Platform as a Service: gaining traction or slippery slope?

The decision to go down the PaaS path is not easy. Adopting a whole new way of operating IT is a big challenge because PaaS changes everything, for better or for worse.

The promise of cloud computing may finally be coming to fruition, but its epic journey has been hampered by the slow adoption of IT enterprises who have significant sunk cost in legacy infrastructure and applications. Business applications running on legacy assets aren’t easily ported to a platform as a service (PaaS) cloud infrastructure without significant effort and cost. But no one wants to waste all the time and money that has been put into perfecting a computing environment.

The decision to go down the PaaS path is not easy. Adopting a whole new way of operating IT is a big challenge because PaaS changes everything, for better or for worse. While PaaS-enabled developers are given a bigger sandbox to play in, the way applications are developed radically changes.

The PaaS model of application development

Gone is the constant struggle to find environments to develop and test in without stepping on someone else’s code. Gone is the need to re-invent the code wheel every time a change is needed. Gone are the mishmash of different development tools cobbled together to build and deploy apps.

Instead, developers are provided with a stack of services and tools to work the stack. Services can include middleware (like JMS messaging or an enterprise service bus) as well as data services for connecting to highly scalable storage facilities. Tools include the ability to wire gadgets, REST services, and mashups all from a seamless IDE, such as the eXo Cloud IDE, which works with popular Java PaaS platforms like VMForce and Google App Engine (GAE).

These services and tools combine with a key feature of PaaS called multi-tenancy to allow developers to focus on the application itself, as opposed to deployment and IT issues. Multi-tenant systems let multiple unrelated applications can run on the same hardware and software infrastructure resulting in cost savings and more-efficient use of computing resources.

Plunging into PaaS

So with all of the differences between traditional development approaches and PaaS development, it’s no wonder there is a lengthy lag with PaaS adoption. Long term IT strategy has to catch up. Personnel needs to adjust to operational and process changes, developers need to think at the enterprise scale and decision makers need to, well, decide to take the PaaS plunge. When all of these factors align behind a solid plan, the enterprise gains competitive traction and agility across the board.

The option to create a private cloud on your own infrastructure allows you to exploit legacy infrastructure, where joining the public cloud means renting outside infrastructure (which does have its advantages). If your infrastructure is sizable and crosses physical locations, spinning up a private PaaS is likely to have strong benefits. But this tact requires intimate knowledge of PaaS architecture, which may not be available within your existing organization. The cost of an internal project with external PaaS consulting could cost more than utilizing shovel-ready vendor platforms.

Legacy modernization is a slippery slope fraught with risk and the unknown. But IT enterprises can gain traction by not rushing to adopt what’s hot in the market just because everyone else is doing it. Change is difficult, especially when so much is at stake. But all is not lost. Change will happen and you must be prepared by thoroughly understanding what aspects of your IT architecture PaaS will change and how.

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