Most cloud computing services fall into four broad categories: infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), serverless and software as a service (SaaS). These are sometimes called the cloud computing stack because they build on top of one another. Knowing what they are and how they are different makes it easier to accomplish your business goals.

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS)

The most basic category of cloud computing services. With IaaS, you rent IT infrastructure—servers and virtual machines (VMs), storage, networks, operating systems—from a cloud provider on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Examples of IaaS products include Amazon EC2 and OpenStack (an open standard cloud computing platform for both public and private clouds).

Platform as a service (PaaS)

Platform as a service refers to cloud computing services that supply an on-demand environment for developing, testing, delivering and managing software applications. PaaS is designed to make it easier for developers to quickly create web or mobile apps, without worrying about setting up or managing the underlying infrastructure of servers, storage, network and databases needed for development.

Notable PaaS products include Mulesoft, Heroku, Google App Engine and Openshift.

Serverless computing

Overlapping with PaaS, serverless computing focuses on building app functionality without spending time continually managing the servers and infrastructure required to do so. The cloud provider handles the setup, capacity planning and server management for you. Serverless architectures are highly scalable and event-driven, only using resources when a specific function or trigger occurs.

Organizations that benefit most from serverless computing are those running websites and apps that need backend services or analytics. 

While countless serverless computing providers have surfaced in the enterprise, three stand out among the rest: AWS LambdaMicrosoft Azure, and Alphabet’s Google Cloud Platform.

Software as a service (SaaS)

Software as a service is a method for delivering software applications over the Internet, on-demand and typically on a subscription basis. With SaaS, cloud providers host and manage the software application and underlying infrastructure and handle any maintenance, like software upgrades and security patching. Users connect to the application over the Internet, usually with a web browser on their phone, tablet or PC.

Some well-known examples of SaaS are Salesforce CRM, Microsoft Dynamics 365, Dropbox, Gmail, HubSpot, and many more.

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