PaaS technology saving time, money, changing application development

Platform as a Service is billed as a saving grace for development teams, but adoption is slow and a leading cause is a misunderstanding of what the technology does.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) has been talked up as a must-have for enterprise development teams, but adoption of PaaS technology has not kept up with the hype.

Ask any PaaS vendor about adoption and most will give the same response about PaaS application development – we’re still explaining what it is and how it works. Gartner has suggested that PaaS adoption rates will grow, but also acknowledges that many major vendors won’t have fully formed platforms until the end of 2012 or even 2013.

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“[Vendors] are focused on talking to customers and explaining how PaaS can fit their needs and how they can really take advantage on PaaS,” said Krishnan Subramanian, principal analyst with Rishidot Research and a cloud computing author.

PaaS application development makes life easier for developers

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, etc.,” 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.”

Hérault is not alone in having more time to spend in development. Matt Fischer, director of engineering services at Boston-based staffing firm Bullhorn, started working with a PaaS in an effort to realign the goals of his development team.

“Our core competency is application development; we are not a technical operations or cloud operations team,” Fischer said.

Fischer said that the 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 and it ended up being a long-term fix for his problem. He offers simple advice for development teams in the same 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.”

PaaS application development cuts out the operations middle man

Paul Burns, a consultant with Fort Collins, Colo.-based analyst group Neovise, believes that PaaS application development has not only set developers free in terms of eliminating monotonous work, it has 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 is centered on developing and deploying new applications. He believes that PaaS technology has not only changed his development life from a time management perspective, but 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 has also forced them to consider new problems. Hérault said that one of the first questions he would have of a PaaS vendor would be about lock-in.

“Can we do platform independent code? I don't want to do specific PaaS development,” he said.

From a management perspective, Fischer also believes PaaS has helped him better redistribute limited IT resources. All cloud technologies share the selling point of lower startup cost and ultimately less 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.

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