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PaaS cloud computing: Best practices and strategies

Platform as a Service is on the cutting edge of the technology frontier and strategies are emerging that explain how best to use it.

Working on the technology frontier is surely thrilling for those involved, but it’s also a difficult environment without standards or rules.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) application development is on that frontier. It is a relatively young area of cloud computing, one that is still being evangelized by vendors and studied by developers and business decision makers. It has the potential to be a force in the cloud economy, but is also an enigma at this point, largely misunderstood in part due to aggressive cloudwashing.

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With any emerging technology, there are calls to create a set of standards, best practices and strategies around it. It has not happened formally with PaaS cloud computing yet, but there are plenty of people working in the field who are willing to offer their own advice on how to use PaaS in the enterprise.

Krishnan Subramanian, principal analyst with Rishidot Research and a cloud computing author, has plenty of advice for developing applications with PaaS. At the top of the list: Make sure to build applications for the cloud.

“Make it more compartmentalized, make it more modular and develop your apps in that way,” Subramanian said. “That will let you take advantage of the distributed nature of the cloud.”

Exploring PaaS’ application development potential
He added that a lot is still misunderstood about PaaS cloud computing in the developer community and plenty of evangelizing and educating work remains. That education is twofold -- explaining how PaaS works and how to develop applications for the cloud.

Subramanian believes developers need to change the way they do certain things when designing applications for the cloud. He thinks developers need to not only make their applications more modular, but to design them for varied performance. “Build for failure,” which is becoming a mantra among cloud developers, is crucial, according to Subramanian.

If build for failure is a mantra, than DevOps is quickly becoming a new religion. DevOps refers to the practice of combining an IT department’s development and operations to create better communication between the two and rapidly increase the speed at which applications are developed and deployed.

Paul Burns, an analyst with Fort Collins, Colo.-based consultancy Neovise, believes DevOps is an important part of working with PaaS cloud computing, because both the methodology and the technology are aimed at saving developers' time and removing their dependencies on the operations team.

Subramanian also suggests that developers should keep their code and database simple, and find a way to store data so that it can scale. He also believes developers must look to the future and build their applications with tomorrow’s standards in mind. This means planning for portability and interoperability.

Jeff Kaplan, managing director of Wellesley, Mass.-based consultancy THINKstrategies, believes that one of the best approaches the enterprise can take towards PaaS -- or most any cloud technology for that matter -- is to take it out for a test drive via a pilot program.

“The whole beauty of this business is the opportunity to pilot or incrementally invest in a SaaS app, IaaS or PaaS alternative,” Kaplan said. “A lot of people who have been in the industry for a long time are frightened of making a move because they think they have to make a big bet. If there’s a best practice, it’s that the cloud frees you from that.”

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