IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service):
The Ultimate Guide

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Yifat Perry

Product Marketing Lead

Dec 1, 2020 7:49:11 AM

What is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)?

Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) is a model that defines how vendors deliver cloud-based virtualized resources over the Internet.

IaaS is commonly contrasted with two other cloud computing patterns. The Platform as a Service (PaaS) model adds a layer of managed services to IaaS resources. The Software as a Service (SaaS) model provides fully managed software delivered directly to end users. See the IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS section below.

Common IaaS use cases include:

  • Test and development—teams can rapidly create development and test environments to bring new applications to market faster. IaaS enables teams to create test and development environments automatically, as part of their development pipeline.
  • Web apps—IaaS provides all the infrastructure needed to run large scale web applications, including storage, web servers, and networking. Organizations can quickly deploy web applications using IaaS services, and easily scale their infrastructure when application requirements increase or decrease.
  • Storage, backup, and recovery—organizations can avoid the high upfront cost of storage and the complexity of storage management. Leveraging cloud storage services eliminates the need for trained personnel to manage data and comply with legal and regulatory requirements, and helps organizations respond to storage requirements on-demand. It also simplifies the planning and management of backup and recovery systems.
  • High-performance computing—high-performance computing (HPC) can help solve complex and complex problems with millions of variables and calculations, by running them on supercomputers or large clusters of computers. The major IaaS providers offer services that place HPC within the reach of ordinary businesses, allowing them to use HPC on demand instead of making a huge investment in HPC infrastructure.
  • Big data analytics—big data processing and analysis is critical in today’s economy, and requires complex infrastructure including large-scale storage systems, distributed processing engines, and high-speed databases. IaaS providers provide all this infrastructure as a managed service, and most of them also offer PaaS services that can perform the actual analytics, including machine learning and AI.

IaaS Architecture

In the IaaS model, cloud providers host infrastructure like servers, storage, networking hardware, and hypervisors, meaning organizations do not need to have this requirement in their on-premise data center.

IaaS providers offer a variety of services over this infrastructure. These include:

  • Multi tenancy and billing management
  • Logging and monitoring
  • Security
  • Clustering, failover and load balancing
  • Backup, replication and recovery

Most IaaS providers offer policy-driven services, allowing users to implement a high level of automation and coordinate critical infrastructure tasks. For example, users can implement policies that automate load balancing to maintain application performance and availability.

IaaS customers can access resources and services over a wide area network (WAN) such as the Internet, and instruct the cloud provider to deploy a complete application stack. For example, a user can connect to the IaaS platform remotely to create virtual machines (VMs). They can install an operating system and an enterprise application on each virtual machine, deploy local disk storage, large-scale object storage, and database systems. The user can then use the provider's services for cost tracking, performance monitoring, network traffic balancing, disaster recovery management, and more.

Most IaaS users consume cloud services via a cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure (see our list of top cloud providers). This is known as public cloud computing. Organizations can also set up their own IaaS infrastructure, creating what is known as a private cloud, or in combination with public cloud resources, a hybrid cloud. 

IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS

What is Platform as a Service (PaaS)?

Platform as a Service (PaaS) provides some infrastructure components, along with additional managed service and software. A PaaS is a framework developers can use to create their own applications, focusing on developing software functionality for their end users. The cloud provider manages complex back-end infrastructure, including computing resources, operating systems, software updates, storage, networking, and integrations.

What is Software as a Service (SaaS)?

Software as a service (SaaS) is a popular choice for cloud users. Because SaaS delivers software to end users over the Internet, most SaaS applications run directly from a web browser and do not need to be downloaded or installed by the customer. PaaS, on the other hand, delivers a software development platform. The majority of cloud consumers do not need PaaS.

This web services model eliminates the need for IT staff to download and install applications on local devices. SaaS enables providers to simplify service and support for their business, while solving potential technical problems such as data and storage management, middleware, servers, and networking.

Key Differences Between IaaS, PaaS and SaaS

super cluster diagram-01

  • PaaS is based on the IaaS model—this is because, in addition to infrastructure components, the provider manages the operating systems, middleware, and other operating environments for cloud users. PaaS workloads simplify deployment but offer more limited flexibility compared to a pure IaaS model.
  • SaaS manages all infrastructure and applications needed for the end user—SaaS users don't need to install or deploy anything. They can typically just login and start using the provider's application, running on the provider's infrastructure. Users can customize the behavior of applications, add their own data, and restrict access. Almost all other aspects are the responsibility of the SaaS provider.

