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AWS blurs the lines with PaaS and IaaS

Expert opinion varies as to whether PaaS and IaaS have converged. However, one thing made clear is that the services have blurred lines with the standard AWS cloud offerings.

Don't get too comfortable in the AWS cloud. Things just might be changing.

Amazon Web Services, pioneer of the cloud-based infrastructure as a service, is starting to offer services that some might say feel -- and act -- more like a platform as a service.

If you're confused, you're not alone. Since AWS arrived on the scene in 2006, the cloud platform has been known as the low-cost and relatively low-frills service for developers. For the early adopters, that strategy made sense, said Microsoft's James Staten, chief strategist in the cloud and enterprise division. But today's entrants to the cloud market are different, with perhaps fewer technical resources or less patience and desire to tinker with the infrastructure. Also, AWS has competition from PaaS-friendly providers such as Google App Engine and Microsoft Azure.

So, is AWS just blurring the lines between IaaS and PaaS? Or is it creating a true IaaS and PaaS hybrid? What are the options for customers looking for more PaaS on AWS?

The answers depend on whom is being asked. But opinions aside, the market is changing. In 2013, the combination of IaaS and PaaS accounted for 59% of installed cloud workloads, according to the Cisco Global Cloud Index. But by 2018, IaaS and PaaS are going to account for only 41% of those workloads with the big loser being IaaS (from 44% to 28%). Clearly, the pressure is on.

In a piece for the now-closed GigaOm Research, analyst and consultant David Linthicum, senior vice president for Cloud Technology Partners, said that it's not even a question that IaaS and PaaS have converged. With PaaS players like Microsoft and Google offering "deep IaaS" services and AWS having new PaaS offerings, "It's hard to determine where the IaaS stops and the PaaS begins, or the other way around."

AWS is definitely blurring the lines. Right now users have to be more in the weeds than they necessarily would prefer, so Amazon is working hard to reduce the plumbing work.
Rich Morrow,founder and cloud architect, quicloud

But whether AWS is really blurring the lines between IaaS and PaaS or just doing a better job of curating services is debatable, Microsoft's Staten said. "One of AWS' biggest problems is that there are so many services, it can be completely overwhelming for a new-to-the-cloud customer to figure out where to go and what to do," he said. "I see it as AWS offering more curated services and sort of blending PaaS with IaaS, so that depending on the type of customer, they can easily find and use what they need."

AWS is challenging to use, and "we think Amazon is thinking hard about how to remove the barriers to its infrastructure," said Kris Bliesner, CEO of consulting company 2ndWatch, an AWS partner. "What customers are finding on the AWS infrastructure side is pretty raw," he said, and of course that's one reason companies turn to AWS partners for help. But for those looking for do-it-yourself cloud, "AWS doesn't have many packaged goods or off-the-shelf options, and that's where the company is investing right now." Bliesner said it's really all about the customer. "Amazon has a lot of customers in the middle that need an infrastructure and a platform, and there is room for both of those. It's not necessarily encroaching on Amazon's capabilities to see some blending of the traditional. People are going to start to ask what's infrastructure and what's platform."

AWS is simply not one offering any more, asserted Rich Morrow, founder and cloud architect at quicloud. "AWS is definitely blurring the lines," he said. And it's good news for customers. "Right now users have to be more in the weeds than they necessarily would prefer, so Amazon is working hard to reduce the plumbing work."

But not everyone is ready to look at AWS as a hybrid IaaS and PaaS platform. "The whole PaaS thing is really a moot question," said Goran Kimovski, principal cloud architect at TriNimbus, which is in AWS' partner network. "There are services like relational databases that Amazon offers that are fully managed for you by AWS, but that's not PaaS; that's managed services," he stressed. His reasons? Customers are free to start with the PaaS-like Elastic Beanstalk, for example, but they can grow out of it and go to OpsWorks and then at some point move to CodeWorks. In a traditional PaaS environment, that ability to easily move to a different service doesn't exist, he said.

Or to put it another way, "Amazon has one cloud offering -- Elastic Beanstalk -- over in a corner," said Ernest Mueller, product manager at Idera Software and a blogger at the Agile Admin. "Compared to Google App engine, with its automatic setup, load balancing, storage caching and more -- it's just put your code up and use everything. I really don't think the lines are blurring yet [on AWS]."

Ilja Summala, CTO of Nordcloud, disagreed. The AWS partner has seen customers jump onto AWS but then back off because it is too difficult and too expensive to use. Bringing PaaS functionality is a no-brainer, particularly since AWS is aggressively courting enterprise customers. "For enterprise customers, this offers the most flexibility and a better cost model," he said.

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This was last published in April 2015

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What are some challenges you've faced when using AWS cloud?
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Using the IaaS and PaaS definitions are convenient for analysts or people new to the space, but they are somewhat relics of many years past. The discussions really should be about platforms and services, without regard for the layered approach. Developers tend to think in terms of services and how to link together services (through various methods). If you look at AWS from that approach, as opposed to IaaS vs.PaaS, you'll soon realize that they have a platform of basic services (EC2, S3, RDS, EMR, etc.) and they have been building a broad set of new services on top of that platform. In some cases the services are intertwined and interdependent, and in other cases they can be consumed independently. 
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