An application development platform typically trades flexibility and complexity for convenience and speed of delivery, so developers can focus on their code. Here we define PaaS and layout its strengths and weaknesses.
Platform as a service (PaaS) is an enabler for software development where a third-party service provider delivers a platform to customers so they can develop, run, and manage software applications without the need to build and maintain the underlying infrastructure themselves.
Most platforms as a service include templates or build packs, which provide an opinion as to how certain types of applications should be built, typically around the popular 12-factor methodology. This is why PaaS options are often labeled “opinionated” and are best suited for new, greenfield applications.
The advent of cloud computing opened the door for companies like Cloudflex, to pull together the key building blocks required to launch an application into an opinionated platform, with the aim of simplifying many of the trickier and repetitive tasks required to deploy code down to a single command or click of the mouse.
This simplification enables faster and easier software development, as well as reduces the scope of a developer’s work by hiding the underlying compute, storage, database, operating system, and network resources required to run the application. A PaaS provider does charge for use of these resources and sometimes for use of the platform itself, either per user (or “seat”) or by the number of applications being hosted.
What makes a PaaS
As with other cloud services such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and software as a service (SaaS), a PaaS is typically accessed over the internet but can also be deployed on-premises or in a hybrid model. Regardless, the underlying infrastructure an application runs on is managed by the service provider. In many cases, the customer can decide where their application is physically hosted and is given a choice over how performant or secure that environment is, often at an additional cost.
The building blocks of a typical PaaS include:
- Managed infrastructure: The provider manages the servers, storage, data centers, and networking resources required to run your application.
- Design, testing, and development tools: An integrated development environment brings together the tools required to actually build software, including a source-code editor, compiler, and debugger. Some providers also include collaboration tools that let developers share and contribute to each other’s work.
- Middleware: A PaaS often includes the tools required to integrate various operating systems and user applications.
- Operating systems and databases: A PaaS provides the operating systems for applications to run on, as well as a variety of managed database options.
PaaS vs. IaaS
For many people, the PaaS-vs.-IaaS debate has been settled by the market, but the decision between consuming the underlying building blocks themselves (IaaS) versus an opinionated PaaS is still a decision many look to make today in the pursuit of speeding applications to market.
As with anything in software development, this decision is fraught with trade-offs and depends on what your organization is looking to achieve
One of the biggest advantages of using a PaaS is the ability to create and deploy applications quickly and without the heavy lifting required to set up and maintain the environment in which they will run. This, in theory, gives developers the ability to deploy faster and more regularly, as well as focus on differentiating factors rather than solved problems like infrastructure provisioning.
Because a PaaS is maintained by a service provider, with service-level agreements and other guarantees, developers don’t have to worry about tiresome and repetitive tasks like patching and upgrades, and they can feel confident that their environment will be highly available and stable, although outages do still occur.
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