What is Platform as a Service (PaaS) Explained

If you’re developing a web application, you might have heard of the three primary models of cloud computing: IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. IaaS gets you an infrastructure, PaaS provides a development environment to go with it, and SaaS is cloud applications for end users.

Rather than managing an on-premises data center of your own, PaaS lends you an application development environment to launch your application.

As a developer, PaaS is a way for you to deploy your web application quickly and efficiently to the internet to get it in front of an audience.

PaaS is an alternative to consider if you’re looking for something cost-effective and efficient for your developers as a business owner.

What is Platform as a Service (PaaS)?

Platform as a Service (or PaaS) is a cloud computing model for developers who want to focus on developing their applications by providing the resources they need in one package.

A PaaS solution typically includes a software development environment, middleware, operating system, database management, and infrastructure needed to maintain its life cycle stages.

Unlike IaaS, which only provides you with the resources you need, PaaS vendors take care of everything running behind the curtains for you.

This way, developers can focus on their business and improving their application instead of fussing over the general technical efforts needed for back-end processes, such as setting up servers and maintaining a database.

If you’re planning to build a web application, a PaaS solution should be something you’re considering, given the benefits it brings to the table. Some examples of PaaS providers are EngineYard, Heroku, Microsoft Azure, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, and Google App Engine.

As with other cloud platforms, there are three ways to deliver a PaaS solution: hybrid cloud, private cloud, and public cloud. Depending on your application and company, the cloud environment you need will differ.

How is PaaS different from serverless computing?

Serverless computing (or function as a service) is another computing model that is very similar to PaaS, mainly because both of them take care of the backend processes of a web application for developers.

However, there are a lot of differences between these two models. Here are three main ones:

Pricing

Both serverless computing and PaaS services love the pay-for-what-you-use pricing model. However, serverless computing relies on the number of functions run and the resources needed, leading to a much more precise pricing model than PaaS.

Companies running on PaaS need to configure the auto-scaling function beforehand, while serverless automatically counts how much ‘power’ each function needs by the millisecond and charges accordingly.

Although it seems like serverless computing is more cost-effective, that’s not always the case. For example, if you have an application with frequent and stable usage, you can actually end up paying more using serverless than PaaS.

Scaling

Thanks to its task-based model, serverless computing scales automatically. With Paas, you need to configure  it beforehand to make it scale automatically and can’t scale as quickly.

Serverless can scale up and down quickly because it’s task-based and can start a new function instantly and shut down any functions they don’t need just as quickly. In comparison, PaaS is slower to scale

You can also structure your application using either event-driven workflows or containers when using PaaS. Picking one over the other has its own consequences, but for scaling, containers scale faster than instances.

In the end, serverless offers an infrastructure-free experience, where you don’t have to think about your infrastructure at all. Meanwhile, PaaS automates the management of your infrastructure, but you still need to understand it and make some changes now and then.

You should also consider a hybrid PaaS-serverless build if you need something with the best of both worlds -- for example, when you have a large function that does better if using containers but still want to benefit from a serverless architecture.

Development Tools

Another difference is the development environment it runs with. PaaS is equipped with a full-set development environment for all stages of your application’s life cycle. On serverless, you’ll find a less complete toolset than the ones in PaaS.

When using both services, you depend on a third party to manage the infrastructure, database, and software. However, you have even less control over your development environment when using serverless.

If you’re looking for a platform where you can develop your application through all of its development stages and still have some control over your development environment, PaaS is the right choice.

What are the main offerings of PaaS?

PaaS providers manage and configure the resources you need to launch an application. The core PaaS offerings are development tools, middleware, operating systems, database management, and infrastructure.

Development tools

PaaS comes with the tools you need to develop, build, test, deploy, maintain, and update your application.

You can manage every stage of your application’s life cycle through PaaS, focusing your app management on one platform. Leading to a much more convenient and cost-effective solution than if you collect all of them on your own.

Some examples of tools included in PaaS are a code editor, debugger, compiler, and a framework. However, the programming language and framework supported depends on your PaaS provider, which is one thing to consider when picking a PaaS provider for your company.

