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Businesses looking to establish themselves online have numerous options. They can not only choose the providers, but the service they wish to receive. Cloud computing has become an extremely popular hosting method due to flexibility in price, features, and support/management. Within the concept of cloud computing, you are typically presented with three distinct categories of services offered: 

  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service
  • Platform-as-a-Service
  • Software-as-a-Service

Each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks, use cases, and appeal depending on the project at hand. Let's explore each of them and see what they are and how they differ.

IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service)

What is it?

IaaS or Infrastructure-as-a-Service is a cloud computing service where the consumer receives the use of a virtual machine (VM). The IaaS provider specifies the amount of hardware performance/capacity to allocate to the VM. It also starts the VM, and boots it with the chosen operating system (OS). The client only ever accesses or has to be concerned with the Multi-Tenant VM; all the physical hardware is monitored and serviced by the provider (hence the infrastructure being the service provided).

IaaS PaaS SaaS cloud-service-models compaired

Benefits & Drawbacks

System Access

The first major benefit is that you get complete access to the system without worrying about the hardware. You are responsible for the operating system, applications or programs you need, and the process of keeping those up-to-date. The autonomy of what can and cannot be done is extremely useful if you need application customization. This way, the user does not have to worry about impacting other users due to atypical customizations.

However, this does mean that everything is going to be left to you to handle. While the physical infrastructure will be monitored, your services will not. Lacking a built-in solution to oversee your servers and services can lead to potential downtime. Especially, if there is not a monitoring solution in place. Data loss is also possible if backups are not in place to protect from failures or human error.

System Resources

Another benefit of IaaS is that you only pay for the hardware and components that you need. Because the environment is virtualized, you can quickly and easily scale those resources as needed. There are no downtime concerns due to hardware upgrades to match what it is you want.

Unfortunately, you may be limited to the hardware configurations offered/available. Truly dedicated servers are completely customizable. But most IaaS plans are standardized with defined CPU cores, memory, and disk space. While there may be tweaks available within those offerings, they are still limited compared to traditional dedicated servers.


Cost is the last major benefit to discuss since this is the cheapest service. Users only pay for access to the infrastructure/virtual machine. Typically, this is implemented through some type of API or a provided control panel/dashboard. This discounts the upkeep of software or support/management of an underlying software platform. A reduction in cost makes IaaS exceptionally appealing for those with server administration capabilities. This reduces costs and foregoes the concern of hardware-level monitoring.

Use Cases

The first major use case for IaaS is simple web hosting. IaaS utilizes a managed private cloud/virtual-based servers that are easily customized. Options exist to fit almost any business scenario, and quickly scale to meet a growing business’s demands. You can bring in your system administrators to handle day-to-day support. Or, support can be outsourced to an external entity. Because IaaS is considered an entry-level product, it's often stripped of extra features. But, it does provide a cloud-based virtual machine to do with what you want.

This freedom, however, comes with increased responsibility. Often support is limited, which alters the amount of knowledge needed to address security and other concerns. If experience is lacking, a developer or system administrator may be required. Addressing daily system tasks like these can add unplanned expenses not previously projected.

Since these servers are just a blank slate to be used, they also make great managed backup solutions. Users can easily create a full working copy of an environment to act as a disaster recovery solution. Backups can then be stored in a redundant manner for any changed data. Restricting availability to the server also provides complete access control that is not offered on other platforms.

Lastly, IaaS is the perfect service to use as a development or testing environment. Users can duplicate the infrastructure on the production environment yet limit access or traffic. An A/B testing environment can be used to gauge visitor reaction to a particular changes before utilizing.

PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service)

What is it?

PaaS or Platform-as-a-Service is a dedicated cloud computing service that provides a platform for a specific environment type. This can include tools focused on development and application creation. PaaS allows customers to develop and manage applications without the complexity of maintaining and administering the underlying infrastructure. Rather than providing superuser access, the user is limited to the framework necessary to develop the content.

IaaS PaaS SaaS cloud service models2

Benefits & Drawbacks

Reduce Coding & Development Time

Utilizing a Platform-as-a-Service has the major benefit of reducing development time. From the moment access to the platform is granted, users can access a workable framework. This structure can be modified to fit particular use cases. This implies that additional platform replication from scratch is not needed. The time/cost savings this produces allows your business to be up and running quickly.

Platform Limitation

The downside to PaaS is that platform limitations exist as to what it will allow. Some systems are more open and accepting of personalization/modification. These often cater to more technically capable clients. Others are locked down and offer minimal opportunity to create a unique platform for your use case.


Platform-as-a-Service offerings often come with excellent support. Often, the provider does not have to worry about supporting a client with a completely unique environment. They can offer more hands-on assistance when needed. Especially if the platform itself contains uses no customizations.

