IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS: Here's What You Need to Know About Each

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When I first started working in the tech industry, I'll admit that it took me a while to figure out the answer to a question that was top-of-mind for me:

What the heck is "the cloud?"

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It seemed like such a simple question, I didn't have the courage to come out and ask it. So, like any good blogger, I resorted to the internet to figure it out.

And what I learned is, "the cloud" is a pretty big deal that powers how a lot of modern technology companies operate.

You see, the cloud refers to how and where data is stored -- and perhaps more importantly, where it isn't. The cloud allows software and services to run on the internet, instead of only locally on one device, because the data is stored remotely across a variety of different servers. These software and services can be accessed on any internet browser, or via online apps that can be accessed on different devices.

One key example: the cloud lets your team collaborate on Google Docs instead of forcing you to work on one Microsoft Word document and send it around to each other.

As you might have guessed, thinking about all of the other services you can access from any online device, the cloud is a big deal. You might also be wondering, how are these cloud-based services built? You'll learn how different cloud computing services are used to build the technologies you use every day in this blog post. And if you're still confused about the cloud, don't worry -- clearer skies are ahead.

IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS: What's the Difference?

IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS stand for the three main categories of cloud computing. Cloud computing is the practice of using a network of different servers that host, store, manage, and process data online -- in "the cloud" I mentioned earlier. Here's a breakdown of the different ways businesses are monetizing cloud computing to offer customers different types of online services:

IaaS Definition

IaaS stands for "infrastructure as a service." It refers to cloud-based infrastructure resources that are delivered to organizations via virtualization technology that help organizations build and manage their servers, network, operating systems, and data storage. IaaS customers can control their own data infrastructure without having to physically manage it on-site. Instead, they can access and store data on servers via a dashboard or API (application programming interface).

What Does IaaS Do?

IaaS helps companies build and manage their data as they grow, paying for the storage and server space that they need to build hardware or software, without having to actually host and manage servers themselves on-site. IaaS products make up the foundations of building new technologies delivered over the cloud.

An example of an IaaS product is Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is overseen by Amazon and is used for on-demand cloud computing and purchased for on a recurring subscription basis. AWS helps companies store data and deliver content -- in fact, it's helping you read this blog post right now.

PaaS Definition

PaaS stands for "platform as a service." It refers to cloud-based platform services that provide developers with a framework they can use to build custom applications upon. In this way, PaaS isn't delivering software over the internet, but it is providing an online platform that's accessible to different developers to create software delivered over the internet.

What Does PaaS Do?

PaaS products let developers build custom applications online without having to deal with data serving, storage, and management.

An example of a PaaS product is Google App Engine, which allows developers to build and host web applications in cloud-based data centers that Google manages.

SaaS Definition

"SaaS" stands for "software as a service." It refers to cloud-based software that is hosted online by a company and is available for purchase on a subscription basis and is delivered via the internet.

What Does SaaS Do?

SaaS products are among the most commonly-used cloud computing services used by companies to build and grow their businesses. SaaS is easy to use and manage, and it's highly scalable, as it doesn't need to be downloaded and installed on individual devices in order to deploy it to an entire team or company. This is particularly helpful for distributed global teams of people who don't work in close physical proximity.

An example of a SaaS product is JIRA, which is project management software that's delivered by Atlassian and can be purchased on a subscription basis by customers.

What's the Difference?

To examine the differences between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, think of these terms as under the umbrella of cloud-computing (building, creating, and storing data over the cloud), and think about them in the order we've presented them.

IaaS helps build the infrastructure of a cloud-based technology. PaaS helps developers build custom apps via an API that can be delivered over the cloud. And SaaS is cloud-based software companies can sell and use.

Think of IaaS as the foundation of building a cloud-based service -- whether that's content, software, or the website to sell a physical product, PaaS as the platform on which developers can build apps without having to host them, and SaaS as the software you can buy or sell to help software companies (or others) to get it all done.

Next, learn more about SaaS customer acquisition.

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