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PaaS vs SaaS — What’s the Difference?
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PaaS vs SaaS — What’s the Difference?

PaaS vs SaaS — which one is best for your business? Discover the differences between these solutions and which one is right for your needs.
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SaaS, PaaS, what do these acronyms mean? Let us help you break down what each cloud offering means for your business.

What’s the Difference Between SaaS and PaaS? 

PaaS and SaaS are just two of the major categories (a third being IaaS) of cloud computing provided by a third-party.

But what do Platform as a Service and Software as a Service really mean? 

An “as a service” cloud computing solution allows businesses to offload IT responsibility to a vendor that can provide the cloud infrastructure, security, uptime, and scalability needed to run modern digital solutions. And, unlike on-premise solutions, these can be easily accessed on any internet browser or through online apps. 

So, then, what can you expect from PaaS and SaaS

What is a PaaS Solution?

PaaS, or platform as a service, allows businesses and developers to host, build, and deploy consumer-facing apps. PaaS providers will host the hardware and software on their own infrastructure and then deliver this platform to users as an integrated solution. This means that developers can build, run, and manage apps in an environment that is available on day one — without the need for on-premise infrastructure. But businesses will need to manage their own applications and data. This gives the customizability that many developers look for, while providing the foundation for data protection, storage, and uptime that they desire.

In addition to the ability to deploy a PaaS platform immediately, this cloud computing model offers key benefits such as:

  • Greater flexibility and scalability.
  • Cost-effectiveness.
  • Ease of use.
  • Customized applications.
  • Zero software upkeep.

Businesses and developers often leverage a PaaS provider because they don’t have to worry about the underlying cloud infrastructure and PaaS solutions offer a high level of flexibility for customization. 

Examples of PaaS solutions include Google App Engine, OpenShift, and Liferay Experience Cloud Self-Managed (SM)

What is a SaaS Solution?

SaaS, or software as a service, is the most comprehensive cloud computing service, delivering an entire SaaS application, managed by a vendor, through a web browser. This means that everything — including software updates, bug fixes, and maintenance — is handled by the SaaS provider. Customers don't need to install anything; they simply connect to the app via a dashboard or API.

As a highly scalable, easy-to-use cloud service model, SaaS products offer organizations a few distinct advantages, such as:

  • No need to manage, update, or upgrade your SaaS app.
  • SaaS apps won't take up your local computing resources.
  • Cloud solutions offer a faster time-to-market.
  • SaaS products are generally easier to use and access.

For these reasons, the SaaS product model has become one of the most popular cloud service models among businesses today. 

Examples of SaaS solutions include Slack, Hubspot, and Liferay Experience Cloud

What is an IaaS Solution?

There’s also IaaS, or infrastructure as a service, where vendors provide the same technologies and capabilities as a traditional data center but customers are responsible for managing their own applications, runtime, middleware, and data. Customers would still need to build out their own tech stack, making IaaS more similar to using on-premise systems from a practical standpoint.

While an IaaS provider only offers its servers and API, this means you have more control over your solution. This helps you build and manage data as you grow without the need for on-site infrastructure. In addition to greater control, the IaaS cloud service model also allows you to:

  • Use an external server without any required maintenance.
  • Pay as you go and only for the resources you use.
  • Scale your services up or down as needed.

Examples of IaaS solutions include Amazon Web Service, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

This visual gives a broad overview of what you can expect from each system.

Should You Use SaaS or PaaS? 

SaaS, PaaS, and even on-premise solutions are not mutually exclusive; many organizations will use them in tandem. But the solution chosen must depend on what functionalities the business requires. 

You can use this chart to determine what features, control, and benefit each can provide to determine which will be the best for your business:

 

On-Premise 

PaaS

SaaS

Cost 

Costs associated with hosting an on-premise server include not only costs for hardware and dedicated staff, but also rent, air conditioning, energy, and security.

Users pay a fee or subscription to use the platform provided by the vendor. The fee is usually based on resources created for the project.

