Understanding Cloud Terminology: What Does IaaS, Paas, and SaaS Mean?

By James Crace
— Last Updated:

When looking for a cloud service you’ll find various acronyms and buzzwords that may not make sense at first glance. Technology is a rapidly changing field, and marketers have a tendency to come up with new, flashy words to describe a product or service.

It’s important to understand what your needs are. It’s equally important to understand exactly what you are being offered when it comes to cloud technology. Marketing texts and technical jargon can make navigating the cloud more difficult than it needs to be.

At CommQueR.com, we specialize in making cloud technologies and services easy to understand. You shouldn’t need a Ph.D to understand cloud terminology — that’s where we come in.

Today we’ll look at some common cloud terminology, helping you understand what it means and how these services can benefit you. We’ll also take a peek at how cloud technology has changed the way we use our devices at home and in the office.

Changing How We Work

Before the advent of cloud computing, businesses had to buy their own servers. They needed an IT department to manage these servers, keeping them up to date and secure as well as to provide tech support to users. Data was often backed up off-site by copying it to tape and delivering it via trucks or vans.

Startup costs were higher, requiring a large investment up front. Servers were often under-utilized, wasting money and power. Now, with something like Infrastructure-as-a-Service, you don’t need a banks upon banks of servers to start your business: all that is taken care of.

Nowadays, you rent your infrastructure from a third party, paying only for what you need and use. IaaS providers take care of the hardware and logistics of running the servers, allowing you to scale your business as needed.

As cloud computing grew in popularity, new terms were coined for services and products. In many ways it’s the same landscape — we still use our personal computers to access more powerful servers on the Internet — but the way we use our devices to access our data has changed.

The Terminology

The main terms you’ll come across regarding cloud computing are:

  • IaaS, Infrastructure-as-a-Service
  • PaaS, Platform-as-a-Service
  • SaaS, Software-as-a-Service
  • UCaaS, Unified-Communications-as-a-Service
  • GaaS, Gaming-as-a-Service

These terms may seem confusing, but in practice it’s actually pretty simple. I’ll provide some examples that give a concrete idea as to what each term means.

IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service)

IaaS is simply a cloud service that allows a person or organization to rent infrastructure such as servers, network appliances and data storage. Essentially, IaaS is a virtual data center.

Rather than buying and maintaining expensive hardware, users can rent what they need from an IaaS provider, such as Amazon Web Services (one of these services is Glacier, check out our five best clients for Amazon Glacier article for more details). The IaaS provider owns all of the physical hardware and takes care of all maintenance and costs associated with running a data center.

There are several benefits to using IaaS instead of buying your own hardware:

  • Scalability. As your business grows, you can add more resources when you need them
  • Redundancy. IaaS providers have multiple systems in place to avoid any downtime. In the event of a hardware failure, these redundant systems will keep your services running as if nothing happened
  • Global access. Have developers in Tokyo, but most of your customers are in the U.S.? You can create multiple servers to fit the needs of your business, ensuring accessibility for everyone

PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service)

Understanding Cloud Terminology

PaaS provides an environment for developers to quickly write and deploy code. PaaS builds on top of IaaS by providing the operating system along with development tools, database engines, analytics and more.

The main benefit of using PaaS is that developers don’t have to install, configure, or update the underlying operating system or software that their applications will run on. They can simply get to work writing code, resulting in less time wasted on configuration and money saved.

Consider a simple example: your business needs a content management system (CMS) like WordPress. WordPress requires a software stack that typically goes:

  • Linux Server
  • Apache/nginx web server
  • MySQL database
  • WordPress

You could learn to configure and maintain all of that yourself, or hire a sysadmin, but why waste precious time and money? By utilizing a PaaS provider, you can focus on your content or product, rather than the software underneath it.

SaaS (Software-as-a-Service)

Understanding Cloud Terminology

The traditional software model typically required a license for each user orm computer and since the software was installed locally, any updates or problems with the computer could result in downtime and lost revenue.

SaaS removes the need to install software on individual machines by providing it over a secure Internet connection, without the headache of individual licenses or buggy updates. When the software is updated, any changes are rolled out across the service as a whole. Users can access the software from any machine with an Internet connection.

SaaS providers typically operate on a pay-as-you-go basis, charging a small monthly fee. While this may seem surprising at first, SaaS provides several benefits over the traditional software model. Your software is accessible from any device, requiring no installation. SaaS providers automatically deliver new updates or patches. Businesses and users no longer need to purchase expensive upgrades and deal with the hassle of installing them. The long-term costs will typically be cheaper than the process of buying licenses, installing, upgrading or supporting the software in-house.

SaaS makes sense for both users and developers. If you like the idea of moving your software to the cloud and having access to the latest version across your devices, we’ve covered various SaaS vendors in the past.

No matter the industry, there’s a good chance you can migrate from old-fashioned desktop software to a cloud service. A good example are our best accounting software providers, which let your do your books from any device, including mobile phones or tablets.

Other examples include a customer relationship management (CRM) tools, a must-have for any business that sells products or services. Using a cloud-based CRM allows your business to centralize and manage things like calendars, task management, ad campaigns, email lists and conversion tools.  We’ve researched the the best affordable CRMs for small businesses so you can find one that meets your needs.

