Cloud Computing: Comparing SaaS, PaaS and IaaS

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Cloud Computing has evolved into a large spectrum of services under a broader umbrella and typically all services which include shared resources, software and platforms provided as an ‘On-Demand’ service fall into this category. Cloud Computing however has various flavors of implementation and in this article we will talk about the three major flavors Software as a Service which are (SaaS), Platform as a Service(PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

Software as a Service(SaaS)
Software as a Service is a term used to describe software that is deployed over the internet and the provider licensing applications to subscribers as a ‘service-on-demand’. Typically the services are provided in a ‘pay-as-you-go’ model with typically payments charged on a monthly basis based on the number of users or services consumed. The key segments within the SaaS segments include content, collaboration and Customer Relationship Management(CRM). Salesforce.com is a great example of a dominant SaaS company which leads the CRM space.

Platform as a Service(PaaS)
Platform as a Service is a term used to describe platforms which provide not only a deployment platform but provide a value added solution stack and an application development platform as well. While SaaS providers typically provide ready to use business applications for users and organizations, PaaS provides provide the ability for building and deploying custom applications on their platforms. By supporting many of the standard application development languages and environments like Java or .NET they allow custom application development reducing the dependency on proprietary SaaS platforms which typically locks in users and organizations to the platform. The key players in the PaaS market are Amazon EC2, Microsoft Azure, Google App Engine

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Infrastructure as a Service is the third flavor of Cloud Computing which is used to describe platforms which provide computer and server infrastructure typically provided as a virtualization environment. The platform would provide the ability for consumers to scale their infrastructure up or down by demand and pay for the resources consumed. As against the SaaS and PaaS model this provides the greatest flexibility with the least lock-in into the platform allowing users to be able easily migrate their applications from one provider to another. On the other hand a IaaS setup would require the largest setup and maintainence overhead. Amazon Web Services and Rackspace are the two key players providing IaaS services.

The above summary should serve as a good starting point to understand how the Cloud Computing platforms are segregated and distinguished and a highlight of the key players in each of the segments. Understanding the differences between each flavor is also critical to understand which of the Cloud Platforms are applicable based on the application behavior and deployment needs.

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