Platform as a service (PaaS): What businesses need to know

The cloud computing landscape is incredibly diverse with a broad range of vendors each offering their own unique features. One of the best ways to ways to get to grips with this is to break it down into the most prominent cloud models: software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). In this post we’ll examine the latter and how modern businesses are using it to gain a competitive advantage.

What is PaaS?

Platform as a service is a cloud computing solution that enables businesses to develop applications and services over the Internet. Most often, PaaS resources are accessed via a web browser, with the development tools hosted with the PaaS provider. This allows businesses to access the developer tools they need without having to purchase and install hardware and software in-house.

As with most other examples of cloud computing, platform as a service is supplied on a subscription basis, meaning that businesses can avoid prohibitive upfront costs. The price that businesses pay will usually depend on the number of employees that will need access to the platform and also which features they will require. Many PaaS offerings are flexible in that businesses can pick and choose the development features that are relevant to them.

Some of the most common PaaS features include operating systems, database management systems, server software, storage, design tools and hosting capabilities. It is also important to note that PaaS is useful for web developers, offline software developers and businesses generally. While developers can use PaaS to test and deploy their applications, businesses can also create ring-fenced environments in which to test their own in-house deployments.

More than just tools

As suggested by the name, platform as a service is more than just an out-of-the-box development tool. As part of their ongoing subscription fee, businesses will also receive additional support from their PaaS provider. For example, the PaaS vendor is charged with maintaining and securing all of the software development tools at the customer’s disposal. If a business was to start its own software development project from scratch they may need to purchase new hardware and software and set up security protocols like access management. With PaaS, businesses can simply log-in through an online portal and focus on application development.

Another important feature of PaaS is the way in which the cloud services are constantly updated. It can prove extremely costly and time-consuming to overhaul in-house IT systems, but with PaaS, upgrades occur on a regular basis. It should also be straightforward for developers to request changes to their PaaS offering - for example, if they wish to develop for a different operating system. Collaboration is also a major aspect of platform as a service. Vendors can help developers across all points of the development cycle from the idea stage to deployment.

Risks of using PaaS

However, there are some possible drawbacks of using platform as a service:

  • Integration – Integrating PaaS solutions with in-house IT systems, particularly legacy tools, can be challenging. Even if businesses do successful integrate their PaaS service, it could lead to an increase in IT complexity.
  • Vendor lock-in – As with other instances of cloud computing, vendor lock-in is a risk when adopting PaaS. Businesses will be relying on their vendor’s infrastructure and software and switching to a different supplier can be challenging. It is vital that businesses take their time before committing to a PaaS vendor, making sure that their business goals are aligned.
  • A lack of control – With PaaS, businesses are trusting their cloud supplier with their application development platform, but this trust is not always rewarded. PaaS downtime, for example, is completely out of your control, but can have significant consequences for your software development cycle. Also, if your provider suddenly changes its business trajectory, stopping the support of a particular programming language for example, development can be disrupted.
  • Security concerns – Although the reputation of cloud computing is improving all the time, some businesses may not feel entirely comfortable hosting their applications with a third party. Businesses dealing in sensitive datasets may be subject to greater regulatory scrutiny and may not be able to adopt PaaS for compliance reasons.

The reasons behind PaaS adoption

The platform as a service market is estimated to be worth $2.8 billion and is expected to reach a value of $68.3 billion by 2026. The growth of this industry is connected to the development of cloud computing generally, and infrastructure as a service in particular. The majority of business that deploy PaaS, are also implementing IaaS.

One of the major benefits of PaaS is that it opens up the software development process to include experts and non-experts alike. Because the features of a PaaS solution can be as complex or simple as required, many platform as a service tools allow anyone to develop software. The use of point-and-click frameworks mean that technical know how is no longer a barrier to turning a great idea into a great application.

For businesses looking to embrace platform as a service it is important to remember that it will not solve all of your development issues. Organisations are still tasked with the creation, testing and deployment of their applications. Even with the support of your vendor, there remains plenty of work to be done in-house in order to create software that meets your business objectives. That being said, PaaS, when deployed correctly, can be a great way of streamlining the development process and allows businesses to access powerful tools that may have otherwise been out of reach.

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