Top 9 Cloud Computing Providers

  • Amazon Web Services—AWS was the first major IaaS provider in 2008, and is today the leading provider of public cloud computing. It provides a complete computing stack that enables organizations to deploy almost any combination or software and hardware infrastructure.
  • Microsoft Azure—Microsoft Azure is the world’s second largest cloud provider. It is the obvious choice for hosting Microsoft-based systems on the cloud, and is a common choice for government agencies. It also runs an increasing number of non-Microsoft workloads, including Linux, HPC, and SAP systems.
  • Google Cloud Platform—offers a more limited set of services compared to AWS and Azure, but competes on price and provides the Anthos Platform, which makes it easier to create multi cloud solutions and avoid vendor lock in.
  • IBM Cloud—a group of enterprise cloud computing services developed by IBM. Includes IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS solutions supporting public, private, and hybrid cloud models.
  • Alibaba Cloud—the leading cloud provider in China, which is forging alliances to become a key player across Asia.
  • Dell Technologies/VMware—Dell acquired VMware and is using it to provide a true multi cloud offering. VMware is today fully container based, and enables companies to run the same workloads on leading public clouds like Amazon, Azure and Google Cloud, as well as on premises. 
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise—Hewlett Packard Enterprise's hybrid cloud strategy focuses on its hardware stack, including Aruba wireless networking and edge computing solutions, and software platforms like Greenlake, SimPVT, and Synergy. HPE has partnerships with Red Hat, VMware, and the major cloud providers. 
  • Oracle Cloud—Oracle’s public cloud has a competitive advantage in IoT, OLTP, microservices, artificial intelligence and machine learning. It provides its popular database software as IaaS and PaaS offerings, and also provides the Oracle Data Cloud, which enables big data analytics for business data.
  • AT&T Business—offers business solutions on the cloud, including content management, content delivery and data recovery. AT&T also offers consulting and professional services to help customers migrate to the cloud.

Learn more in our guides comparing popular cloud services:

IaaS Pricing: AWS vs Azure vs Google Cloud

The following table will help you understand the basic pricing model offered by the big three cloud providers.

Price Parameter



Google Cloud

Compute Instances

  • General Purpose, Computer Optimized, Memory Optimized instances
  • Price per second determined by the number of CPUs, memory, and other hardware resources

Reserved Instances

Commit to 1-3 years with three payment options: upfront, partial payment and the balance monthly, or monthly payment

Commit to 1-3 years and pay balance upfront

Offers a discount for commitment to 1 or 3 years, with monthly payments

Object Storage—Frequent Access

Basic rate for first 50 TB, discounts for 51-500 TB and over 500 TB

Basic rate for first 50 TB, discounts for 51-500 TB and over 500 TB

Flat rate per GB per month

Object Storage—Infrequent Access

Three tiers: Infrequent access, One Zone Infrequent Access,  Archive Storage

Two tiers: Infrequent access, Archive storage

Two tiers: Nearline storage, Coldline storage

Block Storage

Two tiers: HDD, SSD, and free tier up to 30GB

Two tiers: HDD, SSD

Offers standard local/regional volumes, SSD local/regional volumes, multi-regional snapshot storage

Rating Frequency

Per-Hour for most services, Per-Second for EC2 and Reserved instances

Per-Hour for most services, Per-Second offered for Windows VMs and Container instances

Per-Second pricing for all services

Official Pricing Information

Official pricing
Cost calculator

Official pricing
Cost calculator

Official pricing
Cost calculator

Learn more in our guides comparing cloud services pricing:

IaaS High Availability

High availability is an important principle of cloud computing. This is especially important for mission critical systems where downtime due to business interruptions is unacceptable. Downtime can hurt productivity and lead to financial losses.

IaaS services are known for their ability to provide a high level of redundancy, spreading applications across multiple physical machines in different locations. They can also provide auto scaling, a mechanism that allows systems to automatically scale up to additional machines on the cloud when loads increase.

AWS High Availability Architecture

Amazon Web Services has built a massive global infrastructure to provide high availability and flexibility for customer workloads.

Amazon offers cloud services in 24 regions (see the map of the Amazon regions). Amazon defines a region as a geographic area with at least three different data centers known as availability zones (AZs).

