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Suppose you are looking to modernize your business’s IT solutions by migrating to the cloud. In that case, it is essential to know your options for cloud computing and the primary differences between them.  Microsoft offers cloud services through Azure in three major categories – Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).  Let’s look at these models to understand the key differences between IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS, and which service model best fits your business needs. 

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) 

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Figure 1 – Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

IaaS provides the fundamental building blocks of computing infrastructure through scalable, virtualized computing resources, including virtual machines, networks, and storage.  This eliminates the need to purchase and maintain hardware to support this infrastructure with varying demands of resources. 

Services under the IaaS model generally offer the greatest degree of control and flexibility as you have full management over the operating systems, applications, and data on the virtual machines.  Thus, solutions that require total control over infrastructure, have specific networking or security requirements or need to run custom software stacks are a good fit for IaaS services.  Azure provides a pay-as-you-go model. This model allows you to only pay for the resources you use, making cost efficiency another benefit of this model. 

However, this also means that you are responsible for securing and configuring the virtual machines, managing the operating system, and maintaining data backups.  The complexity of provisioning and configuring the infrastructure can result in spending more time and resources than when utilizing other cloud service models, requiring sufficient expertise to ensure systems function and perform adequately. 

Some of the Microsoft Azure services that fall under the IaaS category include: 

  • Azure Virtual Machines 
  • Azure Virtual Network 
  • Azure Storage 

Platform as a Service (PaaS) 

Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Figure 2 – Platform as a Service (PaaS)

PaaS takes care of underlying infrastructure and resources and provides a framework with a higher level of abstraction, which allows developers to focus on developing and deploying their applications.  This is accomplished by providing pre-configured environments and services, and automatically handling things like scaling, load balancing, as well as application health monitoring. 

Unlike with IaaS, you don’t need to maintain the operating system, network infrastructure, or servers.  While you have less control over the underlying infrastructure, you gain other benefits such as scalability, efficient application development, and reduced operational overhead. 

PaaS services are a good fit for custom application solutions because it provides pre-configured environments and tools that streamline collaboration between multiple developers.  They support a wide variety of languages and technologies and offer support for integration with other Azure services and third-party APIs. 

However, there is a risk of vendor lock-in and platform limitations with PaaS.  Solutions built with PaaS use platform-specific technologies and may be difficult to migrate to another platform if the need arises, requiring significant additional development effort.  This can also hold when integrating existing applications that may require complex configurations to be compatible with the languages and frameworks offered by PaaS. 

Some of the Microsoft Azure services that fall under the PaaS category include: 

  • Azure App Service 
  • Azure SQL Database 
  • Azure Functions 

Software as a Service (SaaS) 

Software as a Service (SaaS)
Figure 3 – Software as a Service (SaaS)

SaaS delivers ready-to-use, subscription-based applications through the internet which users can access directly from a web browser or a dedicated client.  There is typically no need to install, maintain, or manage applications that are used through these services, which can save a significant amount of time and money which would otherwise be spent on these tasks. 

SaaS solutions abstract away the underlying infrastructure, software updates, and technical issues, as those are managed by the service provider. This makes these services ideal for smaller-scale businesses, as well as projects that benefit from reduced setup time and cost. 

At the same time, this abstraction means that you lose control over aspects of the application such as performance and security.  If the service provider experiences technical issues or downtime, the interruptions potentially extended to the customer.  Nevertheless, SaaS can provide simple, scalable solutions for a variety of use cases. 

There is a wide range of applications Azure SaaS offers, including development tools, productivity tools, and customer management systems.  Some of the Microsoft Azure services that fall under the SaaS category include: 

  • Azure DevOps 
  • Microsoft 365 
  • Dynamics 365 

These models are not necessarily mutually exclusive in Azure.  You can create hybrid solutions by combining these models to meet your business needs effectively.  Each model offers different functionalities and comes with varying levels of management, maintenance, and responsibility.  The best cloud-based solution is one that can leverage all of these services to the best of their ability.  Make an informed decision based on your requirements by identifying each model’s strengths and weaknesses, and the difference between IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS.