As technology progresses, general computing and development knowledge becomes more widespread, and companies have the ability to demand more flexible options. The line between IaaS vs. PaaS is increasingly blurred, but not completely obscured.
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Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) gives companies basic storage, server, and networking options that don’t require the purchase and upkeep of vast private server rooms. Platform as a Service (PaaS) gives companies the flexibility and freedom of IaaS, with a little more support in the way of security and database builds, so developers can focus on building their applications.
Iaas vs. PaaS only compares the bottom two tiers of the cloud computing pyramid, which includes Software as a Service (SaaS) at its peak. SaaS describes software built, updated, and maintained by a third-party company and made available to customers via the web. Many SaaS products are built by companies who utilize IaaS or PaaS, although that’s not always the case. The similarities and differences between IaaS vs. PaaS leave them available for many other use cases.
Infrastructure as a Service
IaaS uses virtual machines (VMs) to house your data rather than physical server rooms that take up tons of energy and space. VMs are really nothing more than someone else’s servers that you pay to use. In addition to the VMs, IaaS provides some development scaffolding like networking, operating systems, and storage. Companies that choose IaaS can use public cloud space that they securely share with other companies, a private cloud that isolates data on its own servers, or a combination of the two, called “hybrid cloud.”
Platform as a Service
A platform that your company will build its own software on. PaaS provides a way for coding languages to communicate with servers and database storage devices, whether physical or virtual. PaaS is designed to help internal corporate developers build, test, and iterate their software.
Two distinctive types of PaaS
- Platform for independent software development where companies build software for internal or external use. E.g. Heroku
- Platforms that support software built to work in conjunction with or overtop an existing software framework. E.g. using Force.com to build Salesforce-specific apps (either for general or internal use)
Both IaaS and PaaS Offer
Elastic Growth: because the service company provides networks, databases, and servers, users can grow or shrink their utility needs based on current demands, rather than purchasing large amounts of space and hoping they’ll fill it someday. These changes can also occur rapidly and with little interference from developers.
Build Flexibility: Although the IT attention and knowledge required for both of these choices varies, they both provide flexible platforms where teams can choose the major components they need in their outsourced support.
Multi-Tenant Functionality: A perk of virtualizing your development infrastructure is that your whole team of developers can use the space to work simultaneously. PaaS often includes workflow capabilities that take some of the checks out of the team’s hand, while IaaS allows teams to build these themselves.
What They Don’t Share
Security: IaaS lets your team build or implement third-party security onto your purchased infrastructure. While most companies will not need added security above what the PaaS provides, companies in highly regulated fields like government, financial, legal, or medical may want to look into how IaaS can increase compliance.
Databases: An IaaS gives teams the flexibility and option to choose their own databases for proprietary code storage, high-security data, or individual customer data. This feature is also very helpful for high-compliance industries.
When to use IaaS or Paas (or stick with SaaS)
Stick with SaaS
If you have a bare-bones development and IT staff, and if you don’t really care about building your own software when someone else can build it and do a much better job, go with SaaS. You’ll get technical support, free updates, and a monthly or annual subscription (so you can cancel at any time). A lot of companies that build their own software still use SaaS for the extras that they’re not equipped to handle, including customer service, UX, marketing and marketing automation, and payment processing.
Your company has the need, resources, and time to build software, but you don’t want to mess with all the nuances of building servers, networks, and managing databases. PaaS will store your information alongside other users, but security features like encryption and containerization will keep your data separate and secure.
When you need to customize the underlying hardware or software of your app, or you have specific security concerns that require a private cloud or isolated databases. You can find IaaS on all points of the spectrum, from private to public cloud, and even with support modules that blur the lines between IaaS and PaaS.
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The choice between IaaS vs. PaaS comes down to your internal resources and institutional knowledge, and maybe a little bit of what your regulatory environment looks like. Companies that need to invest their time in their development but don’t have a lot of ops resources should consider PaaS. Those who need increased security and higher customization should explore IaaS options before buying the server farm.