After only a short walk on the exhibition floor at the AWS re:Invent conference, it becomes clear that the whole 'Something-as-a-Service' acronym is getting severely overused. There's IaaS, SaaS and PaaS, which we're all familiar with, but now there is Data aaS, Batch aaS, Desktop aaS, Network aaS and the list goes on. Not only is it a full-time job keeping track of all of these cloud based service offerings, but the number of vendors in a common space who are providing drastically divergent offerings can make things pretty confusing. So, how does an enterprise architect or an IT director deal with an industry that seems to be constantly introducing new technologies, while at the same time, redefining ones on which IT professionals have only recently got a handle?
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There are a few go-to people TheServerSide keeps at the front of the Rolodex. When it comes to cloud computing, and especially the Platform as a Service space, it's former JBoss Inc CTO and current Cloudbees CEO, Sacha Labourey. So we asked Labourey how, with so many different offerings in the cloud computing space, especially in the PaaS space in which Cloudbees competes, how it is that an enterprise software professional can cut through the FUD, decide whether a PaaS based solution is the right approach for the future, and if it is, how does one figure out what they should be looking for in a PaaS provider. Here's Labourey's take on the issue, as he attempts to allay the misconception that all PaaS offerings are the same. -Cameron McKenzie, Editor in Chief of TheServerSide
Not all PaaS offerings are the same
As with any relatively new, recent technology, like Platform as a Service (PaaS), the same acronyms end up being applied to pretty different vendor offerings and it takes time until the market is able to categorize them properly. PaaS is no exception to this rule. There are currently many different varieties of PaaS. The good news is that a few easy questions will help you define what type of PaaS you really need.
All PaaS platforms are not created equal. You must first decide what it is you want from PaaS, then use that lens to identify the PaaS that best meets your needs.
Sacha Labourey, Cloudbees CEO
Service vs. software
First of all, are you looking for a service or a piece of software? A number of vendors, dominated by the traditional middleware vendors, are really focused on delivering a PaaS as a Software that IT gets to install, setup and maintain on-premise. If you are looking at improving the efficiency of your current datacenter, such offerings might be what you are looking for. On the other hand, if what you are looking for is for your development team to get started in a snap without having to worry about installing, configuring and maintaining a PaaS or its underlying infrastructure, such as servers, load-balancers, firewalls, build machines, etc., a PaaS as a Service, running in the public cloud, is what you are looking for.
Another question you should ask yourself is what are you expecting from a PaaS? What breadth of features are you looking for? Are you strictly looking for a way to deploy an application or are you also looking at building, testing and staging applications? Some organizations have already built an application and they are simply looking for a PaaS destination to host, scale and monitor that application. Others are looking at PaaS as a way to speed-up the overall creation of new value, which starts by creating a new project, storing code, building and testing it, staging it and eventually deploying it, all as an integrated series of steps, available as a Service.
Beware of PaaS in IaaS+ clothing
Yet a third question you have to ask yourself is, at what level are you expecting a PaaS to help you? As an example, some PaaS (mostly provided by Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) vendors), are really more of an infrastructure orchestration service that will set up virtual machines and load-balancers for you, but everything you see and do very much remains infrastructure-related. Infrastructure is king.
On the other hand, other vendors are really focused on applications, applications, applications. That you need servers, load-balancers and storage to build and run applications is almost an implementation detail that shouldn’t derail you from building a great product. Typically, those PaaS provide a higher level of abstraction and focus on concepts such as creating a test suite or creating a staging environment for an application or performing static code analysis on code before it makes it to production. Most developers will typically find it appealing to start working with an “infrastructure-centric” PaaS, as it really mimics what they have seen happening for years within their organization, but quickly realize that application-centric PaaS leads to much better productivity.
Asking the right questions
Those are some of the main questions you should ask yourself while reviewing PaaS solutions, but there are obviously many other important ones. In what region will I be able to deploy applications? Will the vendor be able to support me properly when my application fails? Or will they simply resort to “Sorry, our PaaS is working, check your applications, something must be wrong in there.”
So there you have it. All PaaS platforms are not created equal. You must first decide what it is you want from PaaS, then use that lens to identify the PaaS that best meets your needs. If you can answer the three questions, above, you will be able to more readily target the PaaS that is the best fit for your organization!