Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) is a cloud computing model that supports the building, testing, deploying, and managing of web applications.
The modern business IT landscape is complex. Providing internal and external users with reliable IT solutions takes extensive hardware, software, and computing resources—often beyond what most organizations can afford to field on-premises. Cloud computing provides a solution. By leasing IT services and solutions via third-party providers, businesses can enjoy the advantages of advanced computing without having to build and maintain the necessary infrastructure.
Along with infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) is one of the three primary models of cloud computing.
The different cloud-computing models are defined by how much each option brings to the table. Designed to support and enhance an organization’s IT capabilities, each model can be thought of as providing a different level of service: IaaS provides the most-limited support and resources, while SaaS provides a much-more comprehensive set of services. IaaS sits between the two. Different computing models also satisfy different business requirements.
Here, we take a closer look at each option, including the option of not using cloud computing at all:
On premises (also called in-house) computing is an approach to IT infrastructure in which the individual or organization takes full responsibility for all hardware and software, including the financing, installing, managing, updating, and replacing of each component. Additionally, the management of scaling, functions, configuration, security, and any other aspects of IT also falls to the company. On the other hand, there are no imposed limitations on what the organization can do with its own IT, and it always has unfettered access to its own data.
In-house computing represents the highest level of responsibility as well as the most complete approach to data freedom. It also demands a significant amount of time, effort, and operating costs to effectively manage all the various aspects of IT infrastructure. Cloud computing exists to free up focus and essential resources, allowing businesses to outsource key services and capabilities to third-party providers on a pay-as-you-go basis.
IaaS (sometimes also called hardware as a service) takes a handful of key responsibilities off the organization’s plate. Infrastructure services, such as storage, virtualization, servers, and networking can be leased as needed, and providers charge client organizations through an on-demand payment model. The user is still responsible for other aspects of IT infrastructure, such as operating systems, applications, runtimes, middleware, and data. Customers can run the systems and applications they need, while the vendor maintains the physical hardware.
PaaS significantly increases the number of outsourceable IT resources. In addition to those offered by IaaS models, PaaS provides runtime, operating system, and middleware support. This is still not a complete cloud solution; the client takes responsibility for their own data and applications.
Where PaaS is most beneficial is in simplifying the resources needed to code, build, and manage custom applications. Developers and programmers will often rely on PaaS solutions to provide a ready-built environment for app development. Using built-in software components, and without having to worry about updates or hardware maintenance, organizations can create frameworks and build customized web applications. This significantly reduces the amount of code that in-house developers must write themselves, allowing them to manage their available time more efficiently.
The most-comprehensive cloud computing model, SaaS handles essentially every part of the IT infrastructure. Simply put, SaaS delivers an entire, complete application to the cloud client. This includes taking over full responsibility of data, runtime, operating systems, middleware, virtualization, storage, servers, and networking. The provider also handles updates and general maintenance; the user only needs to connect with the application using a web browser, dashboard, or API.
As previously mentioned, different cloud-computing models are better suited for different use cases. PaaS is easy to run without detailed system administration knowledge, can be accessed by multiple users, and is extremely scalable. And, because it is built on virtualization technology, it eliminates the need for costly on-site hardware management. This makes it an ideal solution for fulfilling business need in several scenarios:
Probably the most widely recognized use case for PaaS is application development. PaaS provides a complete framework that developers can use to build cloud applications, either for internal or external users. PaaS is generally presented as a no-code or low-code development solution, where those with limited or no coding experience can assemble pre-built components to create effective software programs.
Going a step beyond application development, PaaS solutions also make it possible for organizations to automate complete business processes. By employing PaaS solutions to create effective digital workflows customized to the needs of the organization, businesses can automate approvals, notifications, and record operations, all without in-depth coding.
Working within a PaaS platform, organizations achieve a clearer, closer look at their data. They can identify trends, more accurately predict outcomes, and gain insights into important business decisions. Built-in analytics tools ensure that no essential data goes unanalyzed, bottlenecks are identified, and no opportunities for improvement are missed.
While the basic definition of PaaS remains consistent, there are two different kinds of PaaS to be aware of.
The more-common form, public PaaS provides services to paying clients. These services, solutions, and tools are accessible over the internet. Providing middleware and other resources, public PaaS allows businesses to build applications and processes without having to manage the requisite infrastructure.
While, at its heart, cloud computing relies on off-site, third-party vendors to supply the necessary infrastructure, enterprise PaaS takes an in-house approach. Using their own servers, networking, and middleware to deliver application tools and resources, businesses employing enterprise PaaS maintain stricter control over data security. However, they also absorb the costs and responsibilities of managing the entire IT infrastructure.
There are several clear benefits to using a third-party PaaS cloud computing model. These advantages include the following:
The traditional pay-as-you-go model of cloud computing can mean significant cost savings for businesses. Rather than having to cover the full expenses associated with installing, maintaining, and managing on-site servers, organizations can pay only for the services they need. Additionally, as needs change and the organization grows, PaaS easily scales with it. This frees up cost, time, and talent, which can then be reinvested towards other priorities.
Whether rushing to meet customer expectations or trying to pivot internal business capabilities in response to an emergent situation, there is no downside to faster app deployment. By handling much of the legwork of software development, new applications and products can be created, tested, and deployed in a fraction of the time needed for traditional on-premises solutions and tools.
PaaS cloud vendors rely on their ability to help organizations create accessible applications. As such, most providers include tools for developing apps across every platform. Rather than having to build and train development teams for mobile, desktop, tablet, etc., businesses can create a single software solution that can then live and work on whatever platform the user prefers.
Despite the advantages PaaS offers, certain organizations may find that it is not the right choice to meet their needs. Consider the following potential disadvantages of PaaS:
Most cloud providers understand that their own continued success depends on their ability to protect their customers’ sensitive data. Still, the fact remains that when an organization relies on cloud vendors, they give up a certain amount of control over data security. Businesses with strict security standards may find that some cloud providers fail to meet requirements. That said, most cloud vendors employ stricter and more-effective security measures than the businesses they cater to.
Cloud services need to be able to function effectively with existing organizational infrastructure. Unfortunately, with the existence of legacy systems and the wide variety of IT infrastructure designs that a business may be built upon, easy cloud integration is not always possible. Making the necessary changes to facilitate infrastructure alignment may be prohibitively expensive.
Power outages, maintenance problems, hacks, or other emergent events can interrupt access to third-party providers. Businesses that depend on these vendors have little control over unexpected downtime but may suffer the consequences as essential tools become unavailable.
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