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What is PaaS?

Computer servers
(Image credit: pxhere.com)

What is PaaS?

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a cloud model wherein your business rents hardware, software, and network infrastructure from a cloud provider, typically for a variable monthly fee.

What does PaaS do?

  • PaaS providers rent cloud infrastructure to businesses.
  • On top of infrastructure, you get a software development environment.
  • PaaS typically works on a pay-as-you-go, pay-what-you-use model.

How departments can use PaaS

Developers working on code

With the use of a PaaS platform, developers can rapidly deploy software on the cloud (Image credit: Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash)

Software development teams can use PaaS to build software solutions.

PaaS is a model primarily aimed at developers, as opposed to end-users or network administrators. It includes everything that a development team needs to build and deploy specific software solutions on the cloud. 

For example, imagine that your business wants to make a complex mobile app in C#. A rapid way of doing so would be to use Microsoft Azure App Services Mobile Apps. You host your app on the Microsoft Azure cloud, so you don’t have to worry about building or maintaining infrastructure. 

Your team gets a robust development environment for building mobile apps and code libraries already written for features like corporate sign-in, offline data sync, and push notifications, so development can be speedy.

Website development teams can use PaaS to create cloud-based websites.

A cloud website hosting provider is a simple example of PaaS in action. You rent the infrastructure and platform that you need to deploy a custom website. The website development team starts with the perfect development environment for their needs. PaaS includes all the operating systems, middleware, and software applications that they require to build a website.

For instance, suppose that your company needs a new custom website that affiliates can use to enter lead data into your database. Instead of building the entire thing from the ground up, you decide on a form of PaaS: cloud hosting from Hostinger (read our Hostinger review). By doing so, your developers immediately get a cloud-hosted platform with SSH, GIT, PHP, unlimited databases, and a fully configured web server, so they save months of setup work and can begin developing the new website immediately.

Other departments can use the custom software solutions hosted on PaaS for business processes.

Since your company’s development team has created bespoke software solutions running on the cloud, all departments can take advantage of the custom solutions created. Instead of using cookie-cutter third-party software, your teams can leverage the additional power offered by software designed specifically for your business needs.

Consider a sales and marketing department that’s struggling to use a customer relationship management tool like Zoho CRM or HubSpot because it doesn’t have features specific to the business processes of the company. The custom software solution that your development team creates for them using PaaS is better tuned to the company’s needs, improving the department’s performance.

Features and benefits of PaaS

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PaaS makes the development and deployment of apps easy and cost-effective. 

By choosing a PaaS solution, your team gets everything that they need to build and deploy applications on the cloud without having to spend time setting up the development environment from scratch. 

PaaS not only includes all the underlying infrastructure, such as computer servers, storage, and networking, but it also has applications, data, middleware, runtimes, and operating systems. 

Essentially, the jobs traditionally done by the server and network administrator are the responsibility of the cloud provider, so developers can focus on building the new application.

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PaaS is highly scalable.

While owning your own infrastructure is arguably the most versatile means of deploying applications, it can have significant issues. When your business scales up, you’ll need to buy more servers, employ more people, move to new premises, and risk extensive downtime. 

If you choose a PaaS cloud solution, it’s easy to just order more infrastructure in your plan as your business grows. Similarly, if you no longer require a feature, you can cancel it or scale it back.

The scalability of PaaS also comes into play over the short term. Most PaaS models are pay as you go, pay what you use. When it’s a busy season for your business, you’ll experience more traffic and pay more for the service. When things get quiet, you’ll pay less.

This payment model almost always comes out cheaper than paying a flat fee year-round for an expensive system that will sit nearly idle for months at a time.

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PaaS offers automation of business policy.

So, why not just rent a complete ready-to-use software solution hosted on the cloud? This alternative is known as Software as a Service (SaaS). For example, if you need file sharing, you could use Dropbox or Mega (read our Dropbox review and Mega review). If you need customer relationship management (CRM), you could use Salesforce or HubSpot.