Each AWS availability zone is a fully localized infrastructure with redundant power supplies, networks, and Internet connectivity. Currently, Amazon supports 77 Availability Zones worldwide. Each AZ typically has three or more data centers in one location, separated by a “meaningful distance” of up to 100 km. This ensures a physical disaster is unlikely to take down all data centers in the AZ, and yet enables high-speed connections between the data centers.

Learn more in our in-depth guide to AWS high availability.

Azure High Availability Architecture

Like AWS, Azure also bases its high availability architecture on regions and availability zones. Azure always stores three copies of user data across three availability zones. This is called redundant local storage. Customers can opt for global redundant storage, to create up to three additional copies of their data in a “paired region”, a nearby region that has fast connectivity with the first region, for added flexibility.

Azure availability zones achieve high availability by distributing resources across multiple data centers in a customer’s region. Azure provides additional services like Azure Site Recovery and Azure Backup to achieve the required recovery point objective (RPO) and recovery time objective (RTO) for their applications. 

Learn more in our in-depth guide to Azure high availability.

Google Cloud SQL High Availability Architecture

In Google Cloud, resources that operate in one zone are called “zonal resources”. Other resources operate across an entire region and are called “regional resources”. For example, a Google Cloud virtual machine instance or persistent disk is a zonal resource, while a static IP address is a regional resource.

Google adds the concept of clusters—clusters are groups of physical computers inside a physical data center, with independent power, cooling, networking, and security infrastructure. This allows Google Compute Engine to balance customer resources across clusters in the same zone, while retaining high connectivity between the physical machines in each cluster.

AWS IaaS Services

Amazon S3

Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) is the first and most popular Amazon service, which provides object storage at unlimited scale. S3 is easy to access via the Internet and programmatically via API, and is integrated into a wide range of applications. It provides 11 9’s of durability (99.999999999%), and offers several storage tiers, allowing users to move data that is used less frequently into a low-cost archive tier within S3. 

Related content: read our guide to mounting S3 as a file system.


Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) offers scalable computing resources. It lets you run as many virtual servers as you want, configure your network and security, and manage storage. You can increase or decrease resources on-demand according to changing business requirements, and set up auto scaling to scale resources up and down according to actual workloads. 


Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) is a block-level storage service for use with Amazon EC2 instances. When mounted on an Amazon EC2 instance, you can use Amazon EBS volumes like any other raw block storage device. It can be formatted and mirrored for specific file systems, host operating systems, and applications.

Learn more in our in-depth guide to AWS EBS.


Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS) provides a simple, scalable, and fully managed elastic NFS file system for use with AWS cloud services and on-premises resources. It can support up to petabytes of data, automatically scaling as files are added and removed, eliminating the need to configure and manage storage capacity.

Learn more in our in-depth guide to AWS EFS.

AWS Lambda

AWS Lambda is a serverless, on-demand IT service that provides developers with a fully managed, event-driven cloud system that executes code. AWS Lambda uses Lambda functions—anonymous functions that are not associated with identifiers—enabling users to package any code into a function and run it, independently of other infrastructure.

Learn more about AWS Lambda and the AWS Serverless ecosystem.

Azure IaaS Services

Linux Virtual Machines in Azure

Traditionally Azure focused on Windows virtual machines, but now has a robust offering for Linux users as well. Azure virtual machines (VMs) are scalable on-demand compute resources provided by Azure.

Microsoft Azure supports popular Linux distributions deployed and managed by multiple partners. Linux machine images are available in the Azure Marketplace for the following Linux distributions (more distributions are added on an ongoing basis):

  • FreeBSD
  • Red Hat Enterprise
  • CentOS
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise
  • Debian
  • Ubuntu
  • CoreOS
  • RancherOS

Azure Files

Azure Files is a cloud file storage service that provides access to server message block (SMB) file shares. These shares can be configured as part of an Azure storage account. Azure Files enables cloud-based virtual machines and on-premise applications to share files using standard protocols.

Learn more in our in-depth guide to Azure Files.

Azure Managed Disk

Azure managed disks are block-level storage volumes managed by Azure and used by Azure virtual machines. A managed disk is similar to a physical disk on a local server, but it is virtualized. For managed disks, you only need to specify the disk size and disk type, and provision—Azure does the rest. The available hard drive types are: 

  • Standard hard disks (HDD)
  • Standard SSD
  • Premium SSDs
  • Ultra disks—optimized for sub-millisecond latency

Related content: read our guide to Azure Disk pricing.

