Manufacturing loves its buzzwords. Recently, it seems, it also loves alphabet soup.

With the advent of cloud solutions and the convergence of IT and OT on the shop floor, manufacturers are often confronted with a curious set of initialisms: SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. 

Referring to Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Infrastructure as a Service, respectively, these cloud-based tools offer affordable, configurable solutions for just about every problem on the shop floor. 

You’d be forgiven, however, for wondering just how they differ from one another. 

This post will explain the differences between these as-a-service offerings. I’ll review what they are, why they exist, as well as when to consider each for your operations. 

What is SaaS?

Software as a service refers to software that is hosted by the provider and distributed over the internet. 

With SaaS, the software doesn’t live on a single machine. Rather, most SaaS is licensed through a subscription model, and users can access their account from any location with an internet connection (and in many cases, offline as well). 

(If you’re curious about the origins of SaaS, we’ve written about that before. Check it out here.)

There are many advantages to SaaS: 

  • SaaS can be deployed quickly
  • SaaS doesn’t require large outlays for infrastructure resources.
  • SaaS often comes in tiered plans. Therefore, you have the option to pay for the features you use, not more or less.  
  • SaaS is far more accessible than software that lives on a single machine. 
  • SaaS updates in versions. This means you don’t have to update each machine individually. 
  • Because it’s licensed on a subscription model, you can pay for the service only as long as it creates value for your operation. 
  • SaaS provides single-source data management, enabling digital security, backup and more comprehensive analytics

As we’ve argued before, SaaS is less expensive, more reliable, and easier to scale in manufacturing, where rigid on-premise systems have created barriers to digital innovation.  One of the first steps to enacting digital transformation for manufacturers is to take advantage of these benefits, especially for small and medium-sized businesses where affordability, flexibility and scalability are keys to growth.

This image is an infographic of a venn diagram that shows the intersections between three circles: SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS. With all of them together, you can unlock the connected factory.

The intersection between SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS creates the opportunity to unlock the connected factory.

Building Your Own Applications With PaaS

While SaaS offers a wide array of functionality, not every company is the same. Especially in manufacturing, where no two lines are alike, it’s important to be able to tailor solutions to your unique challenges. 

This is where PaaS comes in. Platform as a Service offerings let their customers design, build, and deploy custom applications.  Simply put, PaaS is software that creates more software. And for manufacturers, this enables cost-effective customization at great scale without overburdening internal IT resources.

With PaaS, the licensing company offers a dedicated underlying infrastructure and a development environment. The ethos of PaaS is business users understand their problems best, and should be able to construct solutions for them. The flip side of this logic is that IT often has enough work to do without fielding every single request for new features or applications. 

PaaS gives engineers the ability to create custom applications for their lines, and manufacturing IT more time to focus on mission-critical tasks. 

PaaS come in a variety of forms, from highly technical to no code.

Laying the Foundation with IaaS

SaaS, PaaS and IaaS all share many similarities, and their advantages are rooted in being delivered via the cloud.  In IaaS, a manufacturer’s IT hardware (servers, networks, load balancers) are entirely cloud-based. Whereas SaaS detaches specific end-user software tools from on premises, IaaS is when the entire infrastructure system has gone to the cloud. 

As a progression, IaaS is the most mature cloud solution for manufacturing and yet very much mimics the robust capabilities of traditional on-premises solutions.  The clearest benefit of leasing infrastructure is reducing operating costs, with the added benefit of being able to rapidly scale as your business grows.   

With IaaS, companies purchase access to storage and computing resources. Providers like AWS and Microsoft Azure provide customers the infrastructure they need to support broader digital initiatives. 

IaaS makes it faster, less expensive, and easier to get started with digital manufacturing, and easy to scale when necessary. 

If you’re curious how SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS can help you go further in your digital manufacturing journey, we’re here to help. Get in touch for a free consultation today.