Understanding Cloud: Infrastructure-as-a-Service vs. Platform-as-a-Service

To understand the difference between Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), we first need to clearly define cloud computing.  Simply put by Wikipedia, it is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet).  Lets dive into these two different services which will give you a start to understanding cloud. IaaS and PaaS are service models for public cloud computing, but there are other layers of the cloud as well.  Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) are two other cloud computing service models, but for today, we will focus on the differences between IaaS and PaaS.

Defining IaaS and PaaS

According to Gartner, “IaaS is a standardized, highly automated offering, where compute resources, complemented by storage and networking capabilities are owned and hosted by a service provider and offered to customers on-demand.”

The industry analyst firm defines a PaaS offering as “usually depicted in all-cloud diagrams between the SaaS layer above it and the IaaS layer below and is a broad collection of application infrastructure (middleware) services.”

Amazon CloudFormation is one of the most recognizable IaaS providers; while Google App Engine is a well-known PaaS provider.

Understanding Cloud Differences

IaaS is the most basic level of the cloud computing service models.  It offers the virtual (as well as physical) machines, servers, storage options, load balancers, networks, and more.  This enables an organization to outsource their hardware/infrastructure to a service provider that hosts the equipment in a secure data center and access it via the Internet.  This eliminates upfront capital expenses for hardware, ongoing maintenance costs and the expense of office space to store the equipment.  It also reduces the time the IT staff must spend on fixing problems related to the infrastructure and focus on more strategic issues for their organization.

Peeling back the layers, PaaS is next in line, focusing more on operating systems, databases, web servers, development tools, etc.  This is where IT development happens.  PaaS service providers offer tools such as application development collaborative tools, application design, Web application management, and others over the Internet that help organizations with team members in multiple locations to more effectively collaborate on projects.  Like IaaS, it also saves an organization upfront capital expenditures for hardware and the time and expense associated with maintaining that hardware.

Whether IaaS or PaaS is right for an organization depends on many factors, including budget and the availability and skill set of internal IT resources.  The fact is, cloud computing is here to stay and has been proven as a cost-effective way for organizations to leverage the most advanced technology on the market.

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