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They just don’t quit. What are they going to “cloudify” and make “as a Service” next? We have Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which is pretty straightforward – you rent compute power, storage and network, as you need it by hour or by the minute. Then you’ve got Software as a Service (SaaS). OK, you get this, too. Instead of running and maintaining an application like email on your own equipment – the provider does it all for you. You just log into the app over the Internet as needed.

Well, there is a third kind of cloud – Platform as a Service (PaaS). Why should you care? Speed! PaaS enables faster deployment cycles and a more direct route to custom application development.

Let’s face it. In today’s competitive environment a key success factor is the speed-to-market. The organization that gets their innovation to customers first wins big.  We are not just talking just about the Uber’s of the world, here. This is the Ford’s, First Data’s, and Allstate’s. Your business is increasingly digital and that means your ability to translate your innovations through agile software development will directly determine your success.

OK, OK – you grumble – I have heard this speed argument made about cloud before but what is this PaaS stuff and what has it got to do with it? Think of the different cloud services as layers designed to support an application’s ultimate functionality to a user. Infrastructure (IaaS) is the foundational layer of machines and plumbing that the software runs on. But, to use it effectively, the application must select and manage the size of machines, storage and other things, and issue it a variety of commands.

That means the developer needs to understand the IaaS platform in detail – each vendor has slightly different functions and features – and then write those instructions into the application. But, what if we made it easier for the developer with prepackaged code he could leverage easily into his application build? That’s where Platform as a Service (PaaS) comes in. It short circuits that detailed understanding of the cloud infrastructure needed for the build since it already comes with all the needed elements. The developer can get an application up and running in less time. He can also more quickly iterate versions of the software to ensure all the business needs are met faster.  The result – you get your competitive edge faster.

Sure you say. Well, if it’s so good why haven’t I heard of this before? Excellent question! If you are not in IT you haven’t because PaaS has the smallest share of cloud offerings with only 7.4% share of the three (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS) according to Gartner.  It’s ironic, too, because when Microsoft and Google launched their cloud offerings in response to Amazon Web Services (AWS) IaaS offering, they led with PaaS.

Unfortunately, their timing was poor. First, AWS had been in the market since 2006 catering to developers and already had momentum. Secondly, their PaaS was very restrictive. Microsoft launched in 2010 and you could only do very Microsoft flavored solutions in the its cloud offering – in fact it was named Windows Azure.  Developers rebelled since they wanted the freedom to make their own choices of operating systems and databases. Market take up was slow and eventually Microsoft  saw the light and launched its own version of IaaS and opened it to all comers in 2014.

Fast forward to today. The market and offerings have matured and buyers have gotten more comfortable with using PaaS and attracted to the agility it brings. The “provider only” versions like those of Microsoft and Google are still there but independent pure plays like Pivotal, utilizing the open-source platform called Cloud Foundry, bring the advantages of PaaS without being tied to any one specific infrastructure.

Here is the attractive edge – if you develop an app in Cloud Foundry it will run on any infrastructure that supports it, and today, they almost all do including Microsoft, Google and AWS.  The result is faster speed to market plus the flexibility to deploy onto any cloud infrastructure.

So, consider this a heads up! You now know about the little guy in the world of cloud – Platform as a Service or PaaS. As we move faster and faster into being digital enterprises he might become one of your best buddies.

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