The New World of PaaS

Feature Story

The New World of PaaS

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  June 11, 2014

As with any emerging technology, cloud computing has taken on multiple identities, in terms of usage, implementation, and uses as time passes. From the generic concept of cloud computing, we’ve now reached what can best be described as an Anything-as-a-Service world, where nearly any traditionally locally deployed technology can be delivered through public and/or private clouds. Security, DR, Storage, Communications, Testing, and nearly any software package businesses require is readily accessible through cloud services. But, at the heart of all of these lie IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) and PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service), when enable the agility and flexibility cloud “business” boasts.

Of the three main cloud service layers, PaaS is, perhaps, proving to be the most useful. Certainly, IaaS delivers the scalability required to meet peak demands and growth expectancy, but the rapid development and migration of applications and services with PaaS has the potential to significantly reduce time to market, a key consideration for businesses in a highly competitive market.

Sitting between the SaaS (News - Alert) and IaaS layers, PaaS provides an agile development platform for not only developing applications, but testing and preparing them for cloud deployment, and then migrating them into production environments.

Mendix, for instance, has designed its PaaS offering for agility, basing it on what it calls a “no code” principle. Instead, its visual model simplifies app creation and migration. The result is significant reduction in time to market, allowing IT teams and business leaders to collaborate on building effective applications.

“We enable companies to dramatically cut down the time it takes to build business apps,” says Johan den Haan, CTO, Mendix. “What used to take large IT organizations months, or even years, can now be done by small teams in days and weeks.

Steve Harris, senior vice president of products, CloudBees, agrees, that business need help developing and deploying apps. They need to be able to focus on their core businesses rather than spending exorbitant time creating cloud-ready apps, especially at a time when the cloud, itself, can be leveraged to simplify the process.

“It’s about helping people build, deliver, and manage their apps in the cloud,” Harris says. “There is nothing to install; you go to the website, sign up, and you have a complete environment to create, build, test and deploy applications. The result is reduced time to market, higher quality, faster deliver, and reduced risk.”

Models can vary, but that’s part of the attraction of cloud – businesses have options when it comes to PaaS options for their app development needs. They can use private or public cloud, or a hybrid alternative, for developing, testing, and ultimately deploying apps. They can even develop in the cloud and deploy on-premises. Recent data and security breaches aren’t doing vendors using the public cloud any favors, not surprisingly.

“One of the biggest hurdles for PaaS adoption remains security,” says den Haan. “Companies don’t want to have their data in the public cloud, which is why the private PaaS play is a necessary option.”

Despite that, Mendix has a near-even split of public and private cloud users among its customers, and at least some of that is dependent upon the nature of the customer, whether it can meet compliance standards in the public cloud. But, what many businesses neglect to consider is, not only do they have the same vulnerabilities in their own data centers, but that cloud providers have at least as much to lose, if not more and, therefore, are likely to ensure strict security measures are in place.

Continuous Development Model

While it’s easy to see the draw in being able to launch applications more quickly thanks to an efficicnt development platform, the greatest benefit of PaaS platforms may lie in their ability to support a DevOps model of continuous development. Rather than build, test and deploy a finished product, the idea is to create a constant cycle of enhancement and improvement. It’s a strategy that gaining momentum in a market where time to market has become the dominant metric for success.

den Haan says this is the beauty of PaaS. Recognizing that the complete application lifecycle includes a live testing and feedback element, platforms like Mendix are critical to this new methodology, where it’s become acceptable to publish imperfect apps, knowing the ability for continued tweaking and enhancing exists. In the spirit of entrepreneurs, the model creates a market of equals, allowing businesses to focus on their products and not the technology used to create them.

“End users can give feedback easily on ideas and functionality that can all be managed as new requirements, then a new version can be built and deployed easily because the agility is built into theplatform,” den Haan says. “There are more and more people adopting this way of thinking and  PaaS will help level the playing field and make it a market of business models and product and service, instead of those that have the best technology.”

The continuous development approach is reaching mainstream businesses, who are gaining confidence in the model. These PaaS platforms address everything in the development process: writing, storing and connecting source code; building and testing the apps; moving apps into staging areas and preparing them for production; pushing them into production environments; and collecting feedback and starting the process over to create enhanced products.

“DevOps is really about pushing out changes all the time and having confidence that it won’t negatively impact experience,” explains Harris. “It isn’t just the app – it’s the configuration and the deployment and the new culture associated with the process that has been a business driver for us.”

The only way to reasonably go engage in a continuous development process is through the cloud, as the elasticity allows for different parts of the process to be scaled up and down quickly and easily. For instance, a business has been working on an app for the better part of six months and is finally ready to put it through a rigorous load testing process, which requires much more compute capacity than the team has available. Cloud makes is possible. It also builds confidence in cloud, driving more and more cloud utilization in the process.

“Companies see the way they build and test apps and want to understand how to take advantage of cloud resources for their build and test environments,” notes Harris. “As comfort levels increase, , they start to see how they can use cloud in their production environments, and just do it, connecting to existing back-end systems that they aren’t going to move to the cloud.”

Anyone who has downloaded mobile apps knows well how frequently apps can be updated. It can be a nuisance, but it tends to be much more desirable than the two-year release cycles that were once the norm. App development has become a highly incremental process, which serves multiple goals. Not only does it allow for continuous improvement, but it shows users that such work is being undertaken for their benefit, and it works as a branding exercise – each time an app is updated brings the brand to users’ attention.

Internet of Things Impact

Among the growing areas in tech that will likely have a profound ability to leverage PaaS is the growing host of IoT developers. Not only will applications be pushed out rapidly to take advantage of early opportunities, but the scalability that will be required for IoT applications will exceed anything most businesses will be able to provide internally. In fact, IoT is less about the devices and more about the devices and apps – devices are merely a conduit for passing information between users and devices. It’s the apps that turn masses of data into actionable intelligence, and it’s PaaS platforms that will enable the apps to be developed quickly to take advantage of emerging trends.

“Yes, we can see it already, “ says Harris. “It’s really a good affinity with what we are doing and what happens is potential exists for things to be connected that will be providing information at massive scale. Many of these startups need scalable resources to handle success of their apps, which is a great fit for cloud and PaaS.”

Is PaaS the Right Choice?

Given the state of the market and the need for ever-faster development and deployment models, combined with a growing acceptance of imperfect apps in production environments, the answer is a resounding yes. In fact, in order to compete, it’s hard to imagine not moving to cloud and PaaS. In a software-centric world, anyone can become a competitor, small or large. It’s when the largest players become competitors to smaller ones that the market dynamics change, so smaller operations, in particular, must stay ahead of the curve.

Adoption is steadily increasing – going through the roof, according to den Haan, in fact – as businesses and developers are starting to understand the benefits of PaaS, and are coming to terms with cloud. IBM (News - Alert) announcing it will invest $1B in PaaS will undoubtedly help drive the market, and Cloud Foundry’s growing success on the open source side will help build even greater momentum.

“I don’t think there is a choice,” den Haan predicts. “Businesses will either disrupt or be disrupted. Every company is becoming a software business – it’s the only way to survive – and PaaS is the way to compete effectively and ensure you have the ability to support the needs of the business.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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