Platform as a Service (PaaS) Explained

Cloud computing consists of three main branches of technology. These include infrastructure, platform, and software services hosted in the cloud that allow businesses and developers to leverage the benefits of hardware and software solutions without having to invest heavily in data centers, focus on the deployment of resources in-house, or worry about the maintenance involved with servers and storage. These three layers of technology build upon each other starting with IaaS that powers enterprise-level data and hardware needs and culminates with SaaS platforms that provide everything from additional IT infrastructure to web-based software technologies. In between IaaS and SaaS is Platform as a Service. SaaS and PaaS are very similar, but PaaS has a more specific goal and falls short of some of the software solutions of SaaS. It does, however, offer its own competitive advantages in the right scenarios.

What is Platform as a Service?

PaaS is a cloud computing model offered by a PaaS service provider. A PaaS vendor hosts hardware and software development tools over the internet in a manner similar to SaaS, but it does so using its own hardware and software infrastructure platform. PaaS enables users to avoid installing in-house hardware and software and is ideal for developers building new applications or looking to run new applications.

PaaS is designed to make it easier for users to use cloud services for application development. Using a public cloud, private cloud, or even a hybrid cloud network, users can create simple cloud-based applications or build cloud-powered enterprise applications. Platform as a Service takes a step up from Infrastructure as a Service cloud services by offering both the hardware and software of a service provider to complete tasks via the cloud. This includes servers, storage, network, and data infrastructure. PaaS also provides the middleware, development tools, data management, and business intelligence software and service solutions required for application development.

Many of the applications developed in PaaS environments offer the data support and performance that powers software solutions delivered through SaaS platforms.

How Does PaaS Work?

Although PaaS providers offer both the infrastructure and middleware developers seek for app development via the cloud, it rarely provides a full replacement for the users’ entire IT infrastructure. While it is true that PaaS includes some of the infrastructure solutions and cloud services of IaaS, the PaaS vendor is relied on for only key services such as application hosting or Java development, for example.

Most PaaS solutions are designed for software development and web applications. PaaS providers build and supply the virtualization and computing services required for app development, while also offering users text editing, version management, compiling and testing services, and other critical solutions that make it easier to deploy new software and do so with greater speed and efficiency.

PaaS works differently depending upon the scenario in which users take advantage of it. With a public cloud, PaaS users control the software deployment while the cloud provider handles all of the major infrastructure components. Private clouds deliver PaaS software within a user’s firewall, and typically this is within the onsite data center. With a hybrid cloud solution, users can mix and match the features of PaaS and IaaS to maximize investment and operability.

Why Use Platform as a Service?

Traditionally, businesses would build and develop their own applications internally. However, doing so requires server space, software solutions capable of creating the programming environments necessary for developers to build applications, and security software to protect data. The result was an environment that included complex software stacks, regular updates to hardware and software, data center and infrastructure maintenance, and a good deal of capital to invest in supporting all of this activity.

PaaS offers development tools that are capable of evolving faster to ensure that users are building applications with the latest interfaces, as well as hardware and software technology. Cloud computing and PaaS increase the speed with which developers can complete these tasks and offer a more affordable platform to complete these tasks. Most importantly, rather than focusing on all of those other infrastructure, platform, and software needs, users can simply focus on the job of developing great applications.

What is the Difference Between PaaS and IaaS?

As alluded to earlier, PaaS and IaaS are both part of a broader cloud computing environment that enables users to access infrastructure, platforms, and software services through cloud providers. However, as you move from IaaS to PaaS and on to SaaS, each of these cloud solutions offers a further layer of services and support not available in the other. When you look at PaaS vs IaaS, you are moving from simple infrastructure support via the cloud to include PaaS software designed to build on what the infrastructure is offering.

IaaS consists predominantly of data storage, networking, and security that form the backbone of IT infrastructure. Rather than worrying about servers, storage space, and data centers, users can run PaaS software and SaaS applications of their own using virtual machines in a cloud-based infrastructure network.

PaaS solutions take it one step further by providing both the infrastructure and the platform necessary for developers to create applications. The tools offered in a PaaS environment provide quick deployment of resources for application development and offer scalability to meet changing needs for small businesses and enterprise companies alike.

Does PaaS Include an Operating System?

PaaS solutions offer an operating system with the deployment of computing solutions. While IaaS solutions take advantage of the operating system of choice from the user, PaaS solutions typically come with the operating system chosen by the provider.

What are the Benefits of PaaS?

Services like Microsoft Azure PaaS offer a variety of advantages to users. By delivering both Infrastructure as a Service solutions and Platform as a Service solutions, PaaS providers provide a wider range of open source solutions for application development. Among the benefits associated with PaaS are the following:

  • Faster coding time: PaaS allows developers access to tools that make it easier to code new apps with pre-coded application components already built into the platform. This includes workflow, directory services, and security.
  • Development capabilities with the same staff: With PaaS virtualization, users can develop apps quicker and more efficiently without having to hire and train additional staff.
  • Multi-platform development: The tools embedded within PaaS allow users to develop applications across multiple platforms, from desktop computers to mobile devices. It also makes integration across numerous browsers quicker and easier as well.
  • Sophisticated tools for less: From the latest security software and programs to development tools, PaaS users have access to the most sophisticated software and solutions without the burden of investing in it alone.
  • Support remote staff: PaaS delivers open source tools through the cloud to ensure that developers within an organization can work together on projects regardless of where each individual is located geographically.
  • Manage the application lifecycle: PaaS web applications leverage the power of cloud computing to provide capabilities that make it easier for users to support new applications from start to finish. This includes the steps required to build, test, and deploy the app, while managing it and updating it as required down the road.

