IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS: Cloud Service Model Overview

Choosing the right cloud service models for your organization can help make the most of your budget and IT resources.

Know the Difference Between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS:

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) delivers the hardware for cloud services, including servers, networking, and storage.

  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) gives you everything available with IaaS, plus the operating system and databases.

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) offers the most support, providing your end users with everything except for their data.



Cloud computing has become an essential part of enterprise technology, helping you deliver applications and IT as a Service (ITaaS) to your end users with ease and efficiency. Today, one of the most important parts of your cloud strategy is choosing the right cloud service models for your organization.

As you explore your options, you’ll see choices like IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, and similar terms. These are all “as a service” models—part of a broader trend of “Everything as a Service” or “XaaS.” The type of service you choose depends on your available infrastructure, IT staff resources, cost considerations, and cloud security needs.
First, you’ll need to assess the best way to support your application or workload. There are a variety of factors you will need to consider, such as application portability, data portability, security, and compliance. These factors will influence whether you build on premises or off premises.

On-premises requires the highest level of management and the greatest capital expenses but could be the most cost efficient in the long term. Everything is run in a private cloud, on hardware that belongs to your organization, by your IT team.

Recently, cloud service providers have begun offering on-premises “private cloud” services. For example, IBM Cloud Private delivers an application platform for developing and managing on-premises, containerized applications. These new services help alleviate some of the management and capital expenses related to on-premises cloud architectures.

Off-premises services, or public cloud services, are typically delivered by a cloud service provider and can be one of several service model types.

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

With Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), a cloud service provider owns and manages the hardware upon which your software stack runs. That includes servers, networking, and storage. This can be a great cost-reduction strategy if you’d like to avoid purchasing and maintaining infrastructure.

However, there’s still plenty of work for your IT team. Under the IaaS model, your IT team manages operating systems, databases, applications, functions, and all of your organization’s data. As a result, they’ll typically have more control and flexibility compared with other service models.

IaaS is self-service, which allows your IT team to access resources as needed through an API or dashboard. Some common examples of IaaS include instances on Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Compute Engine, and Microsoft Azure, which let you buy more or less capacity as you go. That means there’s very little commitment involved—an advantage if you think your needs will change in the near future. If you’re part of a large organization, you may also have access to IaaS from another part of your enterprise.

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

The next level of service is Platform as a Service (PaaS). PaaS is similar to IaaS, except that your cloud service provider also provides the operating system and databases. That means less work for your IT team. Your organization is still responsible for applications, functions, and data.

PaaS gives your developers a simple, scalable platform for building applications. Much like with IaaS, you can buy more resources as needed. And because multiple users can access the development application at the same time, PaaS can streamline workflows and enhance coordination. Some examples of PaaS are AWS Elastic Beanstalk and Google App Engine.

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Finally, Software as a Service (SaaS) offers the most support and is the simplest of all delivery models for the end user. Chances are that you already use it in your organization.

SaaS can be run in a multitenancy architecture, in which one instance of software serves multiple users. Typically, SaaS products don’t involve a download or installation, saving your end users from needing to manage software updates. All they’re responsible for is their data. Popular examples of SaaS include CRM software, cloud-based file storage, and email.

Choosing among IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, and other cloud service models depends on your available infrastructure, IT staff resources, cost considerations, and cloud security needs.

Other services

Besides IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS, there are a couple of other types of cloud service models you should know about.

  • Function as a Service (FaaS) - This provides yet another, deeper layer of service. With FaaS, your users manage only functions and data. The cloud service provider manages the applications you use. This option is especially popular among developers, since you don’t pay for services when your code isn’t running. Common functions include data processing, data validation or sorting, and back ends for mobile and IoT applications. FaaS providers include AWS* Lambda, Azure Functions, and Google Cloud Functions.
  • Bare Metal as a Service (BMaaS) - Some enterprises feel uneasy about migrating workloads to a virtualized cloud environment that’s shared with other customers. An alternative to IaaS and PaaS is Bare Metal as a Service, or BMaaS. It provides a way for enterprises to complement virtualized cloud services with a dedicated server environment with the same agility, scalability, and efficiency as the cloud. In particular, BMaaS is a great choice for enterprises that need to perform short-term, data-intensive processing—such as media encoding or render farms—without latency or overhead delays.
  • Database as a Service (DBaaS) - Database as a Service (DBaaS) is a type of PaaS that delivers access to a database. DBaaS can be a great way to enable the hybrid cloud, since applications can be moved between on-premise and cloud infrastructure with no impact on end users. It’s also much easier to integrate new technologies through DBaaS since app developers don’t need any additional resources to use them. One example of a DBaaS is Microsoft* Azure SQL Database.

Cloud services powered by Intel

Connecting your various cloud service models with your on-premises and public cloud resources can be a challenge. No matter which models you choose, starting with a foundation of Intel® technology for your on-premises infrastructure gives you compatibility with public cloud services. That’s because Intel technology is integrated and optimized throughout public cloud service providers. The resulting combination of Intel® architecture in your private and public cloud enables 100 percent application compatibility, workload-optimized performance, and a lower total cost of ownership. You can move your data and applications without relearning, retesting, or revalidating your software and tool environments.

We work closely with Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and other cloud service providers to optimize performance on Intel technologies in their data centers. Our work means you’ll get a great experience, no matter how you access cloud services.