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Essential Characteristics of PaaS

PaaS is a cloud service model and as such should meet the NIST essential characteristics for cloud computing

There's been a lot of discussion on the Internet about the definition of Platform-as-a-Service. Here's just a few very active Twitter discussions to illustrate the level of activity and passion over the topic:

This is just a few of the hundreds of tweets returned when I queried "Paas" and "definition". The interesting thing is that the sheer breadth of the discussion makes it very difficult to nail down exactly what it is.

Gartner Group's method of responding to the madness was to develop their own taxonomy of PaaS, which seems to have been very helpful for them in organizing their research, but, in contrast to many other things Gartner has led on defining, their PaaS taxonomy has not really caught on with the cloud community. The Gartner taxonomy breaks things out based upon the primary functionality of the platform, such as application development, business process management and event processing. However, this dichotomy actually impairs their ability to abstractly define the essential characteristics of a PaaS.

At a minimum, PaaS is a cloud service model and as such should meet the NIST essential characteristics for cloud computing, which are:

  • On-demand self-service
  • Broad network access
  • Resource pooling
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured service

The question then becomes what are the essential characteristics that follow on from these? Some that come to mind include:

  • Support binding and unbinding from composable multi-tenant services. This binding can be explicit as it is with some of the container-based PaaS or implicit through the use of APIs.
  • Enforce scaling of platform services. In the case of container-based PaaS, the user has the option of having their application also participate as a service and, thus, be managed by the container's scaling capabilities.
  • Ensure appropriate authorization for use of given services.
  • Provide a means for monitoring and ensuring the health of the platform and its services.

Putting the above list together was an exercise in remaining non-exclusionary. It's easy to think about all the great capabilities that container-based PaaS provides and add those to the list, but container-based PaaS is not always the best option for existing workloads that were developed as silo applications stacks. It also doesn't account for the platforms that deliver platform extensibility, such as Force.com and NetSuite.

To keep me pure of heart, I leveraged my three archetypes of PaaS that I presented in my PaaS workshops at Cloud Connect. These are presented as follows:

Application Infrastructure Platform

API-Based PaaS

Container-based PaaS

As much as I would have liked to add characteristics, such as, manages application lifecycle, supports routing of messages into and across services, etc. that clearly would have been establishing a bias toward container-based PaaS. The above archetypes provide a wide berth against which to select the best architecture for a given cloud application and keeps the established characteristics to those items that are common across all PaaS archetypes.

More Stories By JP Morgenthal

Mr. Morgenthal has over 25 years of experience in Information Technology spanning multiple disciplines including software engineering, architecture, marketing, sales, consulting and executive management. He has specializations in multiple industry verticals including: banking, brokerage, retail, supply chain management, healthcare and Federal. Mr. Morgenthal also has technical specializations, and is considered a thought leader, in integration, enterprise architecture, service oriented architecture and cloud computing. In the role of Director, Mr. Morgenthal is responsible for furthering Perficient’s efforts in cloud computing with its customers through services development, sales force enablement and training, strategic account support and development of programs to drive cloud computing opportunities. Prior to his role as Director, Mr. Morgenthal was a Cloud Ranger with EMCC’s Cloud & Virtual Data Center service line. In that role, Mr. Morgenthal was instrumental in driving consulting opportunities for EMC around cloud and IT transformation, facilitating workshops and EBCs, and developing statements of work. Prior to EMC, Mr. Morgenthal designed, developed and operated one of the first Platform-as-a-Service for the supply-chain, logistics, multi-channel retail management, loyalty program management and payment cards. Mr. Morgenthal is the author of four trade publications covering topics of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Application Integration, Enterprise Information Integration, and Distributed Systems Management. He has also published over one-hundred articles and is a frequent blogger and has spoken at many of the leading conferences covering these technologies. He has a Bachelor and Masters Degrees in Computer Science from Hofstra University.