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PaaS: the key to a mature Cloud

Posted on 01 July 2012 by Pierre Picard

Rani Halimi, Cloud Architect, Bull

Rani Halim joined Bull in May 2003 and has held a number of positions as Technical Expert, then Skills Center Manager and Solution Architect respectively. For two years, he was involved in defining the technical aspects of the Le cloud by Bull ™ offering, as Lead Cloud Computing Architect.

When it comes to business IT, the elements that mediate between hardware and applications have always been the most obscure, the most complex but also the most essential to the smooth running of the information system. That is true today, and will still be true in the future – more so than ever – especially when it comes to the Cloud.

Using applications in SaaS mode is a useful. However being generic, they rarely have the rich functionality of internal tools that are configured to meet individual needs and honed as a result of real-life use. Using virtualized servers in IaaS mode is also useful, but it is not enough to fulfill the promise of more agile, responsive, pay-as-you-go IT. The real key to a mature Cloud that delivers all the potential value of this model lies somewhere between the two, with PaaS (or Platform as a Service) computing.

PaaS is effectively the middleware for the Cloud. It includes all the software components needed for enterprise applications, delivered and billed as they are used: application servers, databases and portals, as well as BPM, development, integration and security tools, and more. For the time being, though, the content of PaaS offerings is all too often blurred by lack of definitions, standards and clear path forward.

But the companies that have made the greatest advances towards the Cloud are already aware of the fundamental importance of this intermediate layer. When they send out invitations to tender, we see that they are no longer asking only for virtual machines and an operating system, but increasingly rich platforms, focused on production rather than not just development and, above all, accompanied by services.

From design to integration right through to operation and maintenance, implementing an IT platform – whether or not it is outsourced – effectively requires expert support for interface development, database administration, workload balancing… Before the fluidity, elasticity and simplicity promised by the Cloud can be achieved, a whole raft of technologies and processes have to be put in place between the IT Department and its supplier(s) and internal customers.

So very quickly adopting a PaaS approach can turn into a full-scale transformation project. What scope should it cover? What technologies? What should be done with existing systems? The same issues faced during any major integration project come up, and the support of a systems integrator/advisor is needed to assess the whole application portfolio. Which applications could be shared? Which are suitable for the Cloud? And what platforms do they run on? Full mapping is required before you can move on to the next stage, of choosing the most appropriate technologies and services.

Despite the uncertainties and difficulties, Bull nevertheless recommends that it is worth embarking on a PaaS approach right now. It is essential to gain experience immediately, so as to be able to take full advantage of PaaS when best practice has bedded down and standards have been established. Using pilot projects with a limited technical or business scope, IT Departments must learn how to operate in the Cloud, to create hybrid, integrated environments. They need to boost their skills, so they can interact more effectively with the business on the one hand (who are looking for the promised flexibility, responsiveness and service quality), and with Cloud providers on the other (who are interested in maintaining maximum uniformity).

Now is the time to start developing a culture and practices of an IT service that can become more streamlined through sharing (via the Cloud) while maintaining the specific characteristics that differentiate it. It could well be damaging to wait, because there is more risk of missing the boat when it comes to PaaS than of plunging in right now to test the waters.

Platform as a Service (PaaS). The capability provided to the consumer is to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created using programming
languages, libraries, services, and tools supported by the provider. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, or storage, but has control over the deployed applications and possibly configuration settings for the application-hosting environment.

Source: NIST.

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