Platform as a Service has been pitched to development teams as a way to handle the operations work so that developers can focus on simply writing code. As Jérémy Hérault, a France-based Java developer, has put it: With PaaS, developers can spend "100% of the time on development."
But that's really just one aspect of a PaaS system.
Different platforms are designed for different things, and while all PaaS providers share the same underlying principles, not all excel at the same tasks. Vendors often focus on different aspects of the application lifecycle -- some on continuous integration and delivery and rapid deployments; others on managing apps once they are deployed.
Paul Burns, president of the analysis firm Neovise LLC, believes that PaaS has been used as too much of a catch-all. But he sees an increasing focus on moving existing applications to the cloud with a PaaS system. "You take an existing application and you make it run in a cloud environment and take advantage of some of the underlying capabilities like elasticity," he said.
New PaaS capabilities
These days, PaaS vendors are pitching more than just the ability to move existing apps into the cloud. Collaboration tools for distributed development teams, continuous integration and deployment tools and configuration management capabilities are among the features that are rapidly becoming standard.
These days, PaaS vendors are pitching more than just the ability to move existing apps into the cloud.
Burns works with many users who are interested in moving their existing applications to the cloud, but don't understand how to accomplish that goal. Many eventually go to a PaaS system, seeking out platforms with a focus on application lifecycle management, he said.
The industry, however, is still several years away from seeing widespread instances of enterprises moving their essential applications into the cloud, said Krishnan Subramanian, founder of Rishidot Research LLC, a research and analysis firm. "Nobody has really taken it to that level," he said.
Enterprises that are moving some applications to the cloud are hoping to gain "greater resiliency and interoperability with different environments" even if the applications weren't originally designed for the cloud, Burns said.
Hérault said his job has changed dramatically since the introduction of PaaS. He said developers now host source code and applications with a PaaS system and use continuous integration tools during the development and deployment stages.
Hérault believes PaaS has changed the way applications are managed, by centralizing and standardizing build and deployment lifecycles in one place for an entire development team. The centralization is part of what creates the speed at which cloud applications can be built.
Adding value to PaaS
Jeff Kaplan, managing director of the THINKstrategies Inc. consulting group, sees many PaaS users trying to extend the value of products they already own. While development is PaaS' most talked-about use case, other aspects of the application lifecycle may actually provide greater uses. "Most of them are basically extending the value of the core application that they already invested in. Salesforce is the clearest example of this," Kaplan said.
A company that has already invested in that type of platform is more likely to build add-ons to extend it, rather than developing and deploying new applications, he said. "It's similar to what we saw back in the client/server arena, but a lot simpler and a lot more economical, and [it’s] likely the success is higher as well."
He uses the example of an enterprise building its customer relationship management applications on a platform that is unique to its business and valuable to it specifically. Platforms that gain large third-party developer followings are often set up so they can add value to the platform and build applications on top of it.