In our What is SaaS? guide we answered that mighty important software question. But the truth is, things are a little more complicated.

Software is complex—it’s a very broad industry. And there are different areas to wrap your head around. So, we’re here to make it a little easier with this look into the three main ‘as a service’ industries.

What do SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS mean?

Okay, so they may all look like a collection of unusual abbreviations. But a basic SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS definition goes like this:

  • Software as a service: SaaS is where a business provides a subscription-based software service. And it’s what we’re all about (nudge, nudge—we have a SaaS Slack community to join for free).
  • Platform as a service: PaaS is cloud computing providing a bunch of services from a provider. That lets a customer develop and run business applications.
  • Infrastructure as a service: IaaS is an instant computing infrastructure a provider supplies and manages online. All a customer has to do is manage the operating applications, middleware, and systems.

And here are some helpful SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS examples:

  • SaaS: Think along the lines of Netflix, Google Apps, Dropbox, Salesforce etc. Basically, customers subscribe to the software and use it on their internet browser.
  • PaaS: Here you have Beanstalk, Windows Azure, Google App Engine, Apache Stratos etc. Businesses use these to create applications, minus all the complex stuff (like developing a unique infrastructure).
  • IaaS: Okay, so you have the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS), Cisco Metapod, Microsoft Azure, Google Compute engine (GCE) etc. These help businesses avoid buying (and then managing) fiddly servers and data center infrastructures.

That should clear up a thing or two. Now, let’s look a little closer at the more intricate ways the three vary.

SaaS vs PaaS vs IaaS—the differences

From small businesses dotted all around the world, medium-sized organizations, to international enterprises,  more businesses are considering switching to the cloud.

In the olden days, the average business had IT systems at their property. The problem with that approach? It’s expensive and often a little excessive. Plus, you have to hire someone to keep track of it all.

And a small startup shouldn’t fork out $1000s for a full IT infrastructure.

That’s the beauty of ‘as a service’ products. Your customers can subscribe to your product and get up and running in a matter of minutes.

Sounds simple, right? Yes, for customers it is. But there’s a bit more to it. Because not every business needs SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. They might just need one, or a mixture of two. So, how can they tell which one they need?

To break the main differences down, we have a handy little table below.👇

The differences between SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS in table form.

As you can see, with SaaS everything is in the hands of the provider (your business). Meanwhile, the customer pays their monthly subscription fee and enjoys the content from their internet browser.

Simple? Yes! It’s one of the main selling points of software as a service. Customers sign up and then they’re good to go. Little fuss. Almost no hassle.

But this isn’t to say PaaS and IaaS aren’t worth a customer’s time. So, we’ll sum up a few benefits of all three here, with the characteristics you can expect:

  • SaaS’ Benefits: It saves customers a lot of time and money. They can subscribe and use the software straight away with little hassle. Plus, there’s no installing, managing, or updating software. It’s right there from the off in a browser.
  • PaaS’ Benefits: It’s scalable, cheap, and lets developers update the software without tons of coding.
  • IaaS’ Benefits: This infrastructure model is super flexible, easy to automate, and incredibly scalable. This can save customers time, money, and resources.

This all means SaaS is more suitable for startups and small businesses wanting to hit the ground running. On the other hand, PaaS and IaaS are more likely to be suitable for larger businesses.

What are the features of SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS?

All three have unique characteristics. It’s worth getting to grips with what each has to offer, as there are some important differences.

Time for another bullet point list to explain what’s going on!

SaaS characteristics

  • The software is online and available with a subscription.
  • Your business hosts it on a remote server.
  • It’s scalable when it needs to be, with different options for different customer budgets.
  • Security features, compliance, and maintenance come with the subscription fee.

PaaS characteristics

  • Lots of users have access to it.
  • Scalable! Customers can pick the package that suits their business.
  • Uses virtualization technology.
  • Simple to run—no need for fancy pants admin knowledge.

IaaS characteristics

  • Mega flexible.
  • Mega scalable.
  • Loads of users can access it at the same time.
  • Cheap.

And there we have it. Three different types of as a service software, for three different requirements.

What’s the key takeaway here?

SaaS, Paas, and IaaS have different uses for different occasions. One isn’t better than the other two, it’s just about individual business requirements.

A medium-sized business looking for control over its IT infrastructure (without having to bother maintaining it on site) will head over to an IaaS provider.

But startups looking for HR tools, data storage, project management, ticketing platforms, document signing services… well, there are a lot of SaaS options.

The point is there’s a huge and ever growing market of SaaS businesses and customers. And you should market your software as a service business to:

  • Startups and SMEs looking to launch ecommerce products pronto.
  • Businesses needing software for short projects.
  • Applications for web and mobile access.
  • Applications that are flexible and easy to introduce to staff.
  • SMEs looking for cheap and cheerful solutions to their project needs.

Okay, you get what we’re on about

Great, so now’s the time to join our slack community where you can share your industry knowledge. You can also discuss, network, and make SaaS content contributions.

Want to know more? Get in touch: hello@futureofsaas.com.