PaaS: Platform-as-a-Service Is Catching On

By | May 23, 2012

Once upon a time there was simply "the cloud." It was off in the sky somewhere, providing server capacity you could rent instead of buying and managing. But the varied needs of IT have brought forth a sky filled with public, private, and hybrid clouds, all offering a broad range of service options.

Among these, platform-as-a-service (PaaS) is gaining traction as a means for application developers to focus on their applications, while being able to take the (virtualized) operating system largely for granted. For IT managers at midsize firms it means that finite available resources can be concentrated on creating value, not providing essentially generic services.

The Task at Hand

Until recently, most private and hybrid clouds were limited to infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). In this approach, resources such as processing and networking are presented as services, but they still closely approximate the underlying physical server environment.

By contrast, PaaS offers another layer of abstraction, providing greater simplicity to the developer. And as reported by Gordon Haff at CNET, this approach is starting to win a place in the data center.

For developers, this means that they can devote their energy to application development in the language of choice. This may be C++ or a scripting language, such as Perl. The underlying support for the code--compilers, libraries, and so forth--are, in Haff's phrasing, "somebody else's problem."

Like everything else in IT life, this comes with tradeoffs. For example, you cannot tweak operating system settings to make code run faster. But for many application developers, this is a small price to pay for a take-for-granted operating platform.

Allocating Resources

PaaS first emerged as largely public-cloud options, such as Google App Engine or Microsoft Azure. But the IT community is showing growing interest in implementing it in private clouds. In part, as Gartner's Richard Watkins notes, it is an elegant way to enforce platform standardization.

For IT departments at midsize firms, these advantages are enhanced by the need to allocate finite resources in the most effective way. These IT shops are generally not large enough to fit everything under one roof. Human resources in particular are granular: A C++ guru is probably not also going to be an operating system maven. So unless optimizing applications to fit a particular operating environment is a key requirement, the ability to concentrate on hiring the best application developers can be a considerable advantage.

In the broadest picture, the IT ecosystem continues to get richer, offering a wider variety of options to IT managers at midsize firms.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

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