Cloud Storage Terms Explained: SaaS, IaaS and PaaS

One guarantee in technology is that there will always be acronyms bandied about that you may or may not understand, and the new cloud-based computing and storage solutions have introduced their fair share. Not only are there public, private and local clouds, but you can also utilize off-premise services at various levels to support organizations of all sizes. Some of the most common types of cloud computer services are Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Managed service providers are the organizations most likely to offer these next-gen options, as they can stitch together any number of offerings in a way that is seamless to the end-user of the service.

Cloud Computing Stack

Cloud computing is essentially a grouping of resources that can be “stacked” one on top of the other—convenient, on-demand access to data, networking, storage solutions, services and applications—that can be deployed quickly and easily and in a very scalable format. There are some general characteristics that most cloud services share, including:

• End users can register and receive the service without long delays
• Broad spectrum availability across mobile, desktop and remote locations
• Pooling of resources across various clients
• Elastic capability which allows the services to scale on demand
• Metered service and billing

While there is some blurring of the lines between PaaS and IaaS, these two can be considered distinct entities, with Infrastructure as a Service considered the base that the other two cloud options are built upon. These are neither mutually exclusive nor are businesses required to utilize all of the options at once; SaaS can be implemented for one specific need (customer relationship management) while all other software is deployed locally.

Software as a Service

The technical definition of SaaS is software that is deployed across the Internet, with a provider who tenders the application to clients through a subscription or even at no charge for an in-kind offering. The market for this type of software is growing rapidly and includes such basics as Google mail, Office365 and Adobe Creative Cloud. As local installation becomes ever more challenging and software developers respond to users’ demand for rapid changes by pushing micro-updates, SaaS continues to gain traction and acceptance within the business community. This acceptance has been helped along by software manufacturers’ understanding of the ongoing revenue stream that monthly or annual subscriptions provide—a revenue stream that is highly attractive, especially when compared with previous options where customers could keep the same software for many years without a new upgrade charge.

Platform as a Service

Where SaaS provides the ability to access software deployed over the Internet, PaaS is the platform used to create software—also delivered over the Internet—allowing the quick and easy development of web apps without maintaining a great deal of infrastructure. PaaS could either be a collaborative platform for software development with heavy workflow management, or it could be a platform that uses proprietary data from an application as the basis for building software. Building and deploying UI scenarios and multi-tenant architecture as well as the ability to support dev team collaboration are well-documented benefits of PaaS.

Infrastructure as a Service

Scaling servers, network and operating systems and storage can be a massive headache of its own, and IaaS seeks to alleviate those issues. Instead of purchasing servers, network equipment or space in a datacenter, IaaS allows technology teams the flexibility of a fully outsourced infrastructure. While there are nuances within IaaS, in general the core characteristics include the distribution of resources as a service, dynamic scaling, variable cost pricing models, and the ability to share a single piece of hardware across multiple users.

As cloud computing services mature, the hard lines between IaaS and PaaS will continue to blur with the addition of code deployment tools to IaaS platforms. When you have volatile demand, a mobile workforce and a limited technology support team, these cloud-based services grow in popularity.