SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS: Examples, differences, & how to choose (2024)

SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS

Cloud computing service models come in three broad categories:

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

This article outlines the key differences, examples, advantages and disadvantages for each cloud computing service model (SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS) so you can choose the best option for your application’s needs.

Key Difference between SaaS, PaaS and IaaS: Level of Control

Each cloud service model provides a different level of control that translates to varying levels of responsibility on you. In a SaaS solution, the service provider manages everything, and you can change some configurations once you sign-up. With IaaS, you have full control because you rent (not own) the infrastructure. With PaaS solutions, you control the application and data while the service provider manages the rest of the stack.

You will need to decide how much you want to manage yourself and how much you want your service provider to manage when deciding between SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS. Here’s a graphical representation of how the three models (SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS) compare in terms of who manages what.

Examples for SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS

Before we jump into the conceptual understanding for each cloud service model, let’s look at common examples for each cloud service model.

Cloud service model Examples Typical categories
SaaS Salesforce, SAP concur, Shopify, MailChimp, Dropbox, Hubspot, Google Applications (G Suite).

Typical SaaS applications include industry applications such as:

  • Business process automation
  • Customer relationship management (CRM)
  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP)
  • Collaboration
  • Email marketing
PaaS AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Windows Azure, Heroku,, Google App Engine, OpenShift, SAP Cloud, AWS Lambda, Azure Functions.

PaaS sub-categories include:

  • Load balancers, firewalls
  • Middleware – Application servers, HTTP servers
  • Runtimes
  • Libraries and Integrated development environment (IDE)
IaaS Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Compute Engine (GCE), IBM Cloud, Rackspace, Digital Ocean, Oracle Cloud.

IaaS categories of physical and virtualized resources:

  • Compute
  • Load balancers
  • Network
  • Storage

What is IaaS?

Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) is a form of cloud computing service that offers compute, storage and networking resources on-demand, usually on a pay-as-you-go basis. Businesses can purchase resources on-demand and as-needed instead of having to buy the hardware outright.

While IaaS gives you virtualized resources such as servers, disks, networks, and IP addresses, you are still responsible for administering the operating system, data, applications, middleware and runtimes. A dashboard or an API gives you complete control over the entire infrastructure.

IaaS gives you the flexibility to purchase only the computing you need and scales them up or down as needed. If you are looking to migrate an application as-is from an on-premises data center to the cloud, choose the IaaS model. You will be able to proceed with the migration with minimum changes.

Because of its speed of deployment, IaaS is a quick and flexible way to build up and take down development and testing environments.

Examples of IaaS include Rackspace, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Microsoft Azure, Google Compute Engine (GCE) and Joyent.

IaaS Use Cases

  • Disaster recovery – Deploy your application in fully independent cloud zones. The chances of a natural disaster impacting two cloud data centers are very low. Most cloud data centers get power supply from independent utility providers spanning multiple grids. They are constructed with enough geographical separation, while taking flood zones and seismic activity into consideration.
  • Cloud bursting – Deploy a cloud architecture that allows a private cloud to overflow traffic to the public cloud resources based on pre-defined resource capacity thresholds.
  • Automated scaling and cluster management – Reduce the operational cost of managing clusters, optimize your clusters for production, and yield higher workload availability. The cloud can make decisions to launch new nodes and terminate them to reduce scheduling latencies and infrastructure costs. Examples include AWS Karpenter and GKE Auto-pilot.
  • High performance computing (HPC) and Big Data analytics: Cloud infrastructure enables storage, real-time processing, and high-performance compute at scale on a pay-as-you-go basis. You get cost-effective and scalable infrastructure to support big data and business analytics.

Advantages of IaaS:

  • IaaS is advantageous when scalability and quick provisioning are key. Cloud Service Providers can provide a variety of hardware configuration with pre-configured operating systems such as Linux or Windows. You can also use rapid provisioning patterns with Infrastructure as Code (IaC) to create packages of IT resources that can be bundled and deployed into ready-made environments.
  • Enables dynamic scaling – add capacity during peak times, scale down as needed.
  • Eliminates the need for large CAPEX. Cloud service providers offer “pay as you use” pricing models where you only pay resources you use thus resulting in lower costs. If you stop a virtual machine, your billing is also stopped. This offers significant cost savings since you are billed only for actual utilization instead of traditional flat/fixed fees.
  • Provisioning and deployment of resources are very simple.
  • Eases the management of the environment with near-nil personnel as opposed to the on-premises infrastructure.
  • Global infrastructure with edge locations around the world.
  • You get service-level agreements from the cloud provider for standards of service.