Having access to valuable information and tools such as these allows you to stay on top of every single aspect of your business from any device, from any location.

Collaboration using SaaS

Before we move on to the next term, let’s look at one of the biggest benefits to using SaaS for your business — collaboration.

When using traditional software installed on your machine, your work is saved on your device. You could copy it to a folder and share it via Dropbox or Google Drive, but that requires deliberate, manual action on your part. Creating and editing documents as a team is easier and quicker when your software is designed with collaboration in mind.

Finding the right software suite for your business is easy when you rely on the experts here at CommQueR.com, so let us show you how your business can benefit from cloud storage and collaboration.

We’ve rounded up the best cloud collaboration tools to help your business maximize productivity and eliminate needless concerns. Don’t waste precious time searching through emails or scattered messaging apps, relying on phone calls and voice mails, or dealing with file versioning and backups. Move your software to the cloud and focus on the important work — we make it easy for you.

UCaaS (Unified-Communications-as-a-Service)

UCaaS is one of the lesser-known and seemingly most vague cloud acronyms. It sounds complex, but it’s essentially hosting all of your communications in the cloud. This isn’t just instant messaging or Skype, though — UCaaS providers allow your business to host all of its communications tools in the cloud and access them from multiple devices, across any distance.

A cloud-based phone system can integrate seamlessly with the tools you already use. Providers like Vonage allow you to integrate all of your communications and business tools, such as Salesforce CRM, G Suite, Microsoft Dynamics and other applications.

Having your call center in the cloud and integrated with the tools you already use, allows you to focus on your business instead of your phone system. Maintaining a call center and all that hardware is expensive. Moving your phone system to the cloud lets you share resources between offices or employees without worrying about monitoring the system or performing maintenance.

GaaS (Gaming-as-a-Service)

cloud services for gamers

When we covered the future of the cloud earlier this year, GaaS was one of the topics we touched on. While it may sound surprising at first, it’s a rapidly developing technology backed by companies like NVIDIA.

The biggest benefit with GaaS is that it’s hassle-free. You don’t have to worry about patches, updates, digital downloads,  game installation, or even whatever hardware you’re rocking.

You heard that right: no installation or hardware woes. How frustrating is it to buy a game and wait hours for it to download, install and then update? Games are huge files these days, and the patches can be surprisingly large as well. With GaaS, the game runs on a powerful cloud server. Patches or updates are rolled out across the server for all users, eliminating the need for players to download and install them.

Games can be optimized for the server hardware they run on, resulting in increased performance, better graphics and better gameplay for everyone. This brings us to the next benefit of cloud-based gaming, the ability to play games on any device. PCs, Macs, tablets, smartphones or other low-powered devices can all be used to play games since all of the processing is taking place on a powerful remote server.

With GaaS, you won’t have to worry about buying an expensive high-end desktop or upgrading your components. You could get the same gaming experience with a tablet or phone and your favorite controller, from anywhere with an Internet connection.

It’s still a growing industry, but we’ve covered the top five cloud services for gamers in the past, and keep checking back for the latest news on GaaS.

Hybrid Cloud Services

We’ve covered how the cloud changed the way we work, and we’ve demystified the marketing buzzspeak. Cloud providers often offer a mix of services, including IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. These hybrid cloud providers are excellent for businesses with a wide variety of needs. We’ve compiled a list of the top ten hybrid cloud solution providers to help you find the right match for your needs.

Amazon Web Services is the best example of this, offering over 70 different cloud services in different zones across the world.

If you’re a startup or small business, it’s nearly impossible to build a globe-spanning infrastructure from scratch. Utilizing a provider like AWS allows you to grow at an exponential rate and access resources as you need them. Leveraging cloud services such as IaaS or PaaS is the best move you can make to get your business off the ground without breaking the bank.


The most common concern about moving to the cloud is security, and at CommQueR.com, we understand why. Your data is valuable. Your data is crucial to your business and you should take steps to keep it safe.

CommQueR.com is committed to helping our readers understand the benefits as well as the risks of cloud services. We’ve covered the top ten major risks of cloud storage. We’ve also covered what you need to know about cloud security.

We’ve covered the benefits as well as other factors to consider if you’re wondering whether you should move your business into the cloud. In our eyes, the benefits of using the cloud outweigh the risks — as long as you know them beforehand and take the right steps to stay safe online.


It’s often joked that no one knows what the cloud really is. It’s easy to see why when there are always new acronyms being coined, new services or products being created. Technology moves at the speed of lighting and constantly changes, but CommQueR.com is here to demystify the cloud for all our readers.

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We’ve covered the changes cloud computing has brought to the tech world and we’ve explained the meaning behind the jargon involved. Once you get past the buzzwords it’s easy to see how you can benefit from cloud solutions, whether you’re a home user or growing business. The cloud saves you money and time, increases your productivity, and when you’ve finished your work for the day it allows you to unwind with your favorite television, movies or games.

As always, if you have any questions or comments please reach out to us by leaving a comment below. Thank you for reading.