The cloud is one of the most exciting tech innovations in recent memory and presents a wealth of opportunities to the world of business. Moving hardware and software delivery online has a range of benefits to organisations of any size or scope:

  • Scalable: Traditional hardware can be difficult to scale, a problem that’s amplified for smaller businesses. Cloud technology eliminates the need for investing in physical data centres, making it easy to scale up or down at pace.
  • Cost-effective: Part of what makes IT infrastructure difficult to scale is the expense involved in purchasing, installing and maintaining these systems – which may not even be needed on a permanent basis. With cloud services, businesses can pay for what they need with predictable monthly costs and adjust if and when required.
  • Easily accessible: Businesses can essentially take advantage of cloud services with a couple of clicks. Traditional hardware and software needs to be bought, installed and set up with each device, often resulting in lengthy delays before they can be used.
  • High performance: Companies with on-site systems are limited by how much they can spend. Because cloud companies specialise in online services, they invest heavily in data centres and other infrastructure that offers higher performance standards to customers who wouldn’t otherwise have access to it.
  • Secure: Organisations with their own data networks are vulnerable to breaches that can cause catastrophic losses. Cloud infrastructure is located in highly secure facilities complete with data encryption, security firewalls, automatic backups and other tools to protect data.

But cloud solutions are still a very broad concept that can mean a lot of things to different organisations. When diving into cloud technology for the first time and discovering how it’s changing the business world, you’ll quickly encounter three important terms: IaaS, PaaS and SaaS.

These strange-sounding acronyms refer to the three major types of cloud services:

  • SaaS: Software as a service
  • PaaS: Platform as a service
  • IaaS: Infrastructure as a service

So what do these terms mean and which is the best?

SaaS: Software as a service

SaaS is perhaps the easiest cloud service to wrap one’s head around: it essentially involves a vendor providing software over the internet. SaaS is usually offered as a monthly subscription and accessed online as a cloud-based application – meaning users don’t have to install the software on each of their devices.

Popular services like Gmail, Office 365, Salesforce and Google Docs are all examples of SaaS: everything is managed by the vendor, from the software itself to the servers and other infrastructure provided to run it. All you need is an active login and you can start taking advantage of SaaS instantly. Cloud-based phone systems like Skype, Microsoft Teams and Slack are also good examples of SaaS.

PaaS: Platform as a service

PaaS refers to cloud-based platforms used by developers to create software and applications. Like SaaS, PaaS involves a cloud service provider offering software online and managing the servers, data networks and other infrastructure required to run it, the major difference being the nature of the product.

PaaS solutions like Google App Engine, Webcentral cPaneland Heroku give developers quick and affordable access to tools they can use to create, test and deploy proprietary applications which can then be offered by their business. In the PaaS environment, everything is managed by the cloud or hosting service provider except the application itself, which the developers look after. PaaS usually follows a subscription pricing model similarly to SaaS.

IaaS: Infrastructure as a service

Last but not least, IaaS is infrastructure offered as a cloud-based service. Providers offer virtual data centres complete with servers, storage, data network resources and other infrastructure to businesses who need the capability without investing in on-site systems. There’s a broad variety of IaaS products available from basic website hosting services to in-depth data analysis, and businesses can get tailored packages based on their digital needs. Amazon Web Services and Google Compute Engine are examples of IaaS, comprising a range of different services and tools to IT administrators.

Three ways to access cloud-based solutions

Each of the three cloud services is designed to meet the needs of a unique target audience. SaaS is a simple, fully managed solution built for the end user; PaaS gives developers the tools they need to offer their own applications to the end user; and IaaS gives IT administrations greater control over their data centres and other infrastructure without the need for expensive on-site equipment.

Which of these services you engage will depend on the nature of your business, but they all make it possible to reap the many benefits of cloud technology.

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