Cloud computing is as amorphous a term as a literal cloud, but in reality, there are three basic types of cloud computing. The difference among the three types lies in what service the specific cloud utility will offer: software, platform, or infrastructure. While this may sound overly complicated and possibly redundant, the reality is actually fairly simple: even the acronyms associated with each cloud utility are easy to decipher. Knowing which service will fulfill your needs, and not provide unnecessary complications for you, your clients, or employees, will help improve the efficiency and functionality of your IT needs.
SaaS: software as a service (Saas)
A widely known iteration of SaaS for most people would be the Google suite of apps. The end user accesses saved information and applications via a web browser. Nothing is saved on the local hard drive beyond the web browser. Income is often derived from regular fees for access. Users don’t interact with any of the backends of the platform or infrastructure; instead, the third-party manager handles all these issues:
- Operating systems
- Data centers
PaaS: Platform as a service (PaaS)
The platform that runs the Google suite of apps is ubiquitous—although not necessarily noticeable—PaaS that many end users interact with on a daily basis. The platform as service model takes the majority of the behind the scenes programming out of users’ hands, including hardware and infrastructure, providing them with a cleaner, more focused, and cost effective experience. The platform can be used for software development and utilization, generally via some type of user interface. A third party, such as Volico, manages all the background trunk of operation, the operating system, equipment, and networking. All PaaS systems are run on virtualized server technology. Unlike SaaS, users interact directly with the applications on the system, but none of the other tools or resources.
IaaS: Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
IaaS is the final and highest level of control after PaaS, composed of cloud storage and network infrastructure, as well as scalable design and development resources with effectively unlimited cloud storage and network capability. It’s the self-service, DIY playground where all the tools are available to access, monitor, and manage infrastructure, storage, networks, and firewalls, without the physical cost associated with the requisite hardware. In a typical IaaS setup, users will manage applications, data, and operating systems. A third party may still take charge of virtualization, servers, hardware, and networking. However, many IaaS providers also offer extra optional services such as databases, queues, or updating. The IaaS user has the most control of any level of cloud computing services in terms of flexibility and direction of servers, storage, and networking.
IaaS or PaaS?
Platform as a service is actually a very different choice than Infrastructure as a service in terms of not only the level of control users have but also the knowledge required to effectively utilize the system’s potential. When deciding which choice to make, it is common to explore the following questions:
- Do we need to handle security and database development directly?
- Do we want to manage hardware, software updates, and patches?
- Do we have multiple developers working on the same project?
- Do we need to reduce overhead?
- Do we want to customize applications?
If the answers to some or most of these questions are yes, then IaaS is probably the better choice. Otherwise, PaaS will fulfill nearly all of your specific needs.