Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a cloud computing model in which a third-party cloud provider maintains an environment for customers to build, develop, run and manage their own applications.
In a PaaS model, the vendor typically provides all infrastructure, including hardware and software, needed by developers. This allows the customer to circumvent costly IT infrastructure investments, as well as the need to purchase software licenses and development tools.
What are the differences between PaaS, IaaS and SaaS?
Before reviewing the PaaS model in detail, it may be helpful to provide an overview of the other two main “as-a-service” cloud computing options:
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): The provider manages the infrastructure for the customer, including servers, data storage and network equipment. The customer maintains responsibility for all other aspects of operations, including installation, configuration and management of software, apps, middleware and the operating system.
Software as a Service (SaaS): The provider completely manages an application for the customer. The application is hosted in a cloud computing environment that can be accessed by the subscriber. The application does not need to be installed on a device; rather, it is accessed via the internet or an application programming interface (API).
The key difference, technically speaking, between PaaS and IaaS is that the PaaS vendor will provide and maintain the software, hardware and tools used on the platform; in an IaaS model, these components are the responsibility of the customer.
Another critical distinction is related to how the PaaS or IaaS solution is used. The PaaS environment is used almost exclusively for software and application development. It is essentially an interface for developers to access software and development tools in a remote setting.
There are three main PaaS types:
- Public PaaS: A public PaaS solution allows developers to build, run, manage and deploy applications from a platform hosted in the public cloud. Generally speaking, a public PaaS environment is often the most affordable PaaS service option in that customers need not manage or maintain any aspect of the cloud infrastructure or development stack, such as the operating system, servers or databases. This allows developers to focus exclusively on application development. On the other hand, a public PaaS solution lacks the privacy and security that some organizations need.
- Private PaaS: Initially, all PaaS solutions were tied to the public cloud. However, as organizations became increasingly concerned with meeting strict security and privacy requirements, cloud providers such as IBM Cloud, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services have introduced more private and hybrid PaaS solutions.
- Private PaaS solutions offer customers the opportunity to customize their cloud environment and leverage their own hardware, a private data center or other asset according to their business needs or preferences.
- While the private PaaS model provides customers with more flexibility and enhanced security, it also creates a more complex IT environment. In some cases, customers must buy, manage and maintain infrastructure elements and ensure each component is properly configured within the larger framework. A private PaaS solution is also generally far more expensive than a public option because the cost of the cloud environment is not shared among users.
- Hybrid PaaS: Organizations can blend both public and private PaaS computing environments in a hybrid PaaS model. For example, a company could carry out application development and testing within the public cloud and leverage a private cloud to store sensitive data or complete transactions.
- The hybrid cloud model has become increasingly popular because it provides companies with a way to run and scale workloads in the optimal setting, as well as the flexibility to move workloads between different environments quickly and easily. You can read our recent post on hybrid cloud here.
Additional PaaS Solutions
In addition to the three main PaaS types, there are also several other specialty PaaS solutions:
- Artificial Intelligence PaaS (AiPaaS): A PaaS environment designed exclusively for the building of AI applications.
- Integration PaaS (iPaaS): A PaaS solution that is used to integrate applications, as well as organizational data, processes and solutions.
- Communications PaaS (cPaaS): A PaaS solution that allows developers to incorporate communications services, including audio and video calls, text-based chat or instant messaging, and social media, within the application development process.
- Mobile PaaS (mPaaS): A low-code PaaS environment exclusively for mobile app development.
How does PaaS work?
The PaaS environment consists of four main components:
- A graphical user interface (GUI) through which development tools are delivered
- A cloud infrastructure made up of storage, operating systems and virtual machines
- Product development software, including codes, debuggers and compilers
- Middleware that connects the user interface with the cloud
Because the PaaS solution provides developers with remote access to the development stack through the GUI, they can access and work on the platform from virtually anywhere in the world. Middleware enables development teams to work directly within the platform to build, test and launch applications. This work can be done simultaneously or asynchronously.
PaaS Use Cases
Most commonly, the PaaS environment is used to provide a framework for developers to build and customize cloud-based applications. This model provides many inherent advantages to the development team, including the ability to:
- Access the system and software from anywhere with an internet connection
- Develop applications without the hassle of maintaining hardware and software in their own facility
- Collaborate with other developers remotely
- Work simultaneously or asynchronously with other team members
- Roll out finished products
Due to pre-coded components and scalability capabilities, the amount of code needed when using a PaaS model is significantly reduced. This allows the organization to shrink the application development timeline and reduce errors by relying on tested and approved code.
The PaaS model has several other valuable business use cases. Other common ways organizations use PaaS include:
- Developing APIs that enable the organization to share data or integrate processes and services between applications, solutions or workflow tools
- Support Internet of Things (IoT) application development and data analysis
- Enable a “shift left” or agile development model
- Simplify the migration or replatforming of legacy applications in the cloud
What are the advantages of PaaS?
Organizations that use PaaS can expect to unlock the following benefits:
Workforce enablement: The PaaS environment is accessed via the internet. This means that developers can obtain the tools they need and work collaboratively from different locations around the world. This allows the organization to access a more extensive talent pool and engage their workforce across different time zones and geographies.
Cost savings: Rather than purchasing complete and expensive software packages outright, in the PaaS model, customers or developers pay a subscription fee determined by the resources they need. Similarly, developers can pay for more storage only when they need it. This eliminates unnecessary, wasted capacity during low-traffic periods and allows the organization to scale the environment rapidly to meet unexpected or occasional demand peaks.
Efficiency: PaaS platforms include pre-coded application components, such as security features and search engines. Developers can integrate these components into their applications, rather than coding these components from scratch. This often leads to shorter application or software development timelines, as well as fewer errors.
Access: Most PaaS models include access to a range of sophisticated development software and analytics tools that are supported by a wide range of operating systems, databases and middleware. By leveraging a PaaS model, organizations can avoid the need to purchase expensive software licenses, as well as the need to update and upgrade tools.
Cross-platform building: Many third-party vendors provide development options that enable users to deploy products more easily across multiple platforms. For example, most PaaS environments include mPaaS capabilities, which allow developers to optimize a traditional computer app for mobile devices. Special features such as video, phone call and text messaging can also easily be added to applications through cPaaS solutions.
Low risk experimenting: PaaS allows developers to experiment with various development tools and operating systems without having to make significant investments in new software, tools or infrastructure.
Improved time-to-market: PaaS includes the hardware and software that is needed to build and maintain the development platform. Once the platform is accessed, developers can start building immediately. This allows customers to develop and launch applications more quickly, which improves overall time-to-market, as well as time-to-value.
How to select a PaaS?
When considering a PaaS model, it is important for organizations to consider their business needs and objectives. While some businesses have relatively simple use cases in mind, others may require access to more sophisticated tools, advanced security measures and integration with a wide range of business systems.
Here are some helpful considerations when selecting a PaaS provider:
- What tools and software are available to developers in the PaaS solution? Do developers have the appropriate level of control over the environment?
- Does the PaaS offering support a global, multicultural workforce by offering a wide range of language settings and support?
- What security measures are in place to ensure data and cloud workloads are protected?
- Is the PaaS solution capable of scaling to meet future business needs? Is the technology sufficient in keeping up with the high demands of the number of applications, number of users and growth of the company?
- Does the PaaS provider have a reputation of being trustworthy and reliable with its customers?