[TBT] IaaS or PaaS as a Cloud Computing Platform?

[Editor’s Note] in this Throwback Thursday, Akraya looks back on the curiosity of PaaS and IaaS, only five years after Google introduced App Engine. PaaS and IaaS continue to evolve and grow to new innovative heights.
Originally Published: August 28,2013

Cloud Computing

It is becoming rarer for businesses to build web-applications on a completely proprietary infrastructure. The option to use a cloud computing platform and offload most of the overhead of scaling IT operations for a reasonable fee is far too inviting for most organizations. On top of this, businesses such as Netflix have shown that it is possible to run a world-class company on top of a cloud architecture.

As cloud computing is growing, the options for service are becoming varied. This is why it is useful to have a discussion about choosing an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) provider over a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider. As with many technical choices, the deciding point is often the level of granularity needed.


We should clarify that often there is no strict separation of IaaS provider and PaaS provider; many IaaS platforms also have a PaaS offering. However, IaaS is typically the foundation of PaaS – for instance, Heroku is a leading PaaS provider that runs entirely on Amazon Web Services EC2.

The question of whether or not an organization should build its solution entirely on virtual instances comes down to levels of control, availability of resources, and future expansion plans. Providers such as Amazon and Rackspace have demonstrated that their platforms are robust and reliable enough to host applications that are large and sophisticated in their own right.

However, creating a solution based upon such a provider requires certain capabilities: personnel who understand the difference between proprietary and cloud servers, analysts that can ensure that cloud billing models are viable, networking and security subject matter experts who are every bit as competent as those needed for traditional IT, etc. This is why the PaaS option is inviting for so many lean business entities.


With services such as Heroku, Engine Yard, Google App Engine, and a host of others, an organization pays for the luxury of worrying less about infrastructure. The pricing models are often similar: charging based on usage and capacity. However, choosing PaaS app development means getting a stable environment in which developers can focus entirely on design, business logic, and delivering value to customers.

This convenience comes in exchange for few strategic risks, of course. A PaaS application becomes subject to all the glitches experienced by the underlying host – SLAs define the consequences of outages, but in no way guarantee that they will not occur. On top of this, PaaS providers are limited to a finite set of development tools, usually preferring a small set of frameworks and languages. This is in heavy contrast to IaaS, in which developers are free to pull in practically any OS and any compatible tools that they see fit.

In short, IaaS has proven itself effective enough for pretty much any solution, but for organizations that need to spin up a viable product more than they need to revolutionize industry, a PaaS provider may be a better option.

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