What Is Platform-As-A-Service? Experts Disagree - InformationWeek
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What Is Platform-As-A-Service? Experts Disagree

Is PaaS just a feature of general-purpose infrastructure-as-a-service or a distinct layer of products in the cloud? Experts debate the definition of PaaS at Cloud Connect.

 

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In a panel on "The Future of PaaS in an IaaS World" at Cloud Connect Summit, colocated with UBM Tech's Interop Las Vegas, there was a surprising amount of disagreement on how to define platform-as-a-service as a form of cloud computing. Each member of the panel, which included several well-known cloud spokesmen, had a different definition.

Mark Russinovich, a technical fellow on the Microsoft Azure team, said he sees PaaS as "writing code that is integrated with a runtime environment, as opposed to code that is dropped into a virtual machine that's sitting on a bare-metal server, a legacy kind of server. That's the key differentiator point. The software knows something about the environment it's running in."

Margaret Dawson, HP's cloud evangelist and VP of product management, claimed: "It's really about that full environment for application development all the way through full, lifecycle management, even some of the orchestration stuff. It's about a full environment, not only for development of the application. To me, it adds a layer above IaaS."

Jesse Proudman, founder and CEO of Blue Box Group, a hosting service that, among other things, provides developer services and manages large-scale Ruby applications for customers, said: "For me PaaS is really about the service catalogue -- consumable types of services -- whether it be application delivery or container service. It's that abstraction that delivers the ability to move workloads from cloud to cloud. I think that's one of the most powerful features of PaaS technology in the market today."

[Want to learn more about the debate over the future of PaaS? See Cloud Crossroads: Which Way PaaS?]

Brent Smithurst, VP of product management at ActiveState, supplier of Stackato PaaS software, said Stackato is "a platform-as-a-service based on Cloud Foundry and our primary market is Fortune 500 enterprises who use the platform in-house, on-premises. We've actually tried to get away from calling it PaaS. We really just call it an application platform."

Krishnan Subramanian, director of Red Hat's OpenShift platform strategy, said that, in addition to Linux containerization and open source tools, "I have a simple definition for PaaS. The application scales with the platform. It scales with the infrastructure seamlessly."

So cloud platform-as-a-service, according to the PaaS experts, is a platform where the software knows about its environment in which it's running. It's also full application lifecycle management, from development through deployment and its production life. It's also a catalogue of application services. It's also an "application platform" and it's a platform that can scale with the application seamlessly. Is that clear?

Proudman listened to the definitions and inserted an additional thought: "I really believe PaaS as a technology stack focuses on application delivery; it goes beyond just packaging up applications or services and really needs to provide a full orchestration chain to deliver those applications." This comment makes deployment a more important part of PaaS.

Dawson also added a thought on why she continues to see PaaS as a distinct cloud layer separate from IaaS. "One reason that it doesn't become part of IaaS is you've got to be able to have application portability. If it's just tied to one type of IaaS, then you don't have that portability."

Red Hat's Subramanian, however, disagreed. "I don't think it's just application portability... It's application portability and portability of application environments." That is, all the things that the application needs to run -- its database interface, middleware, and security policies -- need to become

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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

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Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
4/10/2014 | 12:25:46 PM
Re: Whatever PaaS is, it's more open than closed
I think the real differentiator for PaaS is the market it will appeal to, the developer market.  IaaS is really more of a pure computing play, heavily resource driven.  PaaS is really where the innovation will sit as it will create the layer which applications will sit, and it will also add more value to a pure IaaS environment.  THe other nice thing is that PaaS in a way brings standardization which will help drive more universal adoption of services as opposed to everyone figuring things out individually.  This way we can have base standardization and applications can be spun off more efficiently thanks to basic controls and services already based in the platform.  PaaS is a definitely needed service, the trick is ensuring that it is positioned the right way to avoid confusion.
t_thornton
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t_thornton,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/6/2014 | 10:19:27 AM
Great article
I recently took a job in the PaaS space and, being somewhat new to cloud offerings, I thought this article touched on some great points and cleared up a few things for me.  

I've also heard the term "aPaas" or "Application Platform as a Service".  This is more or less the space that my new company plays in, but I'm finding that people aren't really familiar with this one yet. 

It's tricky because as I have been catching up with old friends and colleagues and they ask me about my new job, it's hard to describe it in just a few words.  If I say "PaaS" they will probably come away the wrong idea.  If I say "aPaaS" they look at me funny :)
TechYogJosh
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TechYogJosh,
User Rank: Black Belt
4/4/2014 | 12:54:21 AM
PaaS and IaaS
Does it really matter what you call it? How can you develop, scale. and migrate/port applications without a platform? Are we saying PaaS becomes a "feature" or integral part of IaaS, unlike traditional applications where hardware/infrastructure was very different from platforms such as WebLogic, WebSphere, .Net, J2EE, etc.? The confusion benefits certain vendors (e.g., BlueBox, HP) and harms others (e.g. Microsoft, RedHat). The moot point is you need a platform to build your applications on and you need an infrastructure to host the applications on. The functionality may overlap or be similar, but it will always be distinct. One may integrate platform services within infrastructure, but then the infrastructure will provide "platform" service.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
4/3/2014 | 6:45:08 PM
Whatever PaaS is, it's more open than closed
As the panel progressed, there was a rough consensus that PaaS, however it's defined, would provide an open application building environment, with the resulting app able to be moved onto different clouds. The emphasis was on no-vendor lock-in and portability rather than the specific capabilities or tools of any particlar PaaS. That discussion of course was aimed at least in part at Microsoft, the proprietary parts of Azure and its potential to gobble up marketshare.
brentsmi
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brentsmi,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2014 | 1:47:40 PM
Re: Small correction
No worries, Paul. It happens all the time.
Paul_Travis
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Paul_Travis,
User Rank: Author
4/3/2014 | 8:02:02 AM
Re: Small correction
Sorry about the typo. It has been fixed.

 

Paul Travis

Managing Editor

InformationWeek.com
brentsmi
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brentsmi,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2014 | 2:30:58 AM
Re: At the crossroads: Which way PaaS?
Li, you nailed it. The terminology is completely unimportant. As I said, we don't even call it 'PaaS' anymore. Call it whatever you want, but it is key to providing developers with the ability to easily deploy and scale applications in a predictable, repeatable, portable, secure, and easily manageable manner.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
4/2/2014 | 10:10:59 PM
Re: At the crossroads: Which way PaaS?
Very good post, gentelman. Since long ago I have doubts/confusions about PaaS. This post helped me to somehow get out of the ambiguous area. In my humble opinion, PaaS just provides more intelligence to IaaS to enable portability, scalability and easy of workload sharing in cloud computing. The terminology itself is not significant but the essence underlying is of more importance.
brentsmi
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brentsmi,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/2/2014 | 8:01:52 PM
Small correction
Great post, Charles. The panel was lots of fun and it was great to meet you in person. Small typo: my last name only has one "h"...
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
4/2/2014 | 4:03:29 PM
At the crossroads: Which way PaaS?
Several of these Cloud Connect panelists, including moderator Ben Kepes, principal of Diversity Ltd. and Forbes blogger, debated this issue here as well: http://www.informationweek.com/cloud/platform-as-a-service/cloud-crossroads-which-way-paas/d/d-id/1114123
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