PaaS vs Iaas: Choosing the Right Technology for Your Project

How to choose the technology that works best for your team

Michael Bogan
Jul 14, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo from Christina Morillo on Pexels

Choosing between PaaS and IaaS is critical. The wrong choice can not only slow down your team from the start, but it can cause a spiral into long-term costs as you release more code, build more features, and become more and more embedded in your decision. However, if you take the time upfront to consider your project’s needs, you can make the right choice. This will save your team both time and money.

At Ohana, a startup focused on increasing employee engagement, we were under pressure to release a functioning app quickly and on-budget. We carefully considered the benefits of both PaaS and IaaS. In the end, we built and deployed our app with a PaaS provider — Heroku.

Let’s look at why we chose PaaS and some cases when you might choose IaaS instead.

Making the Decision at Ohana

At Ohana, we had several constraints with our app. First, we didn’t have the ability, or desire, to host our own infrastructure on-prem, so we knew we wanted to choose either PaaS or IaaS. But which one?

One of our more senior developers pushed strongly for IaaS. He was extremely technical and loved to be creative in his architectural decisions. He wanted to own as much of the code and architecture as possible. He loved diving into the nitty-gritty of protocols and databases, and he valued control over everything else.

A different developer felt the opposite and pushed for PaaS. He believed that as a startup, we should be focusing on our business logic — the ideas that made our startup unique. In our case, these were features that only our app offered that would increase employee engagement for our customers. This developer had no interest in configuring environments, managing middleware, or in building basic functionality such as security, user administration, and so on. He valued time and resources over control.

Breaking Down the Benefits

We had several meetings examining when teams should use PaaS, when they should use IaaS, and which one was right for us. Here are the benefits of each that we took into account as we made our decision:

Benefits of PaaS

We found that PaaS projects tend to value speed, reduced complexity, and business logic over technical control. PaaS typically offers teams:

Benefits of IaaS

On the other hand, we found that IaaS works well for very technical teams that value control and technical details over convenience. IaaS works well for teams with:

Our Decision

In the end, we decided on PaaS. Although it was difficult for our more technical developer to give up control, our final decision came down to several PaaS benefits that outweighed his preference. PaaS gave us:

While there was a bit of a learning curve (since we were new to the Heroku platform), our decision to go with PaaS worked out well. In just six weeks, we deployed an impressive MVP that supported our initial customers’ needs and showcased our differentiators.

We were able to focus on creating a product that our customers loved, and one where the ancillary tech (such as user management, environments, database connectivity, and so on) just worked. We didn’t spend our spare time “reinventing the wheel.” Heroku also filled in our need for dev-ops, giving us easy builds, deploys, continuous deliveries, app management, scaling, and more.


Developers love to learn. Their job is to understand, build, and create. But they often get caught up in the building, underestimating the value of their time. They are biased towards creating custom solutions, even when those solutions might already exist. Sometimes this is the correct choice, but sometimes a PaaS can help increase efficiency. Understanding your team’s biases, moving past them, and choosing the correct technology is critical. It’s an upfront decision with long-term effects on your costs, performance, hiring decisions, and more.

At Ohana, PaaS was the right choice for our app, but it may not be for yours. Take the time to carefully consider your needs and the benefits of both technologies.

Better Programming

Advice for programmers.

Michael Bogan

Written by

25 years of startups, launching products, and software architecture. Based in Indiana.

Better Programming

Advice for programmers.

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