongues of technologists and practitioners struggling to keep pace with the ever-increasing demands of the digitally native user during a period of record-breaking transformation and innovation. In our Agents of Transformation 2022: Innovating in the Experience Economy report, we found that they implemented projects an average of three times faster in 2020 than in any previous year — and they show no signs of slowing down.

But as businesses consider making the move or expanding their existing environments, it can be challenging to make sense out of the alphabet soup of “as a service” offerings and determine which will meet their needs most effectively.

A 10,000-foot view of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS in cloud computing

There are three main types of “as a service” models — infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and software as a service (SaaS).

  • IaaS allows businesses to maintain complete control over every aspect of their environment. The provider simply hosts the infrastructure that’s traditionally located in an on-prem data center (e.g., application servers, disk arrays and networking hardware).
  • PaaS is the middle ground. The provider hosts a complete development and deployment environment, including infrastructure, middleware, container orchestrators and other resources.
  • SaaS is a turnkey solution. The provider hosts an actual application and is responsible for all the underlying infrastructure and systems required to deliver it over the internet, often via a web browser.


Have we piqued your curiosity? Let’s dive a little deeper.

Do infrastructure your way with IaaS

In the IaaS model, your provider supplies and hosts all the physical and virtual core infrastructure that you need to deliver applications and services, including servers, storage and networking hardware and the virtualization (hypervisor) layer. They’re also responsible for connectivity and initial provisioning of your environment.

Once the components are up and running, you take over and install and maintain any required middleware, application software, databases, etc.


  • Cost savings. You can eliminate the capital expenditures involved with standing up a traditional in-house data center and significantly reduce the costs associated with ongoing infrastructure maintenance and management and staffing/training.
  • Reliability and business continuity. Because IaaS providers typically spread a system’s workload across multiple servers and facilities, there is no single point of failure — your end users enjoy seamless, hassle-free experiences.
  • Scalability. Rather than making costly infrastructure purchases that may not actually meet your business’s needs over time, you can scale your consumption and start and stop services on demand while only paying for what you use.
  • DevSecOps. Many IaaS providers invest heavily in the latest and greatest security technology that your SecOps team can leverage rather than implementing solutions internally from the ground up at significant expense.
  • Ease of access. Keeping your employees connected with the mission-critical applications, tools and files they need to stay productive is challenging. IaaS makes it easier to provide them with access anytime, anywhere.
  • Core business focus. Maintaining an on-prem data center is time consuming. You can alleviate this burden and allow your IT teams to turn their attention to higher-value, long-term initiatives.


Common use cases

  • Small companies and start-ups without an in-house data center use IaaS as a quick, inexpensive way of putting highly flexible infrastructure in place.
  • Larger enterprises deploying complex applications that require high performance or running variable workloads take advantage of the service’s pay-as-you-go model to avoid overprovisioning.
  • Organizations experiencing rapid growth look to IaaS as a way to quickly and efficiently ramp up to meet their customers’ demands.


Move further into the cloud with PaaS

In the PaaS model, your provider supplies and hosts all the physical and virtual core infrastructure as they would with IaaS. However, they also provide and manage middleware, database management systems, development tools, business intelligence and analytics tools and more — all you are responsible for is managing the applications and services that you develop.


PaaS allows you to reap all the benefits of IaaS in addition to several more.

  • Increased productivity. Your developers can code rapidly and efficiently using automated tools, code libraries and built-in software components that would be time consuming to develop and deploy internally.
  • Cost savings. The service’s pay-as-you-go model makes it possible for your business to leverage leading-edge development software and business intelligence and analytics tools without purchasing them outright.
  • Collaboration and flexibility. Because the environment is accessible via the internet, all the members of your development team can share a single set of resources and work together in the same code regardless of their location.
  • Faster time to market. Your DevOps team can try out approaches to new features and bug fixes, test them in different environments and deploy releases far more quickly than is possible using more traditional on-prem software development methods.
  • Multiplatform capabilities. The ever-growing variety of end user devices and browsers poses a significant challenge for software developers. PaaS providers typically offer options that allow yours to build one application and deploy it across multiple platforms.
  • Efficient lifecycle management. PaaS provides your business with the visibility necessary to control the entire application development process from start to finish. Your DevOps team builds, tests, deploys, manages and updates your application from within a single shared environment.


Common use cases

  • Start-ups and enterprises with limited resources take advantage of PaaS’s ready-made environment to focus on rapidly building, testing and deploying applications without worrying about managing/maintaining underlying systems and infrastructure.
  • Companies use the service’s business analytics and intelligence tools to gain insights and predict outcomes, improve forecasting and inform business decisions.
  • Businesses with developers spread across multiple locations — or even working remotely — make use of PaaS environments to facilitate efficient teamwork.


Provide exceptional experiences out of the box with SaaS

In the SaaS model, your provider supplies and hosts all the physical and virtual core infrastructure, middleware, database management systems, development tools, etc., as they would with IaaS and PaaS. Since SaaS is a complete software solution, however, they also host your application and its data and deliver it to your end users over the internet.


Because SaaS applications are built on top of IaaS and PaaS, you realize the same benefits plus a number of others.

  • Easily deployable. You don’t need to buy, install/stand up, update/upgrade or maintain any software, middleware or hardware to deliver SaaS applications to your employees or customers — all they need is an internet connection.
  • Reliability. Since SaaS providers are expert at managing application workload demand, your user base can expect consistently reliable performance and data availability.
  • Cost and resource savings. SaaS applications are generally subscription based with no license fees, which saves your customers money. They also eliminate the resource burden involved with physically installing and upgrading/updating them across their organization.
  • Scalability and flexibility. Because SaaS applications are subscription based, you can offer several plan options and allow your customers to easily upgrade or downgrade as their business needs change.
  • Accessibility. SaaS applications and data are delivered over the internet, so your end users can access them from anywhere on any supported device twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • Consistency and compatibility. Under the SaaS model, the provider automatically rolls out application updates. This ensures that all your end users have access to the latest and greatest functionality simultaneously and are speaking the same language.


Common use cases

  • Start-ups and small companies that need to launch capabilities such as e-commerce quickly and don’t have the time or resources to develop and deploy them in-house turn to SaaS.
  • Businesses whose user base needs access to applications from multiple platforms leverage SaaS to painlessly provide this continuity.


Real-world IaaS, PaaS and SaaS examples

Now that you know a bit more about each of the services, let’s take a look at some real-world examples. You may be surprised to discover that they are platforms, solutions and tools whose names you recognize immediately.


I think I’ve got it. But what do I do now?

As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, each business will have different needs when it comes to cloud services. We hope you’ve found this breakdown helpful and are ready to move forward with the decision-making process, but if you still have burning questions, our cloud specialists are ready and waiting to answer them.

And if you’ve already implemented IaaS, Paas or SaaS, we’d love to show you how AppDynamics can help you keep an eye on your environment and turn performance into profit. Let’s connect and schedule your live demo today.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!

Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form