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What is PaaS (Platform as a Service)? A Beginner’s Guide

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a form of cloud computing

In the simplest of terms, platform as a service (PaaS) is a form of cloud computing. PaaS provides a broad set of cloud-based application infrastructure and middleware (AIM) resources via the cloud. The delivery of software services are for example, geared toward various types of integration, business process management, database services, and application development.

As in other common cloud consumption models, the customer subscribes to the tier of resources required by the business and consumes the services in as-needed basis. PaaS vendors provide third-party cloud services, hosting the software on private or public cloud infrastructure.

The benefits of PaaS to enterprises at a high level are similar to other cloud computing scenarios:

  • Potential TCO reduction
  • Convenient web-based access to services
  • Elastic scalability
  • High Availability
  • Stay current with updates and maintenance for the latest version
  • Reduce need for in-house infrastructure
  • Self-service features

Businesses that implement one or multiple PaaS applications capitalize on these benefits.

What is PaaS (Platform as a Service)?

PaaS is one of the three primary categories of cloud computing, along with software as a service (SaaS), and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). A PaaS deployment involves the vendor managing a computing platform that generally consists of an operating system, virtualization, servers, storage, and networking.  In today’s fast-moving world of cloud computing, it’s important to fully understand how the cloud model of technology and service delivery, such as platform as a service, can be used to your advantage.

While platform as a service does not fully replace your IT infrastructure, it is likely to augment what you already have in place, especially services such as application hosting. For instance, a common PaaS category is used for software development, providing developers the tools and services they require to rapidly and flexibly create new applications and microservices.

PaaS Examples: How Enterprises Use PaaS

As the PaaS market matures, enterprises have found all sorts of ways to strategically exploit the potential of PaaS despite the general lack of standardization. In areas such as integration, PaaS is being looked toward to drive projects central to digital transformation efforts. Further, as IT strategy is increasingly cloud-first, established technology vendors and startups are entering the PaaS market with distinct offerings and capabilities which in many cases displace traditional software deployments. The high uptick in PaaS adoption signifies a dynamic market that is rapidly evolving.

Now, let’s examine two quick examples of common PaaS types.

1. Application Platform as a Service (aPaaS)

High-productivity aPaaS are one of the more common types of cloud platforms. Developers look to aPaaS solutions to provide multiple efficiency benefits when designing, developing, and launching new applications and services.

In this type of PaaS, APIs are designed at the service-level, and created to provide access and certain functions to an enterprise’s cloud environment, whatever it might be. Most platform as a service APIs integrate with databases, portals, and sometimes storage.

PaaS APIs describe a task to the PaaS server, which performs the data manipulation on the customer’s application. Hiring a cloud provider allows you to utilize their APIs rather than provide the APIs in-house and maintain the server space, processing power, and platform all on your own. A cloud provider’s APIs allows you to provide the service at a lower cost and with better functionality.

Examples of an aPaaS providers which enable developers to create and launch new applications and application services are Appian, Betty Blocks, Kony, as well as technology giants Microsoft and Oracle.

2. Business Intelligence (BIaaS) | Analytics as a Services (AaaS)

Cloud deployments for business intelligence and analytics have really grown in popularity recently. Dashboards, reporting, and big data analytics provide enterprises with increased visibility throughout its data ecosystem to maintain a high level of control and data management. Many cloud providers have business analytics services that allow a business to connect to its data, perform advanced analysis, and access dashboards via multiple devices conveniently.

Interestingly, business intelligence and analytics are often consumed as value-added PaaS capabilities. For instance, the importance of business intelligence is growing in B2B scenarios. As such, core business applications including the CRM, ERP, or TMS provide some degree of functionality in this area. Further, application integration and middleware solutions provided via the cloud allow organizations to connect disparate sources and systems to unify data access, aggregation, and visibility making BI and analytics operations easier.

One area where AaaS is commonly a standalone offering is in big data. Today, big data is synonymous with real-time and downstream analytics geared toward providing data visualization for right-now insight and predictive forecasting respectively.

Examples of providers with BI and analytics capabilities delivered on a PaaS are Alteryx, Hortonworks, Qlik, and Tableau.

What Businesses Should Look for in a PaaS Provider Offering

When selecting a PaaS provider, it’s important for an enterprise to understand what it is they need from their cloud provider. Some require a higher level of security, others are more interested in whether their PaaS offering is tied to a SaaS environment. The key is to determine what each PaaS provider offers, from a faster and more affordable route or a complex and wide-ranging model.

