PaaS: platform as a service at a glance

PaaS is the abbreviation for platform as a service. This term refers to a cloud service through which the provider supplies a development environment as well as tools for developing new applications. PaaS is therefore particularly useful for developers and software companies who want to create and publish new programs or apps quickly and easily, without having to take care of the required infrastructure themselves.

What is PaaS?

In cloud computing, PaaS represents a link between "software as a service" (SaaS) and "infrastructure as a service" (IaaS). While IaaS only provides the infrastructure that companies need for their work, PaaS goes one step further and offers a package of useful tools so you can start developing apps. This means, you can design, test, revise, and deploy the product to your users: all this is possible with platform as a service.

Well-known platform as a service solutions include Salesforce's Google App Engine (GAE), Microsoft Azure, and force.com.

Definition PaaS

The service platform as a service (PaaS) enables customers to rent a virtual platform on which they can develop, test, and deploy web applications for users.

How is PaaS structured?

PaaS’s offerings consist of basic infrastructure such as servers, operating systems, storage space, and middleware, i.e. programs that interconnect multiple applications. In addition, there are resources such as development tools, programming languages, database management systems, and container techniques. The various solutions contained on the platform are either the provider’s proprietary developments or come from third parties. Their purpose is to enable customers to develop new web applications quickly and conveniently.

If you use PaaS, you no longer have to worry about buying and managing the infrastructure or purchasing the solutions required for development, but can focus completely on programming your application and on your customers. The resulting programs can then be made available as software as a service via the cloud. These can be, for example, commercial apps or internal software that are only intended for use within the company itself.

How does PaaS work?

With platform as a service, you basically develop your product as you would in a self-built development environment. Once the code is created, you transfer it to the platform, where it is deployed and executed in a container that meets the resource requirements. Here, you can see changes instantly. Many PaaS services are able to run multiple versions of a program at the same time e.g. you can create live test environments or execute roll backs from previous versions.

Web hosting services are a simple example of how platform as a service works. As a customer, you create the code and enter it into the web hosting service. This executes the code and displays the web page you created. You don't have to worry about storage space, maintenance, or database setup. However, PaaS offerings can also be much more complex and include many other features.

What are the special features of PaaS?

If you use platform as a service, only certain programming languages are available. So you need to choose a provider that supports the languages you use. Pay close attention to the requirements of your own project and which programming languages are used by the individual PaaS solutions.

Also consider what services you will probably need in the future if the applications you develop are successful and generate more traffic. Your service must remain stable even in the event of a sudden influx of users – poor performance has a negative impact on your company because it leads to long loading times. And this in turn leads to customer dissatisfaction.

The services you book can usually be upscaled, but the price increases as well. You should consider these costs before choosing a provider.

When is platform as a service used?

In addition to app development, there are other application areas in which PaaS is frequently used:

  • For example, to develop or extend new programming interfaces (APIs)
  • It can also be used to analyse extensive data to better predict demand for specific products
  • Paas can also be used to access or set up a business process management platform that stores business rules or service level agreements
  • The platform can also be used to manage critical business data and provide an overview of data, even if it is stored redundantly on different systems
  • In addition, platform as a service can act as a communication platform to deliver voice, video, or messaging content
  • As Database PaaS, the service is also used for automated databases
  • The Internet of Things, in particular, is considered to be a future growth area. This plays an important role for cloud services, as PaaS environments are also suitable for developing new applications that can be used for the Internet of Things.

Types of PaaS

In view of the wide range of platform as a service solutions on offer, it is hardly possible to assign clear categories to these. This is because the individual models sometimes differ greatly and are tailored to different needs. Nevertheless, there are certain characteristics that can be used to identify different types.

For example, a distinction is made between application PaaS (aPaaS) and integration and governance PaaS (iPaaS). The first model describes the deployment of apps that have a graphical interface for operation. For example, this could be a program for internal use in the company that employees can access and use via the cloud.

iPaaS, on the other hand, aims to integrate cloud services, with the platform ensuring that middleware is no longer required to provide applications. An example of this is the Anypoint Platform developed by MuleSoft.

The pure application provisioning, on the other hand, allows neither the development nor the testing of apps, but only their operation.

In addition, there are the open PaaS offers. This refers to applications such as Google App Engine, which make it possible to work in an open source environment and for which the programming languages, databases, servers, or operating systems are not predefined.

As mentioned above, there are also platforms that are used for communication purposes. This type is called communications platform as a service (cPaaS).

Advantages and disadvantages of platform as a service

Using PaaS offers developers many advantages. The main advantage is that development is much faster and easier, since you don’t have to purchase and manage your own infrastructure. Products can be brought to market faster. Performance is also scalable: like with other cloud services, you can flexibly expand or reduce booked capacity as needed. In addition, you save money because you do not have to pay for acquisition costs and you do not have to carry out maintenance and take care of updates yourself or purchase new software licenses.

The fact that the provider takes care of configuring the infrastructure is both an advantage and a disadvantage of PaaS. As a result, you have no control over the infrastructure and cannot implement features yourself. In addition, only the programming languages and tools made available by the provider can be used.

Another factor that should be considered when deciding for or against platform as a service is the fact that your project is more or less tied to the chosen development environment. A small project can be migrated, but for larger applications, when you move to a different platform, the code may not always be fully adopted and may need to be at least partially rewritten.

It is also particularly annoying if the chosen provider decides to discontinue its service or goes bankrupt. In order to minimise this risk, you should choose an established market participant that has already established itself on the market.