Middleware

A middleware, often referred to as a ‘software glue,’ helps you connect applications, databases, and other tools. It translates the data moving through your system so applications with different communication methods can understand each other.

Operating systems

PaaS vendors provide and maintain the operating system you work on, and your application will run on.

Database management

Besides providing a database management system, PaaS vendors also help you administer and maintain your databases. Some examples of things they can help you with setting up clusters, replication, backup, and monitoring of your database.

Infrastructure

The infrastructure you get includes virtualization, servers, network, and storage.

PaaS vendors may offload this to an IaaS solution or manage their own infrastructure. Often, PaaS vendors also offer IaaS packages if they provide their own infrastructure.

However they manage your infrastructure, the point is you don’t need to actively get involved.

How PaaS helps developers

If you need something to quickly and conveniently develop your application, there is a lot to gain from using a PaaS solution.

Remote development environment

As PaaS is accessed through the internet, developers can work on their projects from anywhere worldwide using just their web browsers.

A remote app development team also means it’s easier for your developers to collaborate, as they can do it from anywhere they want. It’s easier for you to put together a team of highly skilled developers without worrying about location.

All the tools you need are centered on one platform, making it easier to manage your application’s life cycle.

Cost-effective

As a third party takes care of anything other than the application and data, your development team gets new abilities without hiring a new specialist.

Some PaaS vendors use a pay-as-you-go system, making it easier to control your finances. Others offer a flat fee like any other subscription-based services, but it’s still limited by how many resources you’re planning to use.

Using a PaaS also means you get access to a full set of development tools, which you normally have to gather on your own, at an affordable price.

Faster development

Using PaaS significantly cuts your coding time because you only need to focus on your application and data, and a third party manages your backend processes and IT infrastructure.

Often, Paas providers also provide development options for multiple platforms, making it easier and faster to develop cross-platform applications.

Restrictions for Developers Using PaaS

Although PaaS solutions are reliable, you’re still trading control for speed and convenience. There are some drawbacks you should expect when using PaaS to launch your application.

Security

While it has its benefits, handing your backend to a cloud service provider means you’re open to some security and compliance risks. Things get more complex if your vendor hands your data off to another third party, which means another company you need to investigate its reliability.

Investigating and testing your vendor’s security and compliance policy and any third party is a lot of work, but it’s necessary for your users’ safety. Security and compliance concerns are things you must handle if you’re using a cloud-based system.

Vendor lock-in

As requirements change, you need to adjust your system accordingly. When the decisions that led you to choose a specific vendor are no longer relevant, migrating to another vendor might be the logical choice.

However, most of your resources are managed by a third party, so moving your application might get messy without your vendor’s fair migration policy. It’s highly likely that this will affect your business and become a big event for your business and customers.

Dependency on vendor

Although it’s great that you have more time and resources to focus on your application and users, using PaaS means you depend on your vendors.

A lot.

For one, the performance and availability of your application depends on the resources used by your vendors.

Your application may even expect some unwelcome changes, including changes in efficiency, and expenses, due to a change in your vendor’s preferred tools and infrastructure. When your vendor changes their internal processes, you might need to update and re-configure your application to maintain your performance.

As a third party manages most of your resources, using PaaS takes away control over your development environment in exchange for convenience.

Try Engine Yard

A PaaS solution is the right answer for you if you need a full-packaged development platform to quickly launch your application.

Don’t forget to note the requirements that your vendor needs to fulfill, as they’ll come into play when you’re weighing your options.

For example, scaling options should be one of the requirements you consider when picking a PaaS solution for your app. Don’t rush and defer thinking about the growth of your application and the future of your company.

Before deciding, make sure your providers have your best interests in mind, whether you need the extra support of a DevOps team or just need experts to advise your internal DevOps team.

Navigating deployment alone can be confusing, frustrating, and all around meltdown-inducing.

Need some help?

Sign up for a free trial at EngineYard to get professional support from a team with more than 10 years of experience so you can get your app up and running as soon as possible.

 

should we mention here that PaaS orchestration can be based on containers or instances and the main differences between them? details can be a topic for another day. Containers

scale faster than instances

PaaS, Platform as a Service, NoOps, Engine Yard

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