PaaS application development: Key factors to keep in mind

In this feature, former SearchCloudApplications editor Adam Riglian delivers an introduction to application development with Platform as a Service.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) has been talked up as a must-have for enterprise development teams, but experts and vendors say actual adoption of PaaS technology hasn't kept up with the hype.

Ask any PaaS vendor about adoption, and you're likely to get a response along the lines of "we're still explaining what it is and how it works." Analysts from Gartner Inc. and elsewhere have suggested that PaaS adoption rates will grow, but the researchers also say many major vendors won't have fully formed platforms before the end of this year.

Currently, vendors are focused on "talking to customers and explaining how PaaS can fit their needs and how they can really take advantage of PaaS," said Krishnan Subramanian, principal analyst with Rishidot Research LLC.

Making life easier

PaaS technology has been positioned as a way to eliminate all the hassles of development, allowing developers to build and deploy applications without having to worry about anything else. For Jérémy Hérault, a France-based Java developer and an early adopter of PaaS, those ideas became realities. "[Developers] are just developing; we are doing our real job. [There is] no installation or tuning of database, application server, et cetera," said Hérault, a self-described technophile who enjoys dabbling with new technologies. "We select which kind of environment we would like to have and then we go for coding. It's 100% of the time on development."

PaaS is offering applications scalability for few costs, so we have the possibility to get scalable environments for our applications.

Jérémy Hérault,
Java developer

Hérault isn't alone in having more time to spend on PaaS application development. Matt Fischer, director of engineering services at Boston-based recruitment software vendor Bullhorn Inc., started working with a PaaS in an effort to realign his development team's goals. "Our core competency is application development; we are not a technical operations or cloud operations team," Fischer said.

His development team needed a scalable and seamless way to deploy to the cloud, but didn't have the time or the skill to handle all the tedious labor that went into it. He shopped around for a PaaS vendor, an effort that ended up providing a long-term fix for his problem. He offers simple advice to development teams that are in a similar position: "Identify what your core competency is as a development organization," he said. "I think most will come to the realization that the infrastructure to support and maintain a development environment is a distraction."

No more 'middlemen'

Paul Burns, a consultant with Fort Collins, Colo., analyst group Neovise LLC, believes that PaaS application development has not only freed up developers by eliminating monotonous work, it's also allowed them to skirt the operations team when the time comes to test the application.

"It's DevOps, this concept of how you automate and streamline all these activities for developers so that you're saving them time or removing their dependency on the operations team," Burns said.

Most of Hérault's work with PaaS application development is centered on developing and deploying new apps. He believes that PaaS technology has not only changed his development life from a time-management perspective, but has also changed the way he designs applications.

"PaaS is offering applications scalability for few costs, so we have the possibility to get scalable environments for our applications," Hérault said. "Therefore, we have to think differently about the design of our applications."

While PaaS has challenged Hérault and other developers to think about how to build applications with scalability in mind, it's also forced them to consider new problems. One of the first questions Hérault would have for a PaaS vendor would be about "lock-in," or the lack of application portability: "Can we do platform-independent code? I don't want to do specific PaaS development," he said.

From a management perspective, Fischer believes PaaS has helped him better redistribute limited IT resources. All cloud technologies share the selling point of lower startup cost and, ultimately, lower cost in general -- if done correctly.

"If I have that budget to spend on resources, I should be spending that budget and that time on developers who are going to be innovative," he said.

This was first published in July 2013

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