What Is the Difference between Application and Infrastructure Software?

Apr 21, 2023 | Cloud Operations

For most people looking to make big cloud software investments, software is software. They don’t think about the fact that cloud software actually falls into two main categories: application software and infrastructure software.

Not only do these two types of software have very different use cases and get managed very differently, but the size of each market is very different as well. Cloud app software services is a $172 billion global industry, while cloud infrastructure software services is a $122 billion industry, according to Gartner industry research. Still, both industries are growing quickly as more and more companies migrate more of their software to the cloud with services like Amazon Web Services (AWS).

As organizations consider investing in both app software and infrastructure software, it’s important for decision-makers, implementation teams, and end-user business units to understand how these categories of software differ. Let’s explore the three major differences between app and infrastructure software.

1. Infrastructure is the foundation upon which apps run.

Infrastructure software consists of all of the operating systems and hardware that an organization depends on to run all of its operations, including its apps.

Servers, databases, firewalls, and VPNs are all considered part of infrastructure software, as are functions like communications and storage. When infrastructure software is delivered as a cloud service like AWS, organizations can rapidly build all of the infrastructure they need to optimally run all of their apps.

By contrast, apps are the customized software that organizations develop to meet a specific business need. Apps include both traditional installed software and software that runs entirely through a web browser.

2. Infrastructure must be more standardized and broadly applicable than apps.

Because apps are designed and customized to serve specific business needs, the process of developing and managing apps is relatively simple: App code can be developed without regard for whether the code can be applied in different types of business contexts and use cases.

In essence, app code is highly customized, single-purpose code. By contrast, infrastructure software needs to be much more standardized so it can serve as the foundation for a wide range of different use cases, including running a wide variety of apps. Practically speaking, that means infrastructure software needs to be developed, stress-tested, and managed with this broader range of use cases in mind.

3. Stability is the most important attribute of infrastructure, while agility is the most important attribute of apps.

Because infrastructure software makes up the foundation upon which the business’s ecosystem is run, it’s imperative that infrastructure is stable, reliant, and able to consistently meet expected SLAs (service level agreements).

When infrastructure needs to be patched, updated, and secured, the organization must be methodical about implementing them, as any problems with infrastructure can quickly cripple and break apps running on them.

By contrast, app software is designed to solve customized business problems, which means this software must be agile and flexible enough to meet this demand. While app software needs to be patched, updated, and secured, the stakes aren’t nearly as high as for infrastructure software.

App software is dependent on infrastructure software to operate and prove its business value, but that doesn’t mean apps and infrastructure should be thought of as interchangeable or one and the same. The key differences to understand are that infrastructure is the foundation upon which apps run, infrastructure must be more standardized and broadly applicable than apps, and infrastructure’s most important attribute is stability, while apps’ most important attribute is agility.

nClouds is an AWS Premier-Tier Implementation Partner that specializes in helping organizations upgrade and manage their cloud infrastructure. Contact us today to see how we can help you plan, test, and maintain your new AWS environment.


nClouds is a cloud-native services company that helps organizations maximize site uptime, performance, stability, and support, bringing out the best of their people and technology using AWS