Azure Blob Storage

Azure Blob Storage is Microsoft's object storage service, similar to Amazon S3. Blob storage is suitable for storing large amounts of unstructured data. Blob storage offers sixteen 9’s of durability, and advanced security features including RBAC, encryption at rest and advanced threat protection. IT also supports lifecycle management and immutable storage (WORM), which can help protect against data loss and threats like Ransomware. 

Related content: read our guide to Azure Blob Storage pricing.

HPC on Azure

Azure provides high performance computing (HPC) resources, which you can deploy purely on the public cloud, or combine with local HPC resources to create a hybrid HPC deployment. Azure provides an HPC head node which is used to schedule jobs and workloads, and a virtual machine scale set, with large numbers of VMs that can be used to run massively parallel workloads. These VMs can include both CPU and GPU hardware, depending on the type of processing required.

Learn more in our in-depth guide to HPC on Azure.

SAP on Azure

A large variety of SAP applications can be deployed to Azure, using predefined virtual machines created and certified by SAP.

You can run the SAP HANA in-memory database on Azure, using M-series VMs that scale up to 4TB memory, certified for use with SAP HANA. Another option is Mv2 VMs, the largest SAP HANA certified VMs in the public cloud, with 6TB of memory. Azure offers a service level agreement (SLA) of 99.99% for instances in high availability pairs, and 99.9% for standalone instances.

You can deploy SAP S/4HANA on Azure, with remote connection via Azure ExpressRoute for Fiori applications. Azure provides an SLA of 99.99% SLA if you run S/4HANA in two Azure availability zones. It also provides backup and recovery in second, even for databases with multiple TBs of data.

VDI on Azure

Microsoft Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) offers multi-tenant support for Windows 10 and a Windows Virtual Desktop license. Azure provides the FSLogix configuration file container, which decouples user configuration files from the underlying operating system. Azure recently launched MSIX AppAttach, which allows you to package a Win32 application in an MSIX application container.

Google Cloud IaaS Services

Google Cloud Storage

Google Cloud Storage is an object storage service by Google Cloud. It provides features like object versioning and extended permissions (per item or bucket). Google Cloud offers two archive storage tiers with lower pricing and fast retrieval times, called Nearline and Coldline.

Learn more about storage options in Google Cloud—lock, network file, and object storage—in our guide to Google Cloud Storage.

Google Cloud Filestore

Google Cloud Filestore uses NFS version 3 and is designed for workloads requiring low latency and minimal performance fluctuations. This service has two levels of performance: standard and premium. The premium tier can support very high performance—700 Mbps for reads, 350 Mbps for writes, and a maximum of IOPS of 30,000.

Google Persistent Disk

In Google Cloud, a Persistent Disk is a storage device that you can access from a virtual machine, like a physical hard drive. The data is spread across multiple physical hard drives in the Google data center. Google Compute Engine manages the distribution of data for optimal redundancy and performance.

Learn more about Google Cloud Persistent Disk: How to Create a Virtual Image with Google Cloud Compute Engine.

Adopting IaaS: Cloud Migration Strategies

Following are the most common approaches to cloud migration, taken from the influential “5 Rs” model proposed by Gartner.

Learn more in our in-depth guide to cloud migration strategy.


Re-hosting (also known as "lift and shift") is the fastest way to move your application to the cloud. This is usually the first approach taken in a cloud migration project, because it allows moving the application to the cloud without any changes. Both physical and virtual servers are migrated to infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Lift and shift is commonly used to improve performance and reliability for legacy applications. 

Learn more in our in-depth guide to lift and shift.

Replatforming, Refactoring, or Re-architecture

This migration strategy involves detailed planning and a high investment, but it is the only strategy that can help you get the most out of the cloud. Applications that undergo replatforming or re-architecture are completely rebuilt on cloud-native infrastructure. They scale up and down on-demand, are portable between cloud resources and even between different cloud providers.


In most cases, repurchasing is as easy as moving from an on-premise application to a SaaS platform. Typical examples are switching from internal CRM to Salesforce.com, or switching from internal email server to Google’s G Suite. It is a simple license change, which can reduce labor, maintenance, and storage costs for the organization.


When planning a move to the cloud, it often turns out that part of the company's IT product portfolio is no longer useful and can be decommissioned. Removing old applications allows you to focus time and budget on high priority applications and improve overall productivity.


Moving to the cloud doesn't make sense for all applications. You need a strong business model to justify migration costs and downtime. Additionally, some industries require strict compliance with laws that prevent data migration to the cloud. Some on-premises solutions should be kept on-premises, and can be supported in a hybrid cloud migration model.