Disadvantages of IaaS:

  • Since the infrastructure is under the control of the service provider, outages in the service provider controlled infrastructure can affect the customer infrastructure.
  • Troubleshooting is more difficult because IaaS customers do not have complete visibility to the cloud service provider infrastructure.
  • If peak usage is high, monthly costs may be much higher than expected.
  • Since instances are easy to create, instance sprawl could happen – i.e., instances are created, but administrators forget to take them down.
  • The provider may share infrastructure across multiple clients, and this adds to the security risk if you are in a highly regulated industry.

What is PaaS?

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) provides a framework for application creation and deployment. The technical stack (e.g., AWS Beanstalk, Google App Engine) required for application development is available on the cloud, which requires no download or local installation.

With PaaS, developers can focus on building their applications without having to worry about operating systems, software updates, storage or infrastructure. You get a “platform” with built-in software components for both hardware and software such as runtime libraries, tools, applications, email and HTTP servers. This allows developers to rapidly develop, run, and manage their own apps without having to build and maintain the infrastructure or platform usually associated with the process.

PaaS applications are scalable and highly available as they take on certain cloud characteristics.

Popular PaaS services include AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Engine Yard, Red Hat OpenShift, Google App Engine, Heroku, Appfog and Azure App Service.

PaaS is beneficial if you need to create and deploy applications quickly or if you need to streamline workflows when multiple developers are working on the same development project.

PaaS Use Cases

The “platform” in PaaS refers to the complete “tech stack” ecosystem. Let’s look at a typical example of how PaaS can help you compose and deliver modern applications.

Let’s assume you are a mobile game developer. You need the ability to configure a robust and rich backend (such as a JSON in-memory key-value store), seamlessly connect React or iOS web/mobile front ends via a GraphQL API, attach to it a visualization engine, and perform some analytics. You may also want PubSub to pass messages between your app instances and push notifications for the mobile app to improve customer engagement.

You also want to deploy this in a high availability environment.

All this is possible with a few clicks in a PaaS environment with minimal programming effort. PaaS solutions can also make your environments highly redundant to protect against hardware failures. Most PaaS solutions can offer triple redundancy by supplying your production environment with three versions of your app deployed across cloud regions. If one region crashes, the other two can pick up user requests during the downtime.

In essence, PaaS is focused on full-cycle automation and composable services for rapid application development. PaaS allows your developers to spend more of their time building the application while the infrastructure needs are taken care of by the provider.

Advantages of PaaS:

While IaaS offers resources such as servers, disks, networks, and IP addresses, PaaS offers you a set of predefined and ready-to-use building blocks for composable applications such as middleware, application servers and development tools. This has some distinct advantages:

  • Faster time to market and agility: PaaS can cut the time it takes to prototype, design and develop new applications with pre-crafted application components such as git repository, authentication, workflow, search and directory services and IDEs such as Eclipse or Visual Studio built into the platform. Developers and operations can focus on the application instead of dealing with the overhead of managing virtual machines, networks, disks etc. Geographically distributed remote teams can work in unison because the development environment is standardized and is typically accessed over the internet.
  • Lower skill requirements through standardization: In the modern IT landscape, development tools and middleware are rarely standardized. The learning curve on each tool is steep and talent is hard to acquire and retain. Since PaaS provides sophisticated and off-the-shelf components as well as built-in security, data protection and resilience capabilities out of the box, you can scale your development efforts without needing to add staff having the required skills.
  • Scalability and reliability while retaining control: With PaaS, you get automatic load balancing, scaling and multiple availability zones to improve application reliability and availability. You still have the freedom to choose the underlying VM instance type via the command line and console.

Disadvantages of PaaS:

  • Services vary from vendor to vendor, and hence, the selection of services becomes important.
  • The risk of lock-in with a vendor could impact the ecosystem you need for your development environment.

What is SaaS?

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a web-based software deployment model that makes the software accessible through a web browser. As a user of SaaS software, you don’t care where the software is hosted, which operating system it uses, or which language it is written in. The SaaS software is made accessible from any device as long you have an internet connection. With SaaS, you do not incur the capital cost of buying servers or software. The service provider shields you from software maintenance and you simply connect to the SaaS application via a console dashboard or API. Typical examples would include Microsoft Office 365, Intuit, Salesforce CRM, Zoom, ZoomInfo, Dropbox, Google Apps and many more that are for consumption by end-users. These applications run on the cloud and need not be downloaded to a local device. Webmail such as Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo, etc., is one of the earliest forms of SaaS.

