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Cloud computing has transformed the way companies use technology. It enables organizations of all sizes to keep up with consumer demand, and helps smaller companies compete with large enterprises. Cloud services have also made it easier for organizations to switch to remote work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Your organization stands to gain a lot from migrating to a cloud solution. But which service delivery model is right for you?  

In this post, we’re going to talk about the three main types of cloud computing service delivery models and how you can use them. 

Understanding the Primary Three Types of Cloud Computing Services 

You want to get the most value from your cloud services, while keeping your assets protected from threats. To do that, you first need to understand the function of each cloud delivery model. Secondly understand the Shared Security Responsibility required for each model. Lastly, choose the model that aligns best with your business objectives.  

What are the three most common cloud computing service delivery models? 

Cloud computing services are broken down into three distinct categories: 

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) 
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) 
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) 

While they’re all driven by cloud computing, each model operates differently and provides companies with vastly different services. 

1. Software as a Service(SaaS)

SaaS is the most well-known of the three cloud service delivery models. That’s because most people use SaaS applications every day, whether they know it or not. When people talk about “the cloud,” they’re often talking about SaaS applications like Google Drive, Dropbox, or even Netflix.  

The SaaS delivery model lets users access fully functional software that’s managed and run in the cloud. Users typically access SaaS applications through a web browser. The advantage of this is that you don’t have to worry about downloading and installing programs, because the vendor takes care of that. Although, you may have to download a plugin depending on the service you’re using. 

Some key benefits of SaaS include: 

  • It’s lightweight: Running SaaS applications doesn’t typically require as many computing resources as on-premises software. 
  • No need for software updates: Vendors manage and update SaaS applications. That means everyone has access to the most up-to-date version at all times. 
  • No more software licensing: Premium SaaS applications follow the subscription model, which means you don’t have to worry about buying and renewing software licenses. 

SaaS is popular among businesses, especially companies that employ remote workers. It allows them to use powerful business tools without needing to upgrade hardware or manually update software. 

2. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

Traditionally, a company’s IT infrastructure was stored on-premises. This meant that companies had to constantly invest in expensive hardware like servers and storage and ensure everything stays up to date.  

As technology grew, companies turned to cloud service providers to help with managing their IT infrastructure. Thus, IaaS was born––and companies began transitioning from on-premises to cloud infrastructure 

IaaS enables businesses to access virtualized computing resources from cloud servers.  

Benefits of using IaaS include: 

  • Greater flexibility: IaaS lets you access infrastructure services on demand. You can scale infrastructure to support business growth and reduce it when needed. 
  • Cost savings: You don’t have to buy physical hardware every time you want to upgrade. Your computing infrastructure is provided on a subscription basis, meaning your vendor is the one responsible for infrastructure management. 
  • Reliability: Your assets are stored in a remote data center, where it’s managed by cloud service providers. This service model all but eliminates the threat of a single point of failure. 

IaaS eliminates the need for in-house hardware, meaning organizations get state-of-the-art IT infrastructure at a fraction of the cost. This makes IaaS a popular service model for small and medium-sized companies. It helps level the playing field by enabling them to compete with larger organizations with bigger budgets, because they don’t have to invest in hardware and they can scale their infrastructure on demand. 

3. Platform as a Service (PaaS)

This type of cloud service delivery model is also known as a solution stack. It enables organizations to create, run, and manage cloud-based software without the need for onsite infrastructure. Platforms are provided and maintained by a third-party vendor. This means businesses don’t have to worry about activities like backups and provisioning servers––it’s all done for them. 

Benefits of PaaS include: 

  • Improved efficiency: Since a third party handles your IT infrastructure needs, businesses can spend more time focusing on developing, testing, and deploying applications. 
  • Simplicity: PaaS gives businesses a platform with development tools, so they can develop, test, and host applications in the same environment. 
  • Better collaboration: PaaS requires teams to develop over the internet, eliminating the need to transfer files and manually sync data. Everyone works with the same up-to-date information at all times. 

Gartner: The Cloud Strategy Cookbook 2021

Which Cloud Computing Model Is Right for Your Business? 

There are a lot of things to consider when adopting cloud technology. You want to make sure the model you choose is cost-effective and capable of helping you meet your business demands.  

All three cloud models provide businesses with an excellent alternative to on-premises solutions. But each cloud computing model comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. Choosing the right option for your organization depends largely on your needs and what you hope to gain from migrating to cloud services.  

When you should use SaaS 

SaaS is the best model for companies that need applications, but don’t have a need for developing an up-to-date infrastructure. As such, this makes SaaS a great excellent solution for small and medium-sized businesses that: 

  • Need to support remote work 
  • Frequently require teams to collaborate on projects 
  • Don’t have the resources or need to deploy on-premises hardware 

Keep in mind that SaaS prioritizes configuration over customization. 

Many organizations have on-premises software solutions customized (or developed) to suit their unique business needs. But this isn’t an approach commonly associated with SaaS.  

Most vendors develop SaaS applications with the aim of serving as many customers as they can. While you can configure these applications to suit your unique needs, you probably won’t be able to customize them if you need a one-of-a-kind software solution.  

When you should use IaaS 

If your organization requires more computing power but you don’t have the time or resources to upgrade your on-premises IT infrastructure, IaaS can help. Below are some reasons why you might need IaaS: 

  • Your organization requires rapid deployment and/or reduction of infrastructure based on your business performance. 
  • You need access to greater computing power to pursue your digital strategies, but you don’t want to own the infrastructure.  
  • You don’t have the IT personnel to manage your infrastructure while pursuing other high-value projects. 

