Explaining the Cloud: What the Heck is PaaS Anyway?

PaaSheaderThe enterprise is in the middle of an explosion of growth in mobility and data. The old, insular model for developing “in-house” solutions is showing its age—in many cases on-premise IT simply can’t keep up. For the last decade, cloud computing has been gaining traction, and now it’s finally set to surpass on-premise solutions in IT spending.

In the past, enterprise cloud adoption was primarily focused on software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offerings, but lately there’s been an increasing call for enterprise adoption of the middle sibling of the cloud family: platform as a service (PaaS).

So what is PaaS? And why is it so important?

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a model of cloud computing in which a vendor provides the user with the hardware and software tools necessary to create, deploy and manage applications at scale via the internet, as a service.  Here’s how renowned IT research and advisory firm Gartner, Inc. defines PaaS in their IT glossary:

“A [PaaS] offering, usually depicted in all cloud diagrams between the SaaS layer above it and the IaaS layer below, is a broad collection of application infrastructure (middleware) services (including application platform, integration, business process management, and database services). However, the hype surrounding the PaaS concept is focused mainly on