Oracle Magazine spoke with Tim Jennings, research fellow and chief analyst at Ovum, about evolving platform-as-a-service (PaaS) technologies and requirements.
Oracle Magazine: What is PaaS, and how does it fit in today’s enterprise IT environments?
Jennings: PaaS provides a way to develop, deploy, and run applications in the cloud. When you survey the cloud marketplace in general, think of it as three layers. Infrastructure as a service [IaaS] includes the fundamental hardware and operating system layer. Software as a service [SaaS] includes the application portfolio. PaaS is everything in between: programming languages; development tools; deployment facilities; security and identity management services; integration services; and a wide range of application services for analytics, mobility, social computing, and collaboration. Increasingly, PaaS also handles transaction management, scalability, and failover.
Oracle Magazine: What types of applications benefit most from PaaS deployments?
Jennings: Collaborative applications involving engagement with customers, employees, and business partners are particularly well suited to PaaS for a couple of reasons. First, it’s very difficult to predict the load in advance for these applications, which makes it hard to know how to size the supporting platform. PaaS delivers incremental functionality that can scale as you bring more participants on board, and you can get development services up and running quickly without having to overinvest in the platform. For example, an automotive parts manufacturer had the opportunity to create new supply chain apps to facilitate collaboration with its suppliers. Relying on a PaaS provider allowed them to pilot the application with three or four suppliers and then scale up with demand. In another instance, a regional council in the UK built a large cloud data center to attract startup companies to the region. Offering PaaS capabilities made it easier for these startups to get started.
Oracle Magazine: What should organizations look at when evaluating PaaS?
Jennings: Organizations want platform services that let them create and deploy applications quickly, with the ability to integrate data and processes between cloud systems and on-premises systems. Ultimately you want to be able to use the same database, middleware, and applications in the cloud as you use on premises. Having a consistent set of services makes it easier to migrate your apps to the cloud and back again because there are fewer application modifications required. Having portability between cloud and on-premises systems in both directions is becoming a big issue as enterprise adoption of PaaS increases.
Oracle Magazine: How does PaaS respond to new user modalities such as social networking and mobile computing?
Jennings: Organizations are very keen to have business applications that are more dynamic and incorporate new types of mobile, analytic, and social capabilities. It is more efficient and powerful if these capabilities are built into the PaaS so they can be leveraged and shared by multiple applications. Mobile computing is a good example. Supporting a mobile workforce requires accommodating a variety of devices, development platforms, and standards. Having a PaaS platform manage all of that for you is a big advantage. In some cases, it’s easier to move your business applications to the cloud where you can utilize the mobile, social, and collaborative aspects of the PaaS platform than it is to create these new application services from scratch.
Oracle Magazine: What standards and frameworks are important when you are migrating applications to PaaS?
Jennings: It’s crucial that you have standards-based middleware services so you can make use of your existing identity management framework, directory services, integration technologies, and so forth. The same goes for social networking and mobile services. Does the provider utilize standards to ensure portability, or are you locking yourself into a proprietary platform? What are the options for integrating other cloud services? How can you access your on-premises applications from your cloud applications? You need to think carefully about these issues. The PaaS provider may offer something that initially looks appealing, but how well does it fit with your overall social strategy? For core transactional systems, you must be very careful about the language, frameworks, and APIs that the cloud provider uses.