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A brief Q&A on PaaS/APaaS

by Yefim Natis  |  August 19, 2010  |  5 Comments

In preparation for Gartner Application Architcture, Development and Integration (AADI) conference scheduled for Novemeber I am developing a PaaS Scenario presentation.  We have recently published a PaaS Reference Architecture research , a PaaS market assessment research and are working on the PaaS road map and more.  Below is a brief Q&A on PaaS for the prospective attendees that I wanted to share here.

Please comment

Thank you


1             What is platform as a service (PaaS)?

Simply speaking, PaaS is middleware as a service.  PaaS is the middle layer in the big-picture Cloud architecture(Systems Infrastructure or IaaS below it and applications or SaaS above it).  All of the middle-layer technologies you know from the traditional on-premises deployments apply in the cloud as well.  These are the application servers, DBMS, ESBs, Portals, Messaging, BPM and other middleware technologies.  There is more than 10 categories of middleware that we track that are available from some vendors as a service.  However of all of these, two stand out: the application platform as a service (APaaS) and the integration as a service.  APaaS is the extended application server (with development tools and a data store) and integration as a service is self-explanatory.  So when you hear people talk about PaaS they may actually mean APaaS (like or App Engine) or they may mean any one of multiple specialized middleware  as a service offerings.  Or they may mean the complete comprehensive suite of all middleware.

2              Who should care about PaaS and why?

Technology Vendors: The middleware platform is where the programming model and basic architecture of applications is determined and where standards for interoperability and portability are established.  Vendors in the business software space all care about the middle layer a lot for that reason.  In the Cloud this is no different – the vendors that emerge as leaders in PaaS will have major influence on the evolution of cloud computing.  There are no established leaders here so far although, Google and Microsoft are already making strategic investments in that direction along with a few dozen small players like LongJump, Engine Yard and many others.

Application ISVs: Most application ISVs either already do or plan to offer all or some of their functionality as a service.  To do so they have to find a technical way of converting their applications from single-tenant on-premises model to multi-tenant cloud model.  Some will simply use hosting services and will make no changes to the application itself (managing each customer-tenant as a separate instance of the application).  This model is not sustainable long term and, lacking any resource sharing, it is not cloud.  Some others will develop the multi-tenancy support themselves.  This can work well, but is expensive, time-consuming and creates long-term burdens that the ISV will have to live with for a long time.  The more strategically-thinking ISVs turn to PaaS providers.  This is the same as the developers of new on-premises applications would use a third-party application server and other middleware rather than develop their own.  It is the only long-term sustainable approach for ISVs.  Today there is still some risk in choosing a PaaS (or more likely an APaaS) provider as the standards are not yet established and as a result,  all of the three approaches are used by some ISVs.

IT software projects: The difference today between using an on-premises development environment (a WebSphere, a .NET platform or another) and using a PaaS (, App Engine, Heroku or another) is that the PaaS requires minimal time for procurement and is priced by subscription rather than a large up-front license fee.  The PaaS technologies are also in some cases much easier to use as many use model-driven metadata-based design and execution tools.   Large projects “in a hurry” and small projects with limited budgets are the primary direct IT users of PaaS today.  Integration as a service is also often used by IT organizations for advanced B2B integration projects.  Many IT organizations also use PaaS today as pilot experimental alternative to traditional models – in preparation for the future.


There is MUCH more to say, some other day.

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Yefim V. Natis
VP Distinguished Analyst
17 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Yefim Natis is a vice president and Gartner distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. Mr. Natis' research focuses on enterprise software infrastructure, including technologies such as application servers, cloud application platforms… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on A brief Q&A on PaaS/APaaS

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eric Knipp and Toshio Matsuda, yefim natis. yefim natis said: a brief Q&A on PaaS: […]

  2. buyan says:

    As a firm believer in APaas, i fully agree with Yefim views at this point.But i see the future muddled up with different Paas platforms like, google app engine, microsoft azure and there is a need to maintain the standard for all the paas interms of a programming language or environment so that all apps can work seamlessly in all paas environments..

  3. christophe says:

    Very clear definition, thanks for that. Agree also with comment from Buyan, PaaS standard have to be, and will be, defined mainly to avoid vendor lock-in which is by far the major threat for ISVs. Another very simple definition of the three main functions of a PaaS, or APaaS, is Develop, Run and Sale. Most current PaaS provider only cater for Develop and Run to the notable exception of with its AppXchange platform. It is critical for an application developer to find a good online platform for its go to market strategy. This is what the vendor and platform agnostic Business App Store ( ) is offering by partnering with various PaaS, such as WorkXpress, to offer a powerful marketing services extension to their ISV clients.
    Once Cloud Computing standards are defined and adopted by the industry and the Cloud platform become mature and integrated, the value will shift to go to market as a critical differentiation.

  4. Yefim Natis says:

    I share your understanding that a portable application context benefits all users, but unfortunately — it does not benefit some vendors who wish to own the programing models and thus have stronger market influence. Underdogs (small or big) always love standards and the giants typically speak beautifully of standards and then build proprietary solutions. Java EE has become a remarkable exception due in part to the strengths of Microsoft .NET alternative and in part to the Sun JCP leadership. DCE and CORBA that preceded Java EE have never become portable and future might look more like CORBA than like Java EE. However…

    ..however one important exception is open-source. When an open-source language environment is used (such as Spring Framework or Ruby on Rails) — even if the underlying machinery is provided by different vendors — there is still substantial retained portability. The more open-source becomes the norm for enterprise programming model the less the portability of platforms will be defined by vendors’ self-interest.

  5. Thanks for sharing. This is the beginning of a very interesting shift.

    When talking about cloud, a lot of people focus right away on “cluster management and multi-tenancy”. Although those are important, I think that for Paas to become a real platform, there is a need to define/emphasize some architectural changes.

    The UI needs to get decoupled from the services which need to be decoupled from caching/persistence. SOA can obviously play a roll in that but it is time to re-iterate on the SOA standards to simplify things a bit, make HTML5/Ajax UI a first class citizen of SOA and allow for JSON to co-exist next to XML. We also need to evolved the persistence layer from simple relational to something more hybrid (better caching, better support of hadoop like processing, better support for semi-structured document).

    Most of the technology pieces exist (at least in early stages/non-integrated fashion). All we need now is a set of killer applications. May be mobile. May be the next generation of situational apps in the enterprise. May be vertical/very compute intense applications.

    One thing is sure: the next few years are going to be interesting.

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