SaaS makes it easy for you to focus on your core business. It is a great option for businesses that don’t have the staff or bandwidth to handle software installation and updates.

With SaaS, you tradeoff loss of control, security, and performance in exchange for time and maintenance savings. Choose SaaS vendors wisely based on several factors including:

  • security, privacy and compliance
  • reliability and performance
  • support levels
  • vendor lock-in
  • the vendor’s roadmap and finances.

Advantages of SaaS:

  • Offers off-the-shelf convenience and ease of use.
  • Provides flexibility due to access across devices and geographies.
  • As a subscription-based model, it allows for budgeting and planning ahead.
  • Self-provisioning (ability to add users as needed).
  • No maintenance or installation requirements.
  • You don’t pay for the hardware that runs the application.
  • You don’t need to worry about maintenance or licensing fees.
  • Nothing to install and no support worries.

Disadvantages of SaaS:

  • Limits customization and loss of control on updates.
  • Regulatory issues may require you to store data in specific locations. If the SaaS provider cannot guarantee you this, SaaS may not be an option.
  • Service lock-in with SaaS provider.

An analogy to illuminate the IaaS, PaaS and SaaS differences

The following transportation analogy can give you added meaning to the differences among the three cloud service models. Read RubyGarage’s blog post for a detailed explanation.

SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS: Examples, differences, & how to choose (6)

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In this article, we looked at the three main cloud computing service models – SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS. We looked at the major differences, examples and guiding factors for how to choose between them.

The model that you ultimately choose depends on your application objectives. Here’s a quick recap:

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  • IaaS provides virtual servers with all necessary software installed on them so that customers can install their own applications or use an existing application developed by a third-party vendor. If you want maximum control within the cloud, choose IaaS.
  • PaaS provides a platform where you can develop your own applications without having to manage any underlying infrastructure resources. If you want to rapidly rollout modern applications using composable services, but don’t mind the vendor lock-in, choose PaaS.
  • SaaS gives you access to pre-built business apps without installing anything themselves. If you want ease of use and don’t need much flexibility, choose SaaS.

Given the in-depth breakdown of SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS in the article, I can certainly shed light on each concept:

  1. SaaS (Software as a Service): This model provides ready-to-use software over the internet, eliminating the need for installation or local hosting. As a user, you access the application via a web browser. Examples include Salesforce, Google Apps, Zoom, etc. SaaS is advantageous for its convenience and accessibility but might limit customization.

  2. PaaS (Platform as a Service): PaaS offers a platform for developers to build, deploy, and manage applications without worrying about the underlying infrastructure. Examples include AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Google App Engine, Azure App Service, etc. PaaS accelerates application development by providing pre-built tools and services.

  3. IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service): IaaS provides virtualized computing resources over the internet, including servers, storage, and networking. Examples are AWS EC2, Google Compute Engine, Microsoft Azure, etc. IaaS grants more control as users manage applications, data, and middleware, making it suitable for those needing scalability and control.

The article highlights the key differences in terms of control levels offered by each model. With SaaS, the provider manages everything, while IaaS grants users more control over the infrastructure. PaaS falls in between, offering control over applications and data while the provider manages the rest.

For instance, IaaS allows for disaster recovery, cloud bursting, and automated scaling. It's advantageous for its scalability, flexibility in resource usage, and cost savings due to pay-as-you-go models. However, it might pose challenges during troubleshooting and could lead to unexpected costs if not managed properly.

PaaS, on the other hand, facilitates faster time-to-market by providing ready-to-use components, automation, and scalability, but the selection of services from various vendors and potential lock-ins could be potential downsides.

SaaS, known for its ease of use and accessibility across devices, may limit customization and control over updates.

Each model suits different business needs and preferences. IaaS is ideal for maximum control, PaaS for rapid application development, and SaaS for easy-to-access pre-built applications.

The article's analogy likening these models to different transportation modes helps simplify the differences further. It's all about choosing the right model that aligns with your application's objectives and operational requirements.

SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS: Examples, differences, & how to choose (2024)


SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS: Examples, differences, & how to choose? ›

In a nutshell, IaaS provides access to resources such as virtual machines and virtual storage, PaaS provides execution environments, application development, and deployment tools, and SaaS provides software as a service to end-users. Which one you choose depends entirely on the needs of your business.

How do I choose between IaaS PaaS and SaaS? ›

IaaS provides you the most freedom of control as it lets you manage your applications, data, middleware, and operating system. On the other hand, PaaS allows you to manage your data and applications only, and with SaaS, everything is managed by your service provider.