Use Cases

When thinking about the Platform-as-a-Service offering, think about the skill set needed to administer a server. This includes whether you want to worry about updating, securing, and monitoring the underlying infrastructure of your business. 

Suppose you have a limited staff and need to get your business off the ground quickly. In this case, a Managed WordPress PaaS solution could very well be the optimal choice. This removes the initial time investment and allows you to focus on the business instead of the technical challenges. Furthermore, you can rely on the provider’s assistance with any issues or troubleshooting. This frees your staff to focus on the business rather than software development issues.

Another example why a Platform-as-a-Service is an excellent choice is the ability for users to work remotely. Because the platform is externally hosted, accessed is entirely via API or web interface. This better utilizes employees resources than at a centralized location. Working remotely is a fantastic option for quickly getting your project off the ground. Because employees or contractors can work from anywhere, hiring options are improved. Security is also increased since access is more tightly controlled via the interface.

SaaS (Software-as-a-Service)

What is it?

SaaS or Software-as-a-Service is a cloud computing model where software is licensed for use on a central host. The underlying infrastructure and services are typically hidden and run on a subscription model. Examples of a SaaS model would be Google Apps, Slack, and Dropbox. These are entirely web-based services that rarely offer the opportunity to self-host. Instead, the software is accessed via an account you create with the provider. This gives access to the software and any type of management dashboard provided.

SaaS PaaS IaaS Differences

Benefits & Drawbacks

Pay-As-You-Go Billing

The major benefit to Software-as-a-Service is the pay-as-you-go billing system. The service may offer numerous features that are only accessible for a fee; if you don't need them, you don't pay for them. Yearly contracts are often less cost-effective in these settings. Month-to-month contracts can be better if unsure of the software offerings needed. Additional savings come from not needing developers to update/maintain the software since everything is happening behind the scenes. 

Limited Accessibility

Of course, a lack of access means limited control of available features. This restricts access to changes you may want to implement, should an outage occur. These disadvantages can be frustrating for a company that may have an idea that they want to implement. It may also cause issues with a particular function of the software they want to change. 

Much like PaaS, Software-as-a-Service is a perfect solution for individuals who work remotely or on-the-go. Being able to access chat, email, or a customer relations manager (CRM) software from anywhere is an immense convenience. A team can be built from anywhere and allow access to the same software and data. Additionally, many security concerns, updates, and server maintenance issues are removed.

Connectivity Issues

But working remotely and accessing remote software also puts you at risk of connectivity issues. If your home or business internet is down, you no longer have access to the software. Some SaaS offerings allow for a degree of local storage, but you no longer have access to your data if that is not an option. You also risk the SaaS company going out of business, forcing a company-wide change in your daily operations, and migration of the data you have to another software suite/platform. 

Device & OS Options

Accessing the software, since it's running on servers in a datacenter, is almost always done via a browser/the web. Using a browser to access the software gives your end-users the ability to choose whatever machine best suits their needs: desktop vs. laptop (since the processing is done remotely) and Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux. This client agnostic ability is extremely appealing to remote-based companies since it allows employees to bring their device or access the software from wherever they are.

Use Cases

IaaS PaaS SaaS cloud-services

Much like PaaS, if your business operates in the context of a remote workforce or being on the go, this is the perfect solution for you. Your day-to-day operations can occur at any internet-connected location across the globe, allowing you to travel and be on the move to wherever your clients are. Additionally, you can utilize the software while with the client, access your data, and work with them on-site. SaaS is extremely useful for any type of in-home business that works with clients to create proposals or when you need to access your data to present an idea to a client.

Many of the SaaS offerings allow for directly collaborating with other users within their software. Whether this means you're able to see a document with multiple editors working on it simultaneously, modifying files and tracking changes for each user, or even just seeing/hearing one another, the collaboration aspect is highly valuable for any type of business that requires team cooperation. When your business depends on working directly with clients, being able to communicate with them and having software that allows you to bring them into your environment simplifies communication.


Ultimately, it is up to you/your IT team to determine the best path forward for your IT business needs. Whether you feel administering your own servers is the ideal solution or using a hosted platform/software better aligns with your business goals, it is a choice that requires examining how you want to interact with your software or website. Service providers are able and ready to provide just about any tool needed to run your business entirely from the web.

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Avatar for Michael McDonald

About the Author: Michael McDonald

Michael has been a member of the Most Helpful Humans in Hosting for over six years. Starting down a path of education and teaching, Michael returned to his passion of working with technology and helping people around the world embrace the Internet. In his free time, Michael can be found in the northern parts of Michigan spending time on the great lakes or engrossed in a good book.

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