Cloud Topics: IaaS vs PaaS

Small business owners who don’t consider tech their strongest suit, cloud computing might be unfamiliar at best and daunting at worst. Many realize moving computer resources and data from an in-house arrangement to a shared on-demand environment makes sense in many ways, but the different X-as-a-service terms related to the cloud can be confusing.

But more businesses are adopting cloud services now than ever before, so leaders would do well to understand the basics.

What are IaaS and PaaS?

Small business owners will commonly hear three X-as-a-service terms: software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS). The most common is SaaS, a subscription-based cloud computing model that enables users to access software, such as document storage or word processing apps, from a remote server over the internet. A third-party provider distributes and hosts the software instead of it placing it on a user’s personal device.

Most businesses will likely have heard of or used a SaaS product, but IaaS and PaaS aren’t yet quite as prominent, meaning leaders may not understand them or the benefits they offer. These two X-as-a-service offerings have the same pay-as-you-go model and basis in the cloud as SaaS, but they relate to two different operational aspects within a business: storage and development, respectively.

IaaS refers to a company moving its infrastructure to the cloud, i.e., instead of providing onsite storage, data is housed off-site. IaaS involves replacing all or part of a company’s physical network in an external data center hosted by a third-party provider. This helps the company avoid large cap expenditures, because infrastructure doesn’t have to be bought or maintained. With IaaS, businesses can provision and control resources that users can immediately access. The environment allows for automated and scalable resources, such as networking and storage.

PaaS, meanwhile, makes it easier for developers to create, host and launch apps for a business. Developers can concentrate on the coding aspects of the app while a third-party provider provisions the platform – operating system, servers, networking, storage and middleware. The ready-made environment enables quicker and easier development and launching of web applications and simplifies the corresponding maintenance. PaaS can be provided in the public cloud or within the company’s IT department.

In short: IaaS is for businesses wanting to eliminate all or part of on-site infrastructure; PaaS allows a business to efficiently leverage app development.

What businesses stand to gain

These two cloud computing models provide numerous benefits to small businesses. Here are three to consider:

  1. Savings. IaaS enables lower infrastructure costs, while PaaS counters with lower development costs. When a business chooses an IaaS provider, for instance, it no longer has to worry about guaranteeing uptime or maintaining and replacing hardware and networking equipment. It also doesn’t have to fret over unexpected short-term scenarios that arise and require more storage or computing capacity. Both models embrace the pay-as-you-go concept so businesses pay only for resources used. IaaS requires no upfront charges or minimum term commitments.
  2. Speed. Businesses look for every competitive advantage. IaaS and PaaS both permit scalability and flexibility so that products and apps reach the market faster. Companies can ramp up or down to respond to changing requirements and opportunities without needing to worry about their development platform or their required storage. Test and development environments can be assembled and disassembled quicker due to the flexibility.
  3. Peace of mind. When reputable third-party providers handle core infrastructure and development resources, companies have less to worry about – they can focus on growing their business and developing innovative solutions instead. Leaders can spend less time and money on their own hardware, software and IT staff.

You don’t need to be an expert in cloud computing, but moving to the cloud will likely become a discussion most small businesses, regardless of industry, will approach at some point. Take time now to become familiar with the important terms to know as well as the benefits your business can gain from them.

Adam Levy is the founder of Magnet Solutions Group, and IT services company, and LoTops CRM software.  This article originally appeared in Business.com.