This post discusses the value added and the benefits of Platform as a Service (PaaS). It explains how this type of cloud service removes important pain points and how it delivers high quality services at an attractive cost level.
PaaS differentiates the public cloud providers from private cloud providers. It is a strategic differentiation, as the large public cloud providers keep adding these services in every functional domain. As a consequence, the chasm between public and private clouds will only grow further.
This post describes what benefits you can expect from deploying PaaS and what steps you need to take.
Data centers house an increasing number of overhead functions
Software is eating the world; more and more of what companies do, depends on software. Software manifests itself to users as applications and many of these applications run on servers in data centers. One would expect that the number of servers a company is running scales proportionally to the number of applications used. After all, servers are the horses pulling the application carriages.
Sadly, there is hardly a relationship anymore between the applications used in a company and the number of servers it operates. Over time, the number of infrastructural and maintenance functions required in a data center has exploded. Most of these functions also need to run on servers. Consider the server footprint of one of our customers, a medium-sized company. More than 40% of its servers were of an ‘overhead’ nature. These servers were taking care of security, virtualization and network functions. They enabled image management, tooling for patching and monitoring, etcetera. Unfortunately, such statistics are in no way atypical.
Application servers are a bit like an exotic animal in a zoo. In order for the animal to live and prosper, a large number of supporting functions need to be put in place: dietitians, vets, breeding specialists and food suppliers…
A tale of two zoos — Great Legacy and Futurama
Once upon a time, there was a city with two great zoos: Great Legacy and Futurama.
Great Legacy, the incumbent
Great Legacy had a long illustrious history and believed in organizing everything in-house. As its CEO bought more exotic animals to increase the attractiveness of the zoo, the operational strain grew. Because each animal species required its own specialists: a vet, a food supplier, appropriate living quarters. Therefore, the introduction of a new species implied the recruitment of the right specialists or the training of existing specialists in the particulars of the new species. However, finding and training specialists for exotic animals was time-consuming and expensive. Moreover, the CEO expected all this to happen quickly and efficiently. First and foremost because Futurama, its competitor, kept broadening its assortment of animals at breakneck pace.
Futurama, the disruptive start up
Futurama was a much younger organization. From the start, it had realized that it was too small to organise every aspect of its business on its own with high quality and efficiency. Furthermore it wanted to stay agile and avoid being locked in with high investments. These considerations were especially relevant for exotic animals. For this reason, it had contracted Zoo Platform Services (ZPS) as a supplier.
Zoo Platform Services, the public service provider
ZPS serviced thousands of zoos around the world. It had a huge portfolio of animals allowing each customer to build their own unique offering. Even in the case of exotic animals like platypuses, ZPS had the scale that allowed it to build teams of specialists who knew everything there was to know about the animal. In the case of more common animals, ZPS did pioneering research and offered the gold standard in animal care. For example, lions cared for by ZPS lived longer and remained healthier compared to any other lion care provider. As a result, using ZPS to care for your lions minimized the risk that events involving lions had to be cancelled. It also strengthened your animal care credentials.
A desparate competitor
As competition with Futurama heated up, Great Legacy started organizing breeding for rare species. It started borrowing animals from other zoos for this purpose. Consequently, the need for in-house expertise increased further. However, new specialists were too expensive to recruit. Furthermore, specialists wanted to work in teams with other colleagues specializing in the same field and Great Legacy needed just one specialist in each field. To make things worse, many times it could offer only a part-time contract. As a consequence, it became increasingly difficult for the Great Legacy zoo to compete against Futurama on both quality and cost…
Two competing zoos and three complementary cloud delivery models
Software as a Service — best, but may not be available or suited
By now, Software as a Service (SaaS) is an established business model in many industries. SaaS is the business and operational model by which a software supplier offers an application as a subscription service. The supplier arranges the housing, hosting, technical maintenance, security and compliance and all software licenses and updates to use the application.
It would be ideal for an organization if all of its applications were made available via the SaaS delivery model. However, it is highly unlikely this will ever be achieved across all industries and sectors. A SaaS supplier needs a minimum scale of users to operate. As a consequence, there are many applications that do not reach the critical mass to become affordable as SaaS. Furthermore, there are applications where tailor-made adaptations for customers, integration requirements or technical (legacy) constraints do not allow the delivery via SaaS.
