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Product and Topic Expert
Product and Topic Expert

A few years ago in Part 1 and Part 2 of It's Good to Have Your Head in the Cloud(s), I explored my personal usage of the cloud in order to better understand the role and strategy of "the cloud" in business.  At that time, I focused primarily on packaged cloud applications, many of which fall into the category of SaaS (Software as a Service) applications; basically, ready to use apps in the cloud.  This certainly helped me obtain a great deal of clarity around "the cloud" and the term SaaS now makes sense to me.  But cloud usage has grown exponentially and technology has changed and expanded just as quickly.  I now hear terms such as PaaS and IaaS floating around (yes, another pun intended) and, once again, I feel a bit "hazy" about the cloud.

In Parts 3 and 4, I will explore these new cloud domains from a personal perspective and see if I can once again make sense of them. 

The 'aaS'es

Before I dive into these FLAs (four-letter acronyms) called PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), I thought I should start by gaining some context around how these various 'aaS' (as-a-Service) components related to each other.  The best example I found was originally created by Timothy Hughes (@Timothy_Hughes) using pizza.  Yup, pizza.  More specifically, Pizza-as-a-Service (a different kind of PaaS).  The diagram below reflects 4 different methods of consuming pizza and, importantly, especially to me, who is responsible for the various aspects and materials that go into delivering the pizza experience.  On the far left is pizza made at home - it's all up to you, from creation to delivery.  On the far right is dining out - someone else does it all for you.  In the middle are two in-between options - take & bake and delivery - where the responsibilities are divided up depending on how much you wish to own (or not own).

The insightful visualization that Mr. Hughes created was correlating these pizza consumption concepts to 'aaS' concepts in the cloud.  Below is the same type of diagram, but specific to software in the cloud.  On the far left is on-premise (pizza made a home) - you take care of all aspects of the software including required hardware, connectivity, the software itself, and more.  On the far right is what we explored in Parts 1 & 2 - SaaS solutions that are ready to use (pizza dined out).  In the middle - options depending again on how much infrastructure and effort you wish to own. 

Before dissecting PaaS, I first took a pass at IaaS - Infrastructure as a Service.  From our handy examples above, I can see that IaaS basically correlates to someone else owning hardware while I deal with software (take and bake pizza).  One nuance though is that box called virtualization.  But that just means the provider is enabling me to running multiple operating systems on the hardware, like Windows and Linux, but I still need to manage them.  Overall, I think that is fairly straightforward.

Back to PaaS

Fantastic!  Now I understand, at least conceptually, how SaaS relates to PaaS relates to IaaS relates to On-Premise (whew!).  But I'm still a bit unclear on exactly what a PaaS is used for and when.  The image below depicts capabilities offered by SAP's PaaS offering - HANA Cloud Platform.  Wow, that's a lot of stuff - and it's the high-level view!  So I asked myself another question, "Do these platform services relate to me personally?"  And that's where I continued my exploration.

I started by grabbing the definition of PaaS from Wikipedia (the definitive resource, right?):

Platform as a service (PaaS) is a category of cloud computing services that provides a platform allowing customers to develop, run, and manage web applications without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching an app.

Huh?  Let's try to break it down a bit:

  • "a category of cloud computing services" - These sound like various types of tools to me
  • "provides a platform allowing customers to develop, run, and manage web applications" - Building stuff and using it!
  • "without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching an app" - Sounds like it handles the boxes from that IaaS thing in the image above but more

Sounds great, but tools to build and customize software have been around forever.  What's new here?   And why is a PaaS even needed?  In order to answer this question, I needed to back up and examine the bigger picture.

Transformative Reasoning

Another hot term I hear in business today is 'Digital Transformation'.  Seems to me like everything is already digital today, but when I stop and think about it, there are non-digital examples everywhere:  mortgage paperwork, applications, bills, and more.  So at first glance, this simply sounds like converting old physical processes and artifacts (e.g. paper) to their digital equivalents (e.g. digital form).  And while there are still manual, physical examples today, we have certainly seen an amazing array of digital transformation in our personal lives. 

Way, way back, even before the original PDAs (personal digital assistants) like the PalmPilot arrived, I actually used to carry around a little book that carried all of my contact information.  It was handy, but was hard to use - I couldn't "insert" records to keep them alphabetical, and if I left the book at home, I was out of luck.  Remember physical maps (yes they actually existed)?  Same problems, and flat out dangerous to try to use while driving.  When these functions went digital, it wasn't just about creating the same experience in digital form.  The digitization of contact data enabled us to transform how we could interact with the data - we could now search it, automatically dial phone numbers, quickly find out all persons within a single company, and much more. 

Anyone in or around a business of any type knows that all businesses are being impacted by the drive towards Digital Transformation.  It is happening on every level, and only accelerating.  Some are fighting it, some are overwhelmed, and others are embracing and capitalizing on it.

This is when I suddenly had my epiphany:   If Digital Transformation is rewriting business, then the tools to enable such a transformation had to be reimagined as well.  And looking back at the PaaS definition from earlier, that's exactly where it plays.  Boom!  And I'm willing to bet that the businesses having the most success on this journey are embracing these next-generation tools.

Now I understand why PaaS exists, but what does it do?  How did I personally deal with this up to now?  Before we dive into what I discovered, I ran across a startling statistic that sets the stage:

"By 2020, 70% of enterprise mobile apps will be

developed or adopted without IT involvement."

Gartner Inc. Picking the Best new Mobile AD Technology: MBaaS and RMAD

Certainly looks to me like the way tools are being used will change dramatically over the next few years.  That's both frightening and exciting all at once.

Stay tuned for Part 4 to find out what I discovered when I once again stuck my head back in the cloud(s).


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