The concept of cloud computing is far more expansive than most people realize. While enterprise cloud solutions, in general, share an on-demand setup that allows for instant access to digital resources, these can take many forms.
Differences include delivery models (such as public, private, hybrid or multi-cloud environments) and location (such as on or off-premises — or for many businesses, colocation). Perhaps most notable, however, are the distinctions between service models, which continue to cause significant confusion even among enterprises with cloud experience.
At its most basic level, the modern cloud comprises three main categories: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). These terms describe prominent service models that allow for customized deployment. They can be used separately or be integrated to provide the exact level of support required.
Software as a Service
Largely regarded as the simplest and most straightforward take on cloud computing, software as a service promotes a rental-based, hosted applications approach to IT infrastructure, in which servers, storage, operating systems, and other essential applications are obtained on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Third-party vendors do the heavy lifting, with most applications hosted from a central location and run directly through web browsers on the client’s end. This limits the need for time-consuming installations or downloads, ensuring swift deployment and an impressive level of scalability.
The relative simplicity of SaaS makes it a compelling choice for small businesses that lack dedicated IT departments. Under this model, vendors handle a variety of technical concerns. This, in turn, frees up small business owners and their employees to focus on other important matters, rather than worry about maintaining systems they struggle to understand.
In some situations, the hands-off style of SaaS reduces a top source of risk: neglected software and hardware updates. SaaS vendors take care of these essential duties, ensuring that issues are promptly corrected as needed.
The numerous advantages of SaaS are accompanied by a few potential concerns worth addressing. Perhaps most notable: interoperability. This isn’t an issue for all vendors, but sometimes, integrating with other services can be tricky. Concerns regarding personalization, integration, and security are far from universal. These issues underscore the need for strategic SaaS vendor selection — or in some cases, the necessity of a custom approach in which SaaS is used alongside other service models.
Platform as a Service
Similar in many respects to SaaS, platform as a service (PaaS) offers a foundation for software development. This platform grants creators the freedom they desire while skipping the work of maintaining operating systems and its built-in tools or handling its security updates.
Scalable applications known as middleware form the bulk of the PaaS approach, with virtualization technology allowing resources to be quickly adapted as needed up to the OS, its management apps and development tools. Businesses that require a middle ground between SaaS and IaaS often express a preference for PaaS, which integrates the best aspects of both systems.
Unfortunately, PaaS can carry a few disadvantages. As with SaaS, careful vendor selection is crucial. This is especially true when integrating new PaaS solutions with legacy systems.
PaaS skeptics should keep in mind that, while this service model remains in its infancy, it holds a lot of promise. This may explain why experts at Gartner anticipate a faster rate of growth for PaaS than for SaaS.
Infrastructure as a Service
While pay-as-you-go solutions such as SaaS and PaaS are notoriously easy to implement, many businesses prefer the minimalist approach offered with infrastructure as a service (IaaS). This self-service option is all about control, which is supplied through an API or dashboard that allows clients to oversee critical infrastructure.
Under an IaaS model, clients are responsible for applications, operating systems, middleware, and more. Those wanting to save time may view this as a burden, but the extra commitment delivers greater control and more opportunities for customization.
What’s more, IaaS allows clients to bypass the management and maintenance of the physical hardware stack. Instead, compute, network and storage nodes are accessed via a virtual cloud app.
IaaS costs vary dramatically based on consumption, but this service model can deliver an impressive return on investment when properly tailored to the current needs of the enterprise.
Businesses that anticipate swift growth often opt for IaaS in hopes of scaling up quickly when the need arises. While early training and development can produce noteworthy expenses, the ability to instantly adapt should not be discounted — especially given the swift pace of today’s market.
Integrating SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS
SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS do not exist in a vacuum. While some enterprises prefer to exclusively adopt a single approach, others benefit from using a combination of cloud computing systems.
SaaS and PaaS, in particular, can be highly compatible. Rather than opt for a single approach for all cloud computing functions, businesses may select SaaS when they want to streamline time-consuming functions — and PaaS or IaaS when they want a greater degree of control.
When combined, these seemingly disparate service models provide a far greater degree of flexibility than a single system can alone.
For example, enterprises can begin with IaaS for obtaining reliable storage via a data center and, if needed, handling complex hosting requirements for custom-built apps. PaaS can then be built on top of the existing IaaS structure to reduce system administration needs. Finally, SaaS delivers out-of-the-box solutions for specific functions such as email or ecommerce.
The endless versatility of delivery models means that businesses can start with any one approach — or combination of approaches — and add other services over time. Many prefer SaaS for handling urgent business needs during the startup phase, but eventually, take on a more sophisticated approach that incorporates PaaS and IaaS.
No one cloud delivery model is correct in every situation. Therein lies both the challenge and the appeal of modern cloud computing. A little guidance may be all it takes to develop a customized strategy that accommodates your unique needs.
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