Infrastructure as a Service — if SaaS is not available
In cases SaaS is not available, an alternative is running the application in the private or public cloud, using the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) delivery model. Under IaaS, the customer outsources the housing and hosting of its application to a cloud provider. This provider provides servers as a service in the form of virtual machines including secure access, backup and disaster recovery.
The customer benefits by not having to organise data center housing, setting up and maintenance of hardware or virtualization software. However, in this model the customer still has to organise all other activities. For example, server software patching, monitoring, database management, load balancing, server security and application maintenance.
Platform as a Service — the advantageous medium between SaaS and IaaS
In the last decade, the public cloud has developed a type of service that fills the gap between IaaS and SaaS offerings: PaaS. When we look at the infrastructure of an organization in the private cloud, we find components such as database servers, load balancers, operating system software patching solutions, server monitoring solutions, file servers, active directory servers, data warehouses. All these components run on servers that need to be set up, monitored, backed up, patched regularly, and so on. Furthermore, the different life cycles of these individual components need to be managed. The large public cloud providers now offer these functional components as bundled, managed platform services — hence Platform as a Service, or PaaS.
For example, if you run an application server in the public cloud, you do not need to set up a database server, a data warehouse server, a separate server for antivirus protection, another server for monitoring, another server to manage software patches, another server or a virtual appliance to have a load balancer. All of these functions are offered to you as one integrated PaaS component by the public cloud provider. Other examples are PaaS services to create a high quality and versatile Digital Workplace and PaaS services for efficient Data & Analytics solutions.
The many benefits of deploying PaaS
PaaS services are similar to exotic animals in a zoo, delivered with all relevant expertise as one service. The PaaS model removes the hassle and complexity involved in setting up and operating the various IaaS components that would be required. At the same time they increase flexibility and transparency.
Deploying PaaS services offers many benefits versus building solutions using IaaS:
- No setting up: no need to organise a project and find the engineers with the required expertise. You don’t need to purchase software either, set-up the platform (including all sub-components) or document the solution.
- Rapid move from decision to implementation: these services are ready to go out of the box. This also mitigates several migration risks.
- No maintenance: the cloud provider manages the PaaS service. Backups, updates, monitoring, continuous improvements and life cycle management are all part of the service.
- No compliance risk on all required software licenses during the lifetime of the service.
- Transparent pricing: no need to build a model for charge through. Because the pricing is based on a straightforward pay-as-you-use model. There are no sub-components, complex licenses or investments to aggregate or allocate.
- Extremely high SLA out of the box.
- No security compliance risks during the lifetime of the service.
- Flexibility: given the low entry and exit barriers, it is very easy to scale up and down their use.
- Pay as you go: you only pay for what you are using.
- Peace of mind: ensuring high availability and smooth operation is very difficult in the IaaS model.
When making choices, make PaaS an important selection criterion
Moving components from IaaS to PaaS has a positive impact. It reduces complexity and enhances efficiency, reliability and security. In the example in the introduction, the company moved all infrastructural machines to PaaS.
How can you take advantage?
Map your applications against SaaS services and identify which applications can move to this delivery model. The remaining applications have to be run on IaaS or PaaS.
- Select a single hyperscale provider to run your IaaS and PaaS services. Because spreading IaaS and PaaS services across multiple providers increases complexity and is rarely beneficial.
- When selecting the best provider for your IaaS and PaaS needs, make sure you understand what PaaS services are offered. The breadth and depth of PaaS offerings vary greatly between AWS, Azure and GCP . There is no uniform public cloud market; providers have different offerings, qualities and cultures.
- Once you understand what each provider has to offer, determine which provider best fits your current and future needs. Don’t underestimate the importance of future needs when selecting a provider. Optimizing on the short term rarely leads to the best results over the mid term. Another criterion is how much you can minimize the use of IaaS by deploying as many components as possible as PaaS. This will also accelerate your cloud adoption and reduce risks.
Gartner observed that “customers these days are seeking to buy from an IaaS+PaaS provider, rather than buying just pure IaaS”. Consequently, they enhanced their Magic Quadrant to include PaaS. As hyperscale providers keep adding PaaS services, the chasm between public and private cloud will only grow further. Therefore, it is obvious why Futurama selected ZPS to support its ambitions.