Shifting cloud patterns in the PaaS zone

Are the lines between PaaS, IaaS and SaaS beginning to blur, as some experts believe?

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Shifting cloud patterns in the PaaS zone
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By  Adrian Bridgwater Published  March 11, 2014

Cloud computing has been subject to overhype and hyperbole to the point of confusion during its early ascendancy. Users have been perplexed over such fundamental issues as where cloud services come from, when and why they are used and just how safe they are.

In reality, the cloud is just a server in a data centre with great connectivity and superb hardware infrastructure around it to protect it and connect it. It also has additional layers of so-called “intelligence” in the form of management software designed to execute a plethora of different tasks, vertical market functions and incremental services.

How is the cloud built?
In theoretical terms, it gets even simpler as we dive deeper. Just like the desktop computer or mobile device in your hand, cloud has a logical architecture with lower infrastructure, operating system and applications. The difference is that all of these elements are “virtualised” such that they exist in terms of them being pieces of defined data, code and instructions.

Whereas your office or home PC has an infrastructure with a physical processor, disk storage, input/output channels, memory, networking components and so on, the cloud infrastructure model “describes” (in the geometrical sense of the word) an instance of cloud with a defined proportion of all these elements inside a flexible pay-per-use model. This, quite simply, is Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS).

You can see where we are going here; just as your PC has an operating system platform upon which applications are installed, the cloud Platform-as-a-Service layer has everything needed to support the cloud applications in their Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) state on top.

Which parts matter?
But what is really inside the PaaS layer? Are the boundaries between IaaS, PaaS and SaaS changing as some of the larger cloud players seek to dominate the market by blurring the definition of each distinct layer in a bid to win one-stop-shop sales deals? What are the core advantages of operating with a PaaS framework in your newly cloud-powered company IT stack, and how should you take advantage of these factors?

The first answer here is that PaaS offers freedom, i.e. the core operating system on the PaaS can be changed, upgraded, augmented or potentially even replaced completely. More realistically, most customers select a PaaS configuration and stay with its basic form, although perhaps exercising the freedom to test new deployment options in segmented areas (or new cloud instances) where needed.

A fully enriched PaaS can feature not only the operating system, storage and network access controls; there is also room for application runtime libraries, a database management system and a server-side scripting environment for bespoke programming.

Put simply, the PaaS moniker covers a lot of ground. At its broadest, it’s almost a generic term for web APIs. At its narrowest, it’s a set of programmatic interfaces to a specific hosted application, i.e. it’s essentially a way to extend SaaS. This is the view of Fayçal Saile, general manager for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META) region at Red Hat.

Low-level cloud plumbing
“Perhaps a better definition of PaaS is that it is the abstraction that lets developers focus on writing, running, and managing applications without having to unduly concern themselves with ‘low-level plumbing’, such as provisioning and tuning operating system images. It’s a means to make developers more productive by letting them focus on developing, rather than having to worry about the requisite infrastructure. Given that context, it’s not surprising that most initial PaaS offerings were hosted services. After all, a hosted service is almost always going to serve as an easier and preferred on-ramp for developers who don’t want to worry about operational details,” he says.

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