Cloud Gobbly-Gook: Making Sense of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS


The cloud is supposed to be simple. After all, it’s just a massive computing utility that can do nearly anything, isn’t it?

The deeper you look, though, the more intricate it all becomes.

There are three major cloud service platforms which adds to this confusion. You can think of these services as comprising a stack. Let’s work our way up, starting with the lowest level.

IaaS – Infrastructure as a Service sounds pretty straightforward. Customers don’t have to have servers, storage and related network infrastructure on-premises. Instead, this is all hosted by a cloud provider and you essentially pay a rental fee. In the beginning, these were raw services based on bare-metal servers and unconfigured storage. It was up to the customer to set the infrastructure up with operating systems, apps and the like.

Today, this is infrastructure comes more and more pre-configured for quicker setup. Amazon Web Services (AWS) helped invent IaaS and remains the market leader – and has hundreds of solutions that run on AWS.

Making things more confusing, IaaS services are increasingly adding developer hooks from PaaS services and more ability to run apps directly, as pioneered by SaaS. More on these two next.

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PaaS – Platform as a Service is trickier to define. One can think of it as taking an IaaS service, then layering the ability to develop and run applications on top. There is also a security layer so developers don’t have to implement a separate solution. For those that need database, PaaS has DBMS function built in. This style of PaaS was the basic genesis of Microsoft Azure. You can also think of PaaS as being a large-capacity developer workstation running in the cloud.

More and more PaaS providers these days are making their IaaS underpinnings available, thus creating blended PaaS/IaaS services.

SaaS – The highest level of the stack is Software as a Service where software that would otherwise run on-premises lives in the cloud. Shining examples of SaaS services are and Microsoft Office 365. is shaking things up by adding developer features to the core Salesforce service, making it act like a PaaS. Gartner actually considers to be an Application PaaS.

Here’s how explains it: “’s Salesforce1 Platform is an enterprise cloud platform that lets companies build and deliver custom apps faster to connect employees, customers, and products. The Salesforce1 Mobile App, also launched last fall, can quickly make many of these apps mobile with a few admin setting clicks.”

While Salesforce1 Platform is a pure-play PaaS, the company has other services that let customers highly customize theirCustomer Relationship Management (CRM) systems.

PaaS and DevOps

The birth of PaaS also helped create the DevOps wave, which has made corporate development and IT Operations far more efficient. The idea is that IT Ops no longer needs to worry about supporting development infrastructure – it is all in the cloud. At the same time, developers can create software . This speed comes from having a 100% focus on developing software, not worrying about keeping your in-house infrastructure up to speed with the latest OS updates and making sure you are on the right version of Intergrated Development Environment (IDE). And the cloud encourages collaboration and teamwork.

In the End, It May Not Even Matter

The fact that we still have three separate terms for cloud infrastructure is indicative of the cloud’s growing pains. As you read this, these terms are beginning to lose their meaning and value. IaaS vendors have been steadily adding more OS, development and application services. PaaS vendors, at the same time, are providing underlying IaaS services, and (as a development platform) also offering the ability to run applications.

SaaS vendors, meanwhile, are providing fuller and fuller capabilities, encompassing all three layers of the cloud stack.

David S. Linthicum, writing for GigaOM,  observed, “One of the larger issues is that PaaS and IaaS have really crossed features. There are pure PaaS providers, such as EngineYard. However, the largest PaaS players, including Microsoft and Google, now offer deep IaaS services as well. The 800-pound IaaS public cloud provider, AWS, now offers PaaS capabilities. Thus, it’s hard to determine where the IaaS stops, and the PaaS begins. Or, the other way around.”

Traverse Network and Cloud Monitoring

Despite the broad reach of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS, not all networks and applications are all completely in the cloud, nor entirely on-premises these days. Many are a hybrid combination of on-premises and cloud infrastructure, creating increased complexity. And those 100% in the cloud also pose unique management issues since internal IT doesn’t have full control of the provider’s cloud infrastrure or a full view of all the network pieces that support these cloud applications and services.

Kaseya Traverse is a full-featured network monitoring solution designed to monitor performance  across on-premises, cloud and hybrid infrastructure.

With Traverse, IT staff can view even the most complex infrastructure based on a service-level views.  This service-oriented view enables fast root cause analysis, so network and service problems are quickly resolved and don’t hold operations up.

Learn more about Kaseya Traverse here.


Posted by Doug Barney
Doug Barney was the founding editor of Redmond Magazine, Redmond Channel Partner, Redmond Developer News and Virtualization Review. Doug also served as Executive Editor of Network World, Editor in Chief of AmigaWorld, and Editor in Chief of Network Computing.
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