1. Fully-Managed Cloud Database

A fully-managed cloud database offers the highest level of PaaS available, and it is critical that a PaaS provider holds up their end of the deal in terms of what they will deliver. A PaaS provider should not simply provide provisioning and manage the low-level infrastructure, but serve as a fully-managed application development and deployment service.

2. Control

It’s vital that your developers have the proper amount of control over your hardware environment. This is especially true when they need to spin up a certain resource to build your applications. Not all PaaS providers feature the same amount of control, and you don’t want to be in a position where you cannot do something you expected due to a lack of control. Otherwise, developers are stuck waiting for a resource request to be completed which is not always done quickly.

3. Security

PaaS providers must ensure that data is safe and sound while hosted on their platform. Cloud providers must have top-notch security tools that protects data 24/7, 365. For instance, what level of uptime do they guarantee? In the event of disaster, what level of customer service and support is offered? It’s integral to know that a cloud provider will answer the phone call when something goes wrong – and have a plan in place to fix the issue, and ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

4. Technology

At the end of the day, a lot of what selecting a PaaS provider boils down is very black and white, and it’s what technology and services they can actually provide. Throughout the cloud computing stack, a provider must offer different combinations and as your applications are running, the stack must work consistently with it.

Other factors to think about as far as technology goes includes understanding how a PaaS deployment system is designed, what type of programming language is used, such as Java or Python, and what is the process as far as scaling goes? If a company grows in size, so do its cloud computing needs, so it’s integral to be able to scale as the business grows.

Leading PaaS Vendors

The platform as a market is a strong one, with many viable vendors to choose from. The most notable, as expected, is an offering from Amazon Web Services (AWS). AWS’ PaaS offering is called Elastic Beanstalk and runs atop its AWS Elastic Compute Cloud. Elastic Beanstalk features a high level of customization, automation, and perhaps the most secure of all the PaaS offerings.

Other major players in addition to AWS include Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, Red Hat, and Oracle Cloud.

Benefits of PaaS

Platform as a Service offers many alluring features to an enterprise. From application development to reducing costs, PaaS can certainly be an important part of a company’s infrastructure.

1. Reduce Costs

A PaaS deployment provides the underlying software infrastructure, so the costs of maintaining traditional application development and deployments are greatly reduced. No longer is there a great deal of storage and server overhead that a business must pay for, nor is there a considerable amount of network bandwidth and the costs of software uptake to maintain.

2. Flexibility

Platform as a Service gives flexibility to be agile and adjust needs as an enterprise sees fit. The development process, for example, has never been potentially as flexible or efficient and it allows a company to go faster to market than ever before.

3. Agile Software Development

PaaS allows an IT department to ensure its needs are fully aligned with the business side of things. The feedback loop is efficient, there are fewer change requests, it’s easier to meet any particular user requirements, and allows IT to make more frequent iterations without affecting the development process.

Risks of PaaS

While the promise of platform as a service is one that is no doubt appealing, there are, in fact, some drawbacks to be aware of. For those companies still relying on legacy, in-house IT systems, integration PaaS solutions can be a challenge. The mix-and-match model is often perplexing to manage, so it’s important to ensure that a PaaS deployment will work well with what in-house tools are remaining in place.

Another issue that enterprises have encountered regarding a cloud computing deployment is vendor lock-in. When adopting new technology, such as a PaaS model, a company will come to depend on a vendor’s infrastructure and software, but when it’s time to make a switch, it often proves tough to do so.

The last two drawbacks are also two things outlined above. It is critical when looking for a PaaS solution that the offering takes into account the need for control and security. These are absolutely critical when selecting a vendor, and a lack of control and security can increase risk especially around data. The trope is that data is the lifeblood of the business. In that case, unmitigated data risk is the potential for blood poisoning and a major cause for concern.

While most cloud providers measure availability by the rule of nines, if a vendor’s PaaS experiences downtime, business continuity will be disrupted. The difference between a PaaS and in-house infrastructure in this case, is that any resolution lies entirely with the PaaS vendor and is out of an enterprise’s control.

As for security, companies with strict industry regulations and steep penalties for violation might not feel totally secure providing access to their data to a third-party vendor. The need to keep data on the ground as a means of compliance remains a major sticking point for many enterprises.

PaaS Predictions

As cloud computing grows, security is only going to become an even bigger issue, and that includes PaaS deployments. Big players, such as the aforementioned Amazon, Microsoft, and Google will only add to their current offerings and expand their solutions attempting to differentiate, compete in a cutthroat market, and better meet customers’ needs. Additionally, the risks of the cloud also aren’t going away anytime soon, but hopefully vendors will do more to alleviate the concerns of enterprise IT, leading to a healthier and more efficient relationship between a cloud provider and a customer than ever before.

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