What is the difference between PaaS SaaS and IaaS with example? ›

Iaas providers manage and maintain the underlying infrastructure. PaaS providers manage the underlying infrastructure and provide a complete development environment. SaaS providers manage both infrastructure and software applications.

Under what circ*mstances should you prefer to use PaaS over IaaS formulate it with an example? ›

What Are the Differences between IaaS and PaaS?
Who are the core users?IaaS solutions are meant to help system administrators.PaaS solutions are meant for developers, development and operations (DevOps) teams, and database administrators.
3 more rows
Jan 10, 2022

Do I need IaaS or PaaS? ›

You want to develop and deploy your own apps in the cloud. PaaS makes it quick and easy to set up development environments and deploy apps through the cloud. While you can also use IaaS for this purpose, PaaS comes pre-configured for your language, frameworks, and libraries.

Is Netflix A PaaS or SaaS? ›

Netflix is considered a SaaS by many people because it lives in the cloud, is delivered through the browser, and has a paid subscription model. However, the service Netflix provides is content and not software. It is more of a "Movies-as-a-Service" than a SaaS.

How do I choose an IaaS? ›

To compare features and services of IaaS providers, consider these factors: Range and Quality: Evaluate the compute, storage, and networking options. Compatibility: Ensure resources work with your current systems and tools. Scalability and Elasticity: Check if resources can scale with your demands.

What are 3 examples of IaaS? ›

Examples of IaaS include Rackspace, Amazon Web Services (AWS) Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Microsoft Azure, Google Compute Engine (GCE) and Joyent.

Is Amazon a PaaS or IaaS? ›

AWS (Amazon Web Services) is a comprehensive, evolving cloud computing platform provided by Amazon. It includes a mixture of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and packaged software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings.

Why would you use PaaS instead of SaaS or IaaS? ›

PAAS is used by developers. SAAS is used by the end user. IAAS gives access to the resources like virtual machines and virtual storage. PAAS gives access to run time environment to deployment and development tools for application.

What is a real life example of IaaS? ›

IaaS examples

Amazon Web Services (AWS) Google Compute Engine (GCE) IBM Cloud. Microsoft Azure.

Which of the following is the most significant difference between SaaS and IaaS? ›

The most significant distinction between SaaS and IaaS lies in what they provide access to. SaaS is a cloud-based software application that is delivered over the internet on a subscription basis. On the other hand, IaaS offers virtualized computing resources over the internet.

Which is the best suited example of PaaS? ›

Popular PaaS examples include:
  • AWS Elastic Beanstalk.
  • Google App Engine.
  • Adobe Commerce (previously Magento)
  • Quickbase.
  • OutSystems.
  • Boomi.
Nov 14, 2023

Why should I choose IaaS? ›

Advantages of IaaS

Other advantages may include the following: Pay for What You Use: Fees are computed via usage-based metrics. Reduce Capital Expenditures: IaaS is typically a monthly operational expense. Dynamically Scale: Rapidly add capacity in peak times and scale down as needed.

When should we use PaaS? ›

PaaS solutions can be used to develop software for internal use or offered for sale. PaaS technology offers a company virtual infrastructure, such as data centers, servers, storage and network equipment, plus an intermediate layer of software, which includes tools for building apps.

Is Snowflake a PaaS or SaaS? ›

Snowflake and SaaS, Paas, and IaaS

Snowflake Data Cloud allows you to run all your critical data workloads on one platform, including data sharing, data lake, data warehouse,, and custom development capabilities, in effect also serving as a data PaaS.

Why choose PaaS over SaaS? ›

PaaS is most often built on top of an IaaS platform to reduce the need for system administration. It allows you to focus on app development instead of infrastructure management. SaaS offers ready-to-use, out-of-the-box solutions that meet a particular business need (such as a website or email).

How can you tell the difference between PaaS and SaaS? ›

PAAS gives access to run time environment to deployment and development tools for application. SAAS gives access to the end user. It is a service model that provides virtualized computing resources over the internet. It is a cloud computing model that delivers tools that are used for the development of applications.

How to choose SaaS software? ›

To compare and select the best SaaS solutions, assess factors like features, scalability, pricing, integration capabilities, security, user experience, and customer support. Conduct thorough research, read reviews, and request demos or trials to evaluate usability and fit for your specific needs.

Which cloud service model is best? ›

IaaS advantages

The most flexible cloud computing model. Easy automated deployment of storage, networking, servers, and processing power. Consumption-based hardware purchasing. Complete client control of their infrastructure.

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