In March this year, analyst firm Gartner declared that 2011 would be the year of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). It predicted that all leading enterprise software vendors and cloud specialists would introduce new PaaS offerings, and that the “key PaaS segments will engulf the software industry”.
PaaS refers to the middle layer of the software stack, and it is the technology that negotiates between the underlying infrastructure and the overlaying application software.
“PaaS is simply an offering that provides enterprises with an externally hosted self-service application platform for building and running applications and services,” says Richard Watson, research director at Gartner.
“To be considered part of the PaaS market you have got to be able to provision a full application platform for developers to load code onto.
“The PaaS market is enormous. The major players include Microsoft with its Azure platform, Google with its App Engine, SalesForce.com with Force.com, and Amazon with its Elastic Beanstalk offering. A lot of niche companies and traditional middleware players are also vying to get into this market.”
Retailer Asos tests the cloud
Dan West, IT director for online fashion retailer Asos, has completed writing an application programming interface (API) into Microsoft’s Azure platform. The API is being used in a mobile application the company released this summer.
“I wanted to take a non-mission-critical application first to try PaaS, and the mobile app was a good opportunity to trial it to see how it could work,” says West.
“It wasn’t an existing application that we had to transition and migrate to the cloud, and so it made sense to start with a brand new initiative.”
Although the API is Asos’ first attempt at PaaS, West also had the Asos.com web site running as a proof of concept within the Azure cloud.
“The proof of concept is working very well. The benefits for us are all about global scale, speed to market, resilience and having a worldwide presence. However, we have to build confidence and trust in the platform before we allow the external public onto it,” explains West.
Asos hopes PaaS will allow the e-commerce site to reach global markets at a much faster rate than previously possible, and for applications to be easily scalable. Asos’ infrastructure currently sits in the UK, and West suggests that with growing international traffic this does not support a good customer experience because data requests will have to be relayed back to its local datacentre.
Microsoft’s Azure has regional hubs around the world, which consequently allows applications to be written into the cloud and then distributed internationally. West says this should improve latency and resilience.
Rob Bryant, partner at consulting firm Deloitte, suggests that global distribution of applications is a huge benefit for companies looking to move to PaaS.