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IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS: Boiling Down the Cloud Acronym Soup

March 16, 2016 by Candace Cunningham

IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS—you've probably seen these acronyms floating around,  and you may even have a general sense for what they connote. But how well do you understand them? Here we'll talk through what each one really means in terms of infrastructure control, management, ease, and agility.

To start, let's step back and talk about benefits of the cloud in general for streaming deployments. Using the cloud for streaming lets you rapidly scale to handle spikes in viewership and transfer intensive processing jobs to third-party infrastructure. The cloud, compared to an on-premises streaming infrastructure, also cuts costs for hardware and maintenance. These benefits make the cloud ideal for live-streaming events where viewership quickly fluctuates. 

Now let's sort out that alphabet soup by getting a taste for the three primary cloud infrastructure variants: IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)

In the IaaS model, a self-managed cloud deployment of virtual machines gives you more control of your infrastructure while leaving the core hardware and network management to the provider. With your control comes greater responsibility for maintaining the virtual machines, including operating system updates and security. 

Platform as a Service (PaaS)

With PaaS, a cloud-based managed service minimizes the complexities of live streaming by offloading most of the configuration and management to third-party specialists, so you don’t have to make big investments in resources and expertise to get started. However, what it offers in scalability it sometimes lacks in control. 

As your needs evolve, you may want to work with a cloud-based service that provides advanced features or a REST API for fine-grained control, plus is agile about adding new capabilities and keeping your streaming platform future-proof. 

Alternatively, at that point you could deploy an IaaS-based solution for the highest level of cloud infrastructure control. 

Software as a Service (SaaS)

Finally, with SaaS, a vendor usually provides the player on a hosted page and abstracts all of the underlying processing and delivery components. In this case, you would simply point your viewers to that hosted web page or embed the player on your own site. 

Hybrid Deployments and the On-Premises/Cloud Continuum

An approach that spans both on-premises and cloud resources is the most flexible in terms of future workflow mobility. The diagram below shows the full deployment continuum. Organizations can mix and match self-managed and third-party-managed components to create the ideal balance of economics and control. 

Hybrid deployments come into play to handle all sorts of streaming scenarios, from offloading of peak volume distribution to offsite processing of dozens of long-running live or linear OTT (over-the-top) channels. While a hybrid model can enable organizations to partner with third parties to handle scaling and technology updates, it still requires human resources to locally manage parts of the workflow. 

For insights into other terminology you may be wondering about, check out our post on streaming buzzwords such as packaging, transcoding, and ABR.

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Candace Cunningham

Candace Cunningham has spent 15 years managing projects and guiding content development, working with subject-matter experts in fields as varied as social-media marketing, photography, programming, Microsoft and Autodesk certification exams, healthcare marketing, and video-game reviews and strategy.