But SaaS has limitations. When you’re renting a product from a third party, it isn’t easy to customize how that product works. Due to the one-size-fits-all nature of SaaS, it’s often difficult to automate policies that are specific to your business.

By building your own custom solution on PaaS, you have complete control over how your applications work and how they interact with your other systems.

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Using PaaS means your applications will be highly available.

An application on PaaS gains all the benefits of running on a robust cloud infrastructure. One of these benefits is high availability. Your applications are much less likely to become unavailable on cloud infrastructure than on your own in-house system. 

For example, when you experience an unexpectedly high level of traffic, the cloud will automatically assign you more CPU time, bandwidth, and other resources to meet the demand. If you host the application yourself on your own infrastructure, you are unlikely to be able to react so quickly, resulting in downtime or a poor end-user experience.

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PaaS enables rapid time-to-market of applications.

PaaS enables you to build applications more quickly than if you had to create your own platform and backend infrastructure. PaaS services include a pre-built platform with tools, code libraries, and templates that simplify and speed up the development process.

PaaS typically includes pre-built software components that your developers can build upon. This makes development faster, more straightforward, and more cost-effective.

How much does PaaS cost?

Since the PaaS model encompasses so many types of cloud services, it isn’t easy to quantify a price. Even with a single PaaS provider like Microsoft Azure, hundreds of variables dictate how much you will pay. Most PaaS providers work on a pay-what-you-use model, so the price will be different each month.

That said, compared to buying and maintaining your own server infrastructure, PaaS generally represents a cost-saving. Buying your own hardware requires a massive investment up front, whereas with PaaS, you can get started with a very low monthly outlay. 

You must also consider what happens when your business grows. The expense of buying more equipment and bigger premises can be immense. With PaaS, you can order additional servers, storage, and bandwidth at the touch of a button, so growing pains are minimal.

Team using computers in an office

Using PaaS can speed up the development of applications, ultimately saving your company money (Image credit: Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash)

PaaS FAQ

What is the difference between SaaS and PaaS?

With SaaS, you rent complete cloud software solutions from a provider. With PaaS, you rent the infrastructure and a set of tools for developing software, but it’s up to your company’s developers to create software using those tools.

What is the difference between PaaS and IaaS?

With Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), you only rent low-level services like servers, and you need to build or install the middleware and software tools yourself. On top of the infrastructure, PaaS includes things like operating systems, runtimes, applications, and middleware.

What are a few common examples of PaaS providers?

Rack of servers

With PaaS, you can leverage the many advantages of hosting on a large cloud (Image credit: Photo by Taylor Vick on Unsplash)

Do I need SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS?

Each cloud model offers advantages and disadvantages. If you’re looking for a complete cloud software solution to solve a relatively simple need, SaaS is often the best option because it includes the software that end-users need. However, there’s limited scope for customization.

PaaS is the right option if you want the cloud provider to handle the infrastructure and the software development environment, but you want your own development team to create the software.

IaaS typically offers the best pricing, but the lack of accompanying software tools means you must spend more time setting it up and maintaining it. IaaS works best as a piecemeal replacement for physical resources that you already have, such as replacing old physical servers with virtual resources hosted and managed by the cloud provider.

Main takeaways

  • PaaS sits between SaaS (complete third-party software solution) and IaaS (infrastructure only).
  • Besides renting cloud infrastructure, you get a platform for building a software solution.
  • PaaS usually works on a pay-as-you-go, pay-what-you-use model.
  • PaaS offers high scalability and availability.
  • PaaS enables simple, cost-effective development and customization of apps.

Further reading

We’ve outlined the reasons to use a PaaS instead of doing it yourself and the differences between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. You can see a few of the risks of using PaaS here too, but if you’re keen on using PaaS for your next project, take a look at our favorite PaaS providers.

Richard Sutherland

Richard brings over 20 years of website development, SEO, and marketing to the table. A graduate in Computer Science, Richard has lectured in Java programming, and has built software for companies including Samsung and ASDA. Now, he writes for TechRadar, Tom's Guide, PC Gamer, and Creative Bloq.