Users pay a monthly or annual fee to use a complete application from within a web browser or app. The fee is usually on a per-user basis.

Development

Developers will need to build environments and procure a technology stack from scratch if the business is only using on-premise systems. 

PaaS solutions provide a complete tech stack with hardware and software to assist with app development, testing, and deployment.

Not all SaaS applications offer the same customization capabilities. Some limit users to out-of-the-box functionality while others provide added flexibility for customizations and extensions. 

Control

Since the server is on premise, businesses have the greatest control over their application between the three options. 

Using a PaaS solution means that while developers can build and run their own solutions, their data is still secured on a third-party controlled server. 

Using a SaaS solution means that the third-party vendor will manage the application for you.

Data Security

Tied to control, on-premise servers provide the most direct access to your data. But it also comes with the complexity of implementing data security and compliance on your own. 

PaaS solutions also implement security and compliance and may offer controls such as Bring your Own Key for encryption, but risks remain similar to those in SaaS deployments.

The SaaS vendor implements security and compliance; however, risks with unauthorized access and data theft remain. Industry-leading SaaS providers implement security measures to ensure their platform is validated by third-party organizations.

Performance and Uptime

IT and Development teams will need to monitor and manage the performance of the applications, servers, networking, and storage. 

Development teams are responsible for ensuring application performance. Meanwhile, the vendor is responsible for maintaining performance of the underlying platform.

The vendor is responsible for maintaining performance and ensuring the application is running.

Integration

Building solutions from scratch allows developers to build with needed integrations in mind. However, badly designed integrations can create issues with performance and reliability.  

Customizations may be needed for legacy systems to work with PaaS solutions, requiring significant investment.

SaaS applications may not integrate easily with legacy systems or other applications, depending on if they were designed to follow open standards for integration. 

Capacity Elasticity 

Scaling can be implemented but is more complex and costly. An on-prem solution may require software procurement and the set up of additional physical servers.

The vendor provides the scaling capability, a small amount of tuning may be required.

Scaling is completely transparent to end users and all configuration and additional resources are provided by the vendor.

 

How to Choose the Right PaaS or SaaS Provider

PaaS and SaaS services can fundamentally change how organizations operate. As these cloud computing services continue their exponential growth, the market for solutions gets ever larger. While this means you now have more options than ever, it's easy to slide into choice paralysis — especially when every provider claims they're the best.

So, how can you ensure you're making the right choice for your business, whether it's a SaaS or PaaS provider? Here are three key aspects you should look for:

Compliance: When researching any cloud service provider, it's critical to ensure they adhere to industry standards, best practices, and regulatory requirements — such as an ISO 27001 certification or HIPAA compliance.

Reliability: Reliability is an obvious but crucial feature for any PaaS or SaaS provider. Whether it's a platform or software product, the vendor needs to have proper disaster recovery practices and strategies in place to ensure availability during planned and unplanned downtime.

Data Security: PaaS and SaaS models offer unparalleled convenience by hosting your data on third-party servers, but that means security is mostly out of your control. Check up on the validity of their security certifications and look into their history for any past data breaches. Be sure that any provider you consider has the protection, processes, and policies needed to guarantee the security of your data. 

Time to Move to the Cloud 

Regardless of what solution is chosen, the future is in the cloud. Savvy business leaders understand that the wisest way to scale and grow their business is by deploying solutions through the cloud. 

Also See: 
How to Navigate Cloud-Based WCM and DXP Solutions 
With a near-endless volume of web content management (WCM) and digital experience platform (DXP) solutions, differentiating between them and identifying the right one for your business can be daunting. Read this Gartner® Report to learn more about their three-step framework for navigating these cloud-based solutions. 
Read the Gartner Report


Gartner, How to Navigate Cloud-Based WCM and DXP Solutions, John Field, Irina Guseva, 22 April 2022. 

Gartner is registered trademark and servicemark of Gartner, Inc and/or its
affiliates in the U.S. and internationally, and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

Originally published
January 18, 2022
 last updated
December 2, 2022
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