What are the Challenges of PaaS?

No cloud-computing solution is free of challenges. PaaS delivers challenges to users that range from security to integration issues. Some of the challenges facing PaaS users result from their own infrastructure and software, while others arise from the PaaS provider. These challenges include:

  • Security: The security of user data should always be carefully considered and scrutinized regularly to ensure it meets standards. As PaaS solutions store some data offsite, there is always the potential for a lapse in security. However, with the right provider, this can be minimized. A private or hybrid cloud solution for PaaS can also help avoid security challenges.
  • Infrastructure: As mentioned before, PaaS does not entirely replace a user’s infrastructure even though it comes with the basic offerings of IaaS. The existing infrastructure a company has may not be suitable for cloud computing which can present challenges for developers when it comes to deployment and integration.
  • Lock-in risks: PaaS typically comes with the operating system, language, program, and interface chosen by the provider which can have an unnecessary impact on user operations if it does not match with their own hardware and software.
  • Limited scalability: While IaaS offers great scalability to users, PaaS is a little more rigid by comparison. It is not as easy on a PaaS platform to expand or reduce solutions based on business needs, which can have a negative impact on scalability for companies that face high-demand surge periods during the year.

How Do You Choose a PaaS Provider?

There are a variety of IaaS, SaaS, and PaaS providers out there in the current environment. When you are looking through competing PaaS providers it is important to understand the questions and concepts to consider that will help set them apart. Some factors to consider include:

  • Regulatory: PCI, DSS, and Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) are two major regulatory demands that PaaS providers must adhere to and if these are ignored by the provider, it could result in fines for the user. Those fines could cost businesses more than the expense of upkeep for hardware and software solutions or even more robust cloud services like SaaS.
  • Control: For users who take advantage of PaaS on a public cloud, the hardware environment could deliver less control over the resources required for application development. As such, developers could run into problems building, testing, and deploying applications.
  • Storage: Public clouds could typically provide users the flexibility to scale storage and data maintenance solutions, but users will want to be sure that if more storage space for application development is required that it can be accessed quickly.
  • Essential services: It’s important to remember that PaaS should meet five essential services for all developers. This includes application development, database, integration, support, and security services. The application needs of a user should match the services provided by the PaaS vendor.
  • Portability: PaaS is delivered as either portable or vertical solutions. Portable PaaS is available independent of IaaS services and offers open source solutions that can move between public and private clouds easily. Vertical PaaS solutions combine IaaS and PaaS services smoothly, but are not portable. Microsoft Azure is one such example.
  • Frameworks and Languages supported: Perhaps most important, a users’ preferred development languages and frameworks should be supported by the PaaS provider.

How is Billing Typically Handled?

As with SaaS and IaaS cloud solutions, PaaS platforms offer a pay-as-you-go model for most services. This means that users can pay for the application development features, software solutions, and hardware infrastructure needed to support their operations.

How Does PaaS Compare to Internally Hosted Development Environments?

SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS all provide a different environment compared to internally-housed solutions. When it comes to PaaS and application development environments, PaaS platforms provide users the flexibility to access open source, web-based solutions for application development without worrying about downloading software onto internal hardware, maintaining the security of that software, or dealing with the constant updates. All of this is handled by the PaaS provider.

Additionally, while PaaS does not entirely replace a company’s entire IT infrastructure, it does provide solutions and additional infrastructure accessible via the web that frees up resources to focus on the job of application development. Rather than spending additional capital on new hardware and employees to maintain it, companies access those resources via the cloud as a more affordable solution.

Why Do Developers Use PaaS?

PaaS occupies a space in cloud computing just below SaaS and is ideally suited for application development needs. Developers are provided with the platform required to develop and deploy software solutions. This can be done without worrying about operating systems, server software, and underlying server hardware and security needs. PaaS is built on top of virtualization technology that makes it possible for developers to focus on scalability, as well as the building, testing, and deploying of software applications.

What is an Example of PaaS?

Salesforce is one such example of Platform as a Service. Its PaaS cloud model provides the hardware tools for application development hosted over the web and relieves the burden those solutions might place on existing, onsite IT infrastructure within a company. As such, developers can work in a web-based space rather than downloading and installing platforms, or other software applications.

What Businesses Use PaaS?

Businesses of any size can leverage the advantages of PaaS, SaaS, and IaaS solutions. From enterprise businesses to small companies, PaaS offers an affordable solution. While it is suitable for various industries, most PaaS solutions are used by application development companies. Application developers require flexible solutions for computation processes, storage infrastructure, and software solutions to power the development process. Whether a company is a large enterprise or small team, PaaS offers a collaborative environment in which developers can work together through the same platform.

PaaS is also suitable for other enterprise and small business scenarios. For example, the analytics and business intelligence solutions PaaS provides allows companies to analyze and mine data, and then use that data to discover insights and patterns. This data analysis provides information that can be used to predict outcomes, improve forecasting, inform product design decisions, and help guide other business decisions. PaaS can also assist with workflow, directory, security, and scheduling needs.