IaaS Storage Optimization with NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP

NetApp Cloud Volumes ONTAP, the leading enterprise-grade storage management solution, delivers secure, proven storage management services on AWS, Azure and Google Cloud. Cloud Volumes ONTAP supports up to a capacity of 2 PB, and supports various use cases such as file services, databases, DevOps or any other enterprise workload, with a strong set of features including high availability, data protection, storage efficiencies, Kubernetes integration, and more.

In particular, Cloud Volumes ONTAP provides Cloud Manager, a UI and APIs for management, automation and orchestration, supporting hybrid & multi-cloud architectures.

See Additional Guides on Key IaaS and Cloud Computing Topics

NetApp, together with several partner websites, has authored a large repository of content that can help you learn about many aspects of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Check out the articles below for objective, concise reviews of key cloud computing topics.

Cloud Migration Strategy

Authored by NetApp

Learn about cloud migration and what major challenges to expect when implementing a cloud migration strategy in your organization. 

See top articles in our cloud migration strategy guide:

AWS Monitoring

Authored by NetApp

Learn what AWS monitoring is, what native and third-party services are available for monitoring, and some best practices for effective monitoring.  

See top articles in our AWS monitoring guide:

AWS High Availability

Authored by NetApp

Discover how high available systems are reliable and resilient and see how AWS can help you achieve high availability for cloud workloads, across 3 dimensions.

See top articles in our AWS high availability guide:

AWS Migration

Authored by NetApp

Learn about Amazon’s basic framework for migration, and how to plan for common challenges that affect almost every migration project.

See top articles in our AWS migration guide:

AWS Cost Optimization

Authored by NetApp

Learn how AWS cost optimization works, free Amazon tools that can help manage costs, and best practices for reducing your cloud bill.

See top articles in our AWS cost optimization guide:

Azure Cost Management

Authored by NetApp

Learn about tools and practices that can help you manage and optimize costs on the Microsoft Azure cloud.

See top articles in our Azure cost management:


Authored by NetApp

Learn what is AWS EBS and how to perform common EBS operations. Including five highly useful EBS features that can help you optimize performance and billing. 

See top articles in our guide to AWS EBS:


Authored by NetApp

Learn about AWS EFS, your backup options, how to optimize performance, see a brief comparison of EFS vs EBS vs S3, and discover how Cloud Volumes ONTAP can help.

See top articles in our guide to AWS EFS:

AWS Serverless Ecosystem

Authored by Lumigo

Learn about the AWS ecosystem on its services, understand the core Lambda functionalities, and discover AWS Lambda monitoring functionalities. 

See top articles in our guide to the AWS serverless ecosystem:

AWS Lambda

Authored by Lumigo

Learn how serverless differs from previous computing paradigms, and understand key concepts. Including AWS Lambda Monitoring tutorials, from beginner to expert levels.

See top articles in our guide to AWS Lambda:

Azure Migration

Authored by NetApp

Learn about aspects of considerations when implementing Azure migration: migration models, state assessment, storage configuration, security, and maintenance. 

See top articles in our Azure migration guide:

Azure Files

Authored by NetApp

Learn Azure Files techniques for different types of implementations, including cloud native processing and migrations.

See top articles in our guide to Azure Files:

Azure Migration

Authored by NetApp

Learn about aspects of considerations when implementing Azure migration: migration models, state assessment, storage configuration, security, and maintenance. 

See top articles in our Azure migration guide:

Azure Files

Authored by NetApp

Learn Azure Files techniques for different types of implementations, including cloud native processing and migrations.

See top articles in our guide to Azure Files:

Azure File Storage

Authored by NetApp

Learn what is Azure File Storage, how it works, and what are the various use cases, including guides and tips. 

See top articles in our Azure file storage guide:

Linux on Azure

Authored by NetApp

Learn how to use Linux on Azure, including guides for cloud-based enterprise Linux deployments and performance tips.

See top articles in our guide to Linux on Azure:

HPC on Azure

Authored by NetApp

Discover services and techniques for cloud-based HPC, including unique Azure HPC features and use cases. 

See top articles in our guide to HPC on Azure:

SAP on Azure

Authored by NetApp

Learn about all SAP solutions offered as a service on Azure, including HANA, S/4HANA, NetWeaver and Hybris, migration considerations and best practices.

See top articles in our guide to SAP on Azure:

Additional IaaS Resources

See additional guides on IaaS topics authored by our partner websites.