IaaS vs. PaaS: Why the Debate Matters to You

Some say Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is the next big thing, while others argue Platform as a Service (PaaS) is emerging as the front runner. Meanwhile, the average consumer still has no idea what either of those things are.

Widespread Impact

But for anyone who works, uses a cloud-based service, or purchases a cloud-connected device like a home alarm system, the debate matters. The cloud hosting providers that house these systems in their data centers are certainly paying attention, with the results of the debate dramatically impacting their business models.

The difference, put simply, is this. With IaaS, the vendor offers a business a place to safely store its server data and the applications it houses. With PaaS, network storage is provided, as well as a platform for developing applications. For the average consumer, this likely won’t have ramifications to their day-to-day lives, but as the industry eventually settles into its eventual structure, the breakdown of IaaS, PaaS, and Software as a Service (SaaS) will likely have an impact on cost.

PaaS Absorption

Some experts now assert that PaaS is fading quickly, with its respective parts having been absorbed by IaaS and PaaS. However, other experts argue that PaaS is an essential service, with some of its elements necessary to supporting operations.

Businesses like Amazon Web Services are blurring the line between these areas, offering services that meet businesses’ needs as part of their IaaS or SaaS offerings. For consumers, the delineation won’t matter, since many businesses will request a model that provides precisely the features they need. However, when choosing between various service providers, some consumers may find that smaller providers that specialize in IaaS or SaaS fail to offer functionality that suits their app development needs. This will enable those businesses that offer a more full-service model the ability to win business away from their competitors.

IT Service Trends for 2013

Each year it sees like business processes, even for the smallest of enterprises, become more deeply enmeshed with technology. Here are three trends you’ll want to stay on top of this year.

1. Devices. Technology research firm Gartner predicts worldwide spending on devices—including PCs, smartphones, tablets and printers—will jump 6.3 percent to $66 billion in 2013, after only growing 2.9 percent last year. That’s especially significant since Gartner also points out the prices of devices like tablets are falling fast—it means people are going to be buying a whole lot of them. Smartphones are also on the cusp of overtaking PCs as the way most people get online. Questions about bring-your-own-device policies, company-owned computers and tablets, and accessibility of work systems from phones and tablets are bound to grow, and IT management companies will need to have answers.

2. The Cloud. Gartner also says the global market for public cloud services rose 20 percent in 2012 to $109 billion and it will grow to $206.6 billion in 2016. In particular, this looks like the moment for infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), the type of cloud service that allows companies the maximum flexibility in designing their own systems on remote servers. IaaS will grow from faster than other sorts of cloud computing in coming years, according to Gartner. Migrating data and infrastructure to the cloud is going to be big business for IT service firms.

3. Big Data. This one is bound to be on trend lists for many years to come, but 2013 will surely see increasing focus on the management of the ever-growing mounds of information piling up on corporate servers. Already, major IT companies have whole divisions devoted to figuring out how to make sense of reams of customer transactions, social media interactions and security camera footage. These ideas are bound to trickle down and become something that businesses and IT firms of every size find themselves considering.

Microsoft Goes Further Into the Cloud

For as long as most of us have been using computers at work, we’ve been using Microsoft products. Aside from a few handfuls of creatives on Macs and geeky types using Linux, being an office worker has usually meant being intimately familiar with Word, PowerPoint and Excel.

But, at least by many accounts, a new era is dawning. We’re no longer tethered to the programs installed on our hard drives. It’s often easier to collaborate with colleagues by sharing a Google Doc than by emailing a Word attachment. And more and more work gets done entirely outside of the constraints of an office computer, by coworkers accessing a shared company platform on the web.

In this environment, Microsoft is well aware that it needs to compete where its customers are working—in the cloud. In 2010, it rolled out Windows Azure, a computing platform that lets users run programs, store data and analyze information on remote Microsoft servers. That first generation of Azure is classified as a platform as a service product. It works together with the company’s software-as-a-service offering, which lets businesses use the familiar Microsoft programs in the cloud through Office 365.

Now, though, Microsoft is aiming squarely at the market for raw computing power currently dominated by Amazon. The most money in the cloud computing world today lies in that raw power, known as infrastructure as a service. The new Windows Azure offering, currently only available in “preview” allows users to rent virtual machines on the company’s servers by the hour or by the month.

Google also recently unveiled an infrastructure-as-a-service offering, which means the market is getting much more crowded with big-name players. That means customers may be able to find good deals as companies vie for their business. But it also means more to consider for anyone looking to sign up with a cloud provider, from making sure any given company will keep data safe and accessible to figuring out how to compare prices in an apples-to-apples fashion.

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on major cloud computing players.