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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Platform As A Service

9:28 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal No comments
Cloud computing is coming of age. Its increasing and widespread adoption, especially by the enterprises, is not a surprise to anyone who understands its benefits. The consumer side, as expected, had adopted the cloud much earlier, however, enterprises are catching up rather impressively as well. Nowadays almost every company uses at least one cloud-based application in one or the other way. While cloud computing is interesting in general, I found its PaaS (Platform As A Service) segment to be a major game-changer, especially for the enterprises (startups, SMEs or MNCs). 

PaaS is a type of cloud computing utility in which one can get the computing platform and the solution stack - such as the web server or application server - as a service for developing applications. Some of the leading players in this segment have gone even further and can provide pretty much everything you need as a service in a software development project, helping you manage the lifecycle end to end. So what makes PaaS so great? Well, since the early days of programming, developers have been dreaming about being able to only focus on development without having to deal with the fuss of underlying environments. Though middleware stack promised that, it never delivered. Now it looks like we are almost there. With a third party hosting and managing all your development needs, all you are left to do is, well, just development. And this is what makes PaaS a game-changer. 

With dedicated organizations hosting and managing your platform and servers, all you need to do is write some code or get some good developers. For enterprises, adopting PaaS and SaaS (end applications running on cloud) can help save a lot of investment in people, hardware, space and electricity. An efficient adoption of cloud computing can help organizations cut down costs drastically, increasing their bottom line - a rarity these days. These cost saving potentials of PaaS can have a huge impact on the whole IT outsourcing industry. Players in this space need to prepare themselves for increased PaaS adoption as it is an eventuality waiting to happen. Partnering with clients and helping them with the transition might be a better way to handle the situation than resisting or ignoring the change. For startups, PaaS has helped create a level playing field. A small group of smart developers can create a product that can compete with established organizations, because all they need to know is how to write software, the rest will be taken care by a PaaS provider. PaaS has effectively lowered the barriers to entry, and with technology used heavily in every industry and almost every company, old order is waiting to be disrupted. 

To be honest, PaaS is actually old news now. Technology players have already realized the potential of PaaS and with major players, including VMware, RedHat, HP and Salesforce, declaring full-scale war, Gartner had declared 2011 the year of PaaS. But even with major players jumping into this war and launching their PaaS products, the race is far from over. With a plethora of technology platform options and multiple providers for every technology stack, the market is very fragmented at the moment. Startups, for example, are doing fairly well in terms of PaaS products, perhaps even better than some industry veterans. Even the king of cloud computing, Amazon, does not rule in the PaaS segment. From here we can only end up in one of two ways (or probably both), either a dominant PaaS player will emerge, just like Amazon has for the IaaS (infrastructure) layer. Or this segment will remain fragmented with some big players and some sort of inter-cloud mechanism/standard/service emerging along the way to port solutions from one cloud to the other. 

With software becoming a key aspect of our daily life, I believe PaaS will reach greater heights when it will take the complexity out of the whole development process allowing common man to create and launch applications that suite his or her requirements. Though not exactly like that, Appcelerator's Titanium is a product in that direction. It allows web developers to use their knowledge of simple web development tools and technologies for making applications even for mobile and desktop platforms. I found it particularly interesting as instead of forcing web developers to learn new tools and technologies, it helps them leverage their existing knowledge. Future of such applications might have to be a cross between a PaaS and a SaaS, so that even common user can create complex applications using simple and intuitive user interfaces. Salesforce's Force.com is probably a better example of that. And things will only get better from here, the question, again, is not if it will happen but when. Irrespective of the time it takes to reach there, PaaS is a game changer that can disrupt not just companies or industries but also economies by giving entrepreneurship a big boost and allowing companies to improve their bottom-lines.

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