Unraveling the confusion about PaaS

Platform as Service is many things to many people -- and will remain in a hazy place for some time to come.

Overcoming any skepticism about Platform as a Service will require more of an operational focus. As discussed in our last post , there's a lot of "dev" in PaaS, but not enough "ops."

Cloud computing at keyboard 2 Photo by Joe McKendrick
Photo: Joe McKendrick

Recently, JP Morgenthal, director of the cloud computing & DevOps practice at Perficient (and a long-time enterprise software thought leader), led a BrightTalk panel discussion on promoting PaaS adoption to skeptical enterprises. He was joined by Ed Anuff, Apigee; Sean Allen, OutSystems; and Sarbjeet Johal of Unified Cloud.

The first challenge is that definitions of PaaS tend to be relatively murky, and often overlap with Infrastructure as a Service. (Even the Wikipedia definition of PaaS is flagged with "multiple issues.")  Helping to kick off the discussion, Allen defined PaaS as "a cloud-based service that integrates and manages all aspects of your application stack.... anything that allows you to build cloud-based applications without worrying about storage or other stack-based components." Johal adds that PaaS is likely to be seen in implementations such as "Hadoop as a service, data crunching as a service or integration as a service."

Expect this uncertainty to continue, even through 2015, which Gartner predicts will be the year of PaaS. "The PaaS market is going to go through a number of stages in relatively rapid succession," Allen predicts. "If you take a look at the commoditization pressure in the IaaS price wars between Google and Amazon Web Services, they’re going to need to differentiate their offering, and they’re going to go upmarket. And to go upmarket, they’re going to have to consume the bottom end of the PaaS market."

This blurring between IaaS and PaaS will likely continue for some time to come, Allen continues. "The distinction between a PaaS like a Heroku and what you get from Amazon is by necessity is going to converge. You’re going to see a lot of specific use-case PaaSes to continue. Things like Docker are already causing a lot of disruption in both the IaaS space and PaaS space, and I think it’s going to continue to have some impact as well."

Expect to see considerable pressure -- and movement -- to opening up more aspects of PaaS to the operations side of IT. "To promote the production side, developers and operations folks have to sit together -- we call it DevOps these days," Johal states. Operations people "have to see the clear benefit. That will come through education, and doing a pilot of a simple application -- a two-tier application that is simpler in nature -- and try that and deploy that and see the advantages of that."

The way to promote PaaS is to "convince and show the operations people that this new way of doing it provides significant value that’s not matched by increased risk," Allen agrees. "Take a look at risk-rewards scenario, and show them the value of their sleepless nights being minimized with a transition to a new approach."

The solution sets are not ready yet, however. "Right now that the way that it is it’s not really DevOps in a box yet," says Anuff. "It's hammers and nails and wrenches in a box that help you create DevOps practices to a degree. The biggest obstacles are stovepipes. PaaS can play a very significant role there."

Panelists agree that the PaaS market will be going through a broad spectrum of adoption. "There need to be some more consistency around one particular platform to give you some confidence where to invest," says Morgenthal. "In 2015, it’s going to be slow growth. I haven’t heard anybody say PaaS is dead on arrival, or that PaaS is dead, long live PaaS. That’s a good sign. It’s still climbing a hill, and we’ll see where it grows."