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The primary reason for implementing platform as a service is to speed application development, testing and deployment. What factors should you consider when choosing a PaaS provider?
Before getting in to specifics, it's helpful to take a step back and think about how your organization is actually going to use a PaaS, said Jeremy Steinert, CTO at consulting firm WSM International. He tells clients to make sure they understand their workflow first. "You're going to want your PaaS development environment to match your production environment, and it's going to need to scale," he explained. "But you also need to make sure you've planned out how you're going to hold all the pieces together so you can tie in what's on premises to what's in the cloud."
It's also important, Steinert said, to ensure everyone is comfortable with the entire premise of a PaaS -- essentially that you're handing over control. "It helps if you have operations people and developers that can both have insight about what is going on in the cloud."
If you've checked off the bigger picture concerns, it's time to look at the details.
"Selecting a PaaS depends on many factors, but I would start with four," said Tom Henderson, network and cloud researcher at ExtremeLabs. "These are which specific development tools and languages your organization prefers to use, whether a low-code or no-code scenario is a better fit, whether or not you want others to manage the development infrastructure and compliance issues, such as whether the data needs to stay inside your corporate firewall."
A choice of language
Steve SubarCEO, TempoIQ
An IT development staff is likely to favor a PaaS provider that offers language-intensive tools. After all, coders like to write code, and full access to language tools provides the maximum degree of control over data, security and the overall user experience.
When it comes to those language-based development tools, the list is long, including Python, Ruby on Rails, .NET, Java, Node.js, PHP and plenty more. "As companies move to more complex cloud deployments, the need to work with multiple languages and a mix of stack components increases," said systems architect Dan Sullivan. "In such cases, a multilanguage and multiframework PaaS offering makes sense."
No-code approach right for some
Not everyone needs -- or is capable of using -- language-based coding tools. For line-of-business departments lacking deep IT expertise, a PaaS that provides a less-daunting path to app development and deployment is perhaps a better choice. Progress Software, for example, positions its Rollbase platform as a way to build cloud applications in days rather than months.
Chicago-based TempoIQ, which updated its PaaS for Internet of Things (IoT) product in late 2015, is seeing adoption of its solution quadruple projections, according to former company CEO Steve Subar. "We are a no-code platform for creating analytics that leverage IoT sensor data," Subar said. "Honestly, we had no idea there was so much pent-up demand for a PaaS offering focused on IoT."
While apps developed with tools that require the writing of little or no program code (so-called low-code or no-code tools) may not approach the sophistication afforded by language-intensive platforms, their results may be good enough for departmental managers seeking more-modest solutions.
Nothing stands still in the cloud firmament, however, and one recent addition, Docker, should be welcomed, Sullivan said, noting that it can be a time saver for admins and developers alike. "In the long run, [Docker] should be seen as a complement to PaaS and [infrastructure as a service], not as a replacement."
Public vs. private PaaS infrastructure
Closely allied is the debate of whether to employ a private or public PaaS model, a question that cloud consultant Jeremy Steinert of WSM International said every client must answer.
In a public PaaS, development tools run over the public cloud on a vendor-provided infrastructure that includes servers, operating systems, databases and compute environments. Conversely, in a private PaaS, those tools run within a private cloud infrastructure managed by the subscriber enterprise's IT department. While private PaaS offers the advantages of total control over infrastructure design, choice of tools and data residency, some enterprises are instead turning to public PaaS provider as to get away from managing infrastructure.
"The most important factors are compliance and data security. This is where private PaaS services are generally the best solution," Steinert said.
A matter of compliance
Compliance is the assurance that an IT application or process conforms to an enterprise's requirements or to legislative mandates. The concept of compliance is essential in the handling of data, such as complying with corporate rules for email retention, or ensuring that policies for accessing sensitive customer or patient data are followed. Failure to follow those rules and mandates can lead to legal exposure and costly fines.
As for data security -- in other words, the infrastructure aspect of controlling access along with where data physically resides -- Henderson agreed that private PaaS is the better choice when data must reside behind the corporate firewall or in complying with data sovereignty laws that prohibit data from crossing international boundaries.
Both Henderson and Steinert suggest that PaaS should be looked at as part of an overall corporate cloud strategy. Identify and understand requirements, including types of development tools needed and data residency mandates. While one PaaS provider may offer better tools for developing new applications, another may excel at getting existing applications to run better in the cloud.
Unearth the layers of cloud ⇉
This article is part of a series that breaks down the different technologies that underpin cloud-based infrastructure. Navigate here to see the other articles.
Choosing a public PaaS provider
Picking a PaaS provider for security
What to expect with a private PaaS provider