Platform as a Service, or PaaS, is yet another iteration of cloud computing that is disrupting the IT industry. For channel partners, PaaS solutions—which encompass hardware and software for developing and delivering applications over the Internet—can be used for a variety of purposes. In essence, PaaS is something of the middleware between infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and software as a service (SaaS), yet channel partners considering PaaS should know that some use cases are more popular and profitable than others.
In 2016, the PaaS market for channels is estimated to reach $5 billion, according to David Linthicum, senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners Inc., a cloud consulting firm. There are a number of factors propelling the market, chief among them are the need for fast application development, application and workload portability, data growth, and mobility requirements.
Historically, PaaS solutions have been aimed squarely at dev/test activities, allowing developers to spin up various environments to develop and test applications as needed. PaaS solutions provide “an easy way to begin the development cycle and deploy code, as well as easily scale both geographically and horizontally,” says Kirill Bensonoff, a managing partner at ComputerSupport.com, a Boston-based managed services provider.
As a development platform, a PaaS solution should include capabilities for code management, configuration, and programming languages. “PaaS enables developers to quickly create .NET, Java, and PHP environments, and gives them a front-end Web tier,” Bensonoff says. All that is needed to access a PaaS-based development environment is an Internet connection and Web browser; developers then pay on a per-usage basis.
Linthicum contends that channel partners go beyond dev/test and consider PaaS for ongoing operations as well. “Look at some of the enabling technologies that are add-ons, such as databases, security services, and governance,” he says. “They are just as important to app dev and test because, ultimately, operations need those technologies to support the applications ongoing.” (Linthicum mentions native cloud database technologies such as Cloudera or Amazon Redshift as popular examples.)
In effect, PaaS solutions can be used for production environments, enabling both application development and application hosting. “The channel can use PaaS as the endpoint, meaning that applications developed on PaaS are also going to be deployed and live on PaaS,” Linthicum explains. Using PaaS in this manner requires a spectrum of capabilities from testing, staging, and development to deployment and production. When relying on PaaS for production, channel partners must account for application management, monitoring, security, governance, and usage-based management. Using PaaS in production and ongoing operations provides many of the same benefits as dev/test activities—namely easy scalability, agility, and cost savings.
More specifically, PaaS is well-suited in situations “where systems or components of systems are relatively straightforward,” says Brian Gambs, CTO of Patient IO, a provider of care management software in Austin, Texas. “A website or API interacting with a database are [both] excellent cases for PaaS,” he adds.
As Gambs sees it, outsourcing the management of Web and database servers as well as storage and other commodity components of a software system can enable channel partners to deliver value-added services rather than dealing with the routine management of clusters, hypervisors, virtual and physical servers, and the like.
PaaS solutions are flexible in that they can be either public or private, and thereby appropriate for a large range of applications. “There are multitenant, low-cost public PaaS and highly controlled private PaaS,” explains Ian Plosker, product owner of AppFog, a provider of PaaS services that is owned by telecom company CenturyLink Inc., headquartered in Monroe, La. “Public PaaS is compelling to start-ups looking for a low-cost alternative to IaaS,” Plosker says. “With PaaS, you can get rid of managing the OS, patches, and all the middleware and only focus on developing the applications—you don’t have to worry about system-level monitoring.” In effect, only the platform needs management and not the individual applications, resulting in lower costs and increased agility, says Plosker.