After choosing an IaaS vendor, you need to decide which type of service model you want: 

  • private cloud that’s used exclusively by your organization. 
  • public cloud that’s used by multiple organizations. 
  • A hybrid cloud that uses both public and private infrastructure. 

There are a number of differences between the types of service models. Here are some quick pros and cons of each: 

  • Private cloud offers companies more flexibility and control over their infrastructure, but it’s more expensive. 
  • Public cloud is cheaper and provides customers powerful computing power, but companies have less control over their configurations. 
  • Hybrid cloud offers the best of both worlds, but it can be significantly more challenging to implement and maintain.  

Some organizations opt to use a private cloud for security reasons. While that doesn’t mean that the public cloud is not secure, accessing the cloud environment is fundamentally different. The private cloud is accessed through private network links, whereas the public cloud isn’t. 

When you should use PaaS 

If your organization requires a flexible computing platform for developing and testing applications and software, PaaS is your best bet. Whether you’re a company that specializes in software development or you’re simply implementing agile methodologies, PaaS can help.  

PaaS gives you the tools to quickly build, test, and deploy applications so you can develop iteratively and modify software based on customer feedback. 

Here are some reasons why you may want to implement PaaS: 

  • You have projects that require collaborating with multiple developers. 
  • Your business model requires you to have shorter development cycles. 
  • You need a solution that enables you to scale your applications as needed, without putting a strain on internal resources. 

Be mindful of vendor lock-in when choosing a PaaS provider. Most providers have their own configuration requirements, which can make it challenging to migrate from one platform to another. 

How Do You Secure Your Cloud Services? 

Regardless of whether you choose SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS, you’ll need a robust cloud security strategy to protect your assets. Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all security approach for cloud services. Each model functions differently, and you need to be mindful of that when implementing a security strategy.   

Security for SaaS 

SaaS providers are responsible for ensuring the security of their cloud services. This means you don’t have to worry about finding and correcting security vulnerabilities within the SaaS application––your provider will handle that.  

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to factor SaaS into your security strategy. You could still fall victim to a data breach if an unauthorized party accessed your account. Here are some best SaaS security practices to minimize your threat risk: 

  • Implement Single Sign-on capabilities (SSO) so you can easily authorize and revoke employee accounts when needed. 
  • Ensure employees only have access to resources they need to complete their jobs, and revoke access when they no longer need those privileges. 
  • Make sure your SaaS providers have a good track record with security, follow applicable compliance regulations, and include end-to-end encryption in their services. 

SaaS security starts with you. Make sure your organization has systems and policies in place to promote good security practices. Things like multi-factor authentication and a strong password policy can go a long way in protecting your data from cyberattacks. 

Security for IaaS 

IaaS follows the shared responsibility model. This model requires the cloud service provider to secure the cloud infrastructure and the customer secures everything built on top of that infrastructure.    

Here are some best security practices for IaaS: 

  • Maintain up-to-date systems to keep your cloud infrastructure protected against security threats.  
  • Conduct privilege audits to ensure everyone has access to what they need to complete their tasks––and nothing more. 
  • Actively scan for security vulnerabilities that malicious parties could exploit. 
  • Identity and correct threats using deep packet detection or intrusion detection systems. 

One of the most important parts of securing IaaS is fixing misconfigurations. According to the McAfee Cloud Adoption and Risk Report, the average company has 14 or more IaaS misconfigurations running at a time. As the customer, it’s your responsibility to detect those misconfigurations and prevent them from growing into bigger problems. 

Security for PaaS 

PaaS also follows the shared responsibility model. This means you’re responsible for ensuring the security within your cloud software applications––not your service provider.  

Some PaaS security best practices include: 

  • Using real-time protection solutions that can detect and block attacks. Most PaaS platforms come with a range of native security tools and add-ons you can use to protect your cloud applications. 
  • Routinely scanning your applications and libraries for vulnerabilities and threats. 
  • During your development lifecycle, you should consistently analyze your code for potential vulnerabilities. 
  • Strengthen your security posture and regulatory compliance by using a tool for collecting and analyzing logs. 

Because you use PaaS to develop software, it’s important that you have security baked into your development process. Teams must always consider security and compliance implications when developing and launching software. 

Gartner: The Cloud Strategy Cookbook 2021

Finding the Right Cloud Service for Your Organization 

Successful cloud migration doesn’t have to be hard. Once you understand your company’s needs and strategic goals, you can choose a model that complements your business outcomes and delivers value to your organization. 

If you’re using cloud services for building software or expanding your infrastructure, you want a security solution that offers you around-the-clock protection. That’s where Alert Logic can help. 

Our Cloud Managed Detection and Response Solution provides you with 24/7 protection from attackers, while helping you maintain compliance and mitigate security incidents before they turn into major problems.  

Angelica Torres-Corral
About the Author
Angelica Torres-Corral
Angelica Torres-Corral is a product marketing expert at Alert Logic. She brings over 15 years’ experience in security, ranging from data loss prevention and user and behavioral analytics to cloud technologies. Prior to Alert Logic, Angelica held roles at Forcepoint and Schneider Electric in product marketing, solution selling and corporate branding. She holds an MBA from California State University, Fresno and a bachelor’s degree from University of Chicago. Angelica is passionate about solving problems, and helping customers enhance their security posture.

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