“Cloud” as a networking term has come a long way from its first usage in diagrams as a telephone network, and later to denote the Internet and the underlying abstract infrastructure it represents. Today, cloud means the delivery of computing as a service, where shared resources are provided to users through myriad kinds of devices, typically over the internet.
Any kind of computer application can be divided into three parts:
- the hardware (storage and computing),
- the platform (operating system), and
- the application software.
When you use your favorite spreadsheet solution on your favorite laptop computer running your favorite OS, these three parts are easily manageable. However, even for a simple web application, building, deploying and running it becomes complex, expensive and risky. You require hardware to store data and handle all the processing required to deal with a certain number of users. You require an OS, a middleware, and web and application servers. Once this is set up, teams of developers, DBAs and testers are required to create, build and deploy the application.
These three parts of the application development lifecycle can today be independently outsourced to the three layers of the cloud, namely, Software As A Service(SaaS), Platform As A Service(PaaS), and Infrastructure As A Service(IaaS). While all three have been gaining popularity, PaaS is still the least used and the least known of these aspects of the cloud.
Each of the three components of the cloud includes the bottom ones. While IaaS essentially includes only the storage, physical servers, and networking, PaaS is infrastructure plus the complete development environment, and SaaS includes the application software in addition to hardware and operating software.
What is PaaS?
PaaS is a platform hosted as a service that facilitates application design, development, testing, deployment and hosting as the basic features. It may also include application services such as team collaboration, web service integration and, database integration, security, scalability, storage, persistence, state management, application versioning, application instrumentation and developer communities. Consumers of PaaS can just tap in and use it as per there requirements, without having to worry about the complexity behind the scenes.
The following are typical characteristics of a platform-as-a-service:
- integrated development environment
- browser-based user interface creation tools
- multi-tenant architecture
- integration with web services and databases
- support for development team collaboration
- seamless deployment to hosted runtime environment
- pay as you go billing
PaaS has many benefits over the conventional model where the application provider has to maintain all hardware and software components and stages:
- Non-complex: PaaS providers offer a complete framework where you only concentrate on developing your application forgetting about the complexity of the underlying computing platform.
- Focus on the business: PaaS providers help you just focus in growing your business, serve your customers better and generate revenue as the provider takes care of every system maintenance activity you can think of.
- Up-to-date: As a PaaS user, you need not worry about replacements of hardware if there is a glitch, regular software upgrades to keep in pace with the ever-changing technological advancements, dealing with the network downtime and troubleshooting hardware and software issues are extremely time-consuming.
- Security: PaaS providers ensure round the clock safety to your data by setting up firewalls, preventing unauthorized access via the internet, efficient disaster recovery program like a ‘hot’ backup site, frequently upgrading the security resources to offer the latest safety procedures etc.
- Economical: PaaS generally works on a subscription model so you only pay for what you use; you do not have to set up huge servers and storage, you need not buy expensive software and invest in maintaining/upgrading them.
Who Provides PaaS?
Salesforce (Force.com), Google (App Engine), Amazon (AWS), and Microsoft (Windows Azure) are few well-known PaaS providers. One of the promising PaaS players in the Indian market is Bangalore-based WOLF frameworks, which, in their own words, “is a 100% browser based Web Application Designing & Development Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) for creating mashable and interoperable Business Applications on the internet without writing a single line of technical code.”
The cloud appeals strongly to end users in startups and SMBs. Platforms as services are popular because of their ease of use and perception of a low entry cost. Contrary to orthodox solutions for small companies, they can now benefit from the availability of AIM capabilities over the cloud, which would give them quickly accessible, rapidly created custom-built applications deployed as a service in the cloud.
The North American region still has a “first mover” advantage in IT, but PaaS will help enterprises in emerging markets like India reduce their traditional lag in software adoption by enabling them to leapfrog straight to the cloud, particularly if they have very little legacy technology to work around.
What has been your experience with PaaS products?