The cloud is a wide spectrum of services, and in its complexity, businesses have often been in the dilemma of to what extent it should be used. A lot of the focus on cloud computing is centered on infrastructure alone, but platform as a service (PaaS) has been proving to be of as much importance.
The vagueness of the cloud
Cloud computing is an all-encompassing term which connotes a wide spectrum of services, usually with focus on application software that can be operated using Internet-enabled devices, all on a structure that can either be classified as public, private or hybrid (both public and private). However, the etymology of the term itself, cloud computing, is not so clear. It is rationalized that the expression cloud can be derived from how it is commonly used in science, which is to describe any large agglomeration of objects that is so homogenous that it visually appear from a distance as one. This definition further leads to describe any set of things taken as one and whose details are not so important as to be inspected further. Just like any other significant developments in IT, the term “Cloud” is marketed high and low and is seized to label products, which even sit outside of the common definition. To put it simply and crudely, the Cloud is basically somebody else’s computer.
Understanding the cloud is important to truly understand how it can be of value to any business or organization. The many different components of cloud computing spans from the multiple users who access a single server, which retrieve their data without the need for purchasing licenses for each different application used along the way. This allows companies to avoid a lot of upfront infrastructure costs, and focus on their projects instead of infrastructure. It is common jargon these days to say a company is “moving to cloud”, meaning an organization is moving away from a traditional model of acquiring dedicated hardware, which only depreciates with time. Since the cloud is a wide spectrum of services, businesses have the flexibility to choose just where, when, and how much they use it and to what extent.
Infrastructure alone is not enough
Ever since its conception, a lot of the focus on cloud computing is centered on infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Companies have learned that it is no longer enough as servers would still need to be managed with a growing IT bureaucracy. Organizations who want to focus on their businesses, such as writing their codes without having to be burdened about application servers, are now looking towards platform as a service (PaaS) as well.
A PaaS is a running application server, which has some management and deployment tools. With it, a higher-level runtime is taken care of as well as other services like databases and logging in security, all streamlined for the user to just deploy application instances.
The traditional scenario is that a company deploys a new program or system on premises. Here, your in-house team has to manually setup the hardware, along with the application server, the database, and the development environment. Mike Lehmann, Oracle’s vice president of product management, said: “It takes some customers weeks or even months to work through the mechanics of hardware procurement and setup, and to install everything they need before they even start writing one line of code for their custom application or deploying a prebuilt application”. With PaaS, this process can be lessened to just hours.
Lehman further added – “I don’t want to say its magic, but to some degree that’s what’s happening. We’re taking out a layer that is very process-bound and bureaucratic on premises and making it on demand and completely automated. And that’s what the Oracle cloud gives you—an out-of-the-box, standardized environment where you can start building the application or deploying the application or data in an hour.”
Just recently, Oracle joined in a survey asking about the extent of PaaS’s use – from working on existing application to moving to a complex legacy program. “When they move to the cloud, people are no longer only looking for software as a service or infrastructure as a service,” Lehmann further adds. “They’re thinking of bringing over application platforms and workloads to gain some of the same benefits for the application layer—standardization, faster deployment, automation with more flexible capital expenditure approaches, and seamless integration.”
How to find the right Platform as a Service
When evaluating which PaaS provider works best for you, take into consideration the programming languages as well as the server technologies offered along the data storage options. Often, companies with PaaS solutions have similar concerns centered on key differentiators, such as comparative advantages one can get from vendor X and can’t get from vendor Y. There’s also the concern of the lock-in package and the adherence to important security standards such as SAE, PCI, among others. Finally, there’s the concern of “reference customers” or who are the targeted marketing audience and whether or not it is indeed a good fit especially when it comes to “keynote” deployments.
To truly find out which is the best PaaS for you, you need to define your needs and consequently get a list of candidates who can claim to be your best fit. Paasify.it has a comprehensive database of more than 70 PaaS vendors, increasing gradually. For example, there is a dedicated page for Oracle Cloud PaaS, which is available both as a public and private platform as a service. The website offers comparison to different PaaS offerings and can filter results according to app language, usage and pricing options. It has tables of distinct PaaS features and their properties.
You can also attend a technical discussion or read a scientific publication about PaaS. One such event is the Application Migration Effort in the Cloud – The Case of Cloud Platforms, set to appear on the 8th IEEE Conference on June 27, 2015.
Photo by Stefano Petroni.