Sorting through enterprise IT's PaaS options
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Organizations that have chosen true Platform as a Service have done so because it can deliver production applications for a small fraction of the cost and manpower of doing it themselves -- on-premises or on IaaS, they say. But a PaaS cloud architecture is still encountering enterprise hesitance.
Make way for PaaS
Part 2: IaaS infringes on acceptance of true PaaS cloud architecture
Choose Digital in Miami offers a digital marketplace platform that customers white-label as part of loyalty and affinity programs. When the company was founded three years ago, it evaluated some early PaaS options, and found that CloudBees integrated tightly with its continuous integration tools, including Jenkins test and the GitHub source repository, and enabled the firm to get its products up and running very quickly.
“PaaS gave us the flexibility to be very nimble as a team, to prototype quickly -- and to throw stuff away if it didn’t work,” said Mario Cruz, Choose Digital’s CTO and cofounder. It meant the company didn’t need to hire dedicated infrastructure and operations staff, and instead could focus on hiring developers.
“It’s like having a whole infrastructure team in-house, without actually having an infrastructure team,” Cruz said. Without CloudBees, he estimates that he would have had to hire eight infrastructure engineers to support the 30 applications running on the platform.
Indeed, Platform as a Service has good uptake among development organizations that need super-fast time to market, said Matt Soldo, senior director of product management at Heroku. A typical customer is a marketing or media firm that needs to stand up a highly scalable Web or mobile application quickly, in response to an upcoming sponsorship opportunity, for example. Soldo said some customers have chosen Heroku for marketing campaigns running during high-profile sporting events like the Super Bowl and New York Marathon because applications running there can scale easily.
Those apps are time-sensitive, and require “a lot of upfront capacity planning in terms of traffic simulation,” Soldo said.
A PaaS cloud architecture is a logical choice for a technology-focused startup, but Choose Digital’s Cruz said enterprises can and should implement PaaS. “You don’t need to put everything there, but you want to put 100% of your development on PaaS,” he said, including testing, staging and quality assurance. “Once you’re there, there’s no turning back.”
Not surprisingly, PaaS providers say their platforms are a good fit for most types of applications.
“80% of what you build will run better on PaaS -- maybe even 95%,” said Sacha Labourey, CEO at CloudBees. That’s because the platform itself is built according to exacting best practices, and thus all apps running on top of it benefit. In contrast, most IT shops cannot honestly lay claim to providing a bullet-proof infrastructure layer.
“Unless you’re JP Morgan, the chances are that your best practices are actually just average practices,” Labourey said.
Specifically, Forrester’s Staten said PaaS is a particularly good fit for some mobile apps and business process workflows, such as filling out forms.
“These are lightweight applications that don’t require a lot of complex programming, and they use a lot of reusable components,” he said.
IT operations teams, meanwhile, benefit from their developers having access to a PaaS because it presents a single unified environment that spans development, testing, staging and production, said Bart Copeland, CEO at ActiveState, which offers a PaaS platform called Stackato that’s based on the open source Cloud Foundry.
Today, developers develop code on a desktop, and then pass it along to testing. But the services that the developer may have used initially may or may not be present in the testing environment, or in staging and production further down the road, he said. “There can be a lot of back and forth,” he said.
With PaaS, each member of the team has access to the same underlying services, which streamlines application development processes and minimizes the amount of time the operations team spends building and rebuilding various development environments.
“There are a lot of stories about IT and developers butting heads,” Copeland said. But with PaaS, “there’s more collaboration because IT is freed up.”
PaaS cloud architecture can be a tough sell
Still, many IT professionals in large enterprises believe that Platform as a Service is a non-starter in their organizations -- at least for now.
“I doubt technology groups at Comcast would want to give up control over their operating environment,” said Charles Hammell, an architect at Comcast Converged Products, a division of the Philadelphia-based telecommunications giant that uses Amazon Web Services Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). “It’s been hard enough getting people on board with IaaS -- that’s still a raised-eyebrow conversation.”
Further, most legacy applications simply wouldn’t work in a public PaaS, said Forrester’s Staten.
“Most enterprise apps are big, monolithic components. They just aren’t designed right,” he said. “If you try to put it on the public cloud, it’s going to fall over all day long.”
As such, Staten said enterprises shouldn’t even think about trying to port legacy applications to PaaS, but rather limit PaaS to greenfield development.
In the meantime, existing IaaS players are ratcheting up the number and type of services they offer.
“PaaS is too big of a step change for people to make incrementally. People still care about machine instances,” said Pat O’Day, CTO at BlueLock, an IaaS cloud provider. “We see demand for a sort of ‘IaaS plus’ ” -- IaaS plus a handful of services, such as identity management, database, object storage, DNS and content networking.
Amazon Web Services leads the way in terms of number and scope of platform services. At last count, AWS offered 33 major services, CTO Werner Vogels said in his keynote at AWS Summit in New York in April, with more on the way. Those services run from the mundane (load balancing and storage) to the exotic, for instance Amazon RedShift, a petabyte-scale data warehouse service, and Amazon Elastic Transcoder, for scalable media transcoding.
Other IaaS vendors are trying to follow in the those footsteps. In April, for instance, Rackspace Hosting added mobile cloud stacks to its cloud offerings to speed up mobile application delivery, and it acquired Exceptional Cloud Services for its error tracking and its as-a-Service version of Redis, the open source key value store. Sooner rather than later, every legitimate IaaS provider will offer a whole lot more than barebones infrastructure resources, infringing on the value proposition that a pure-play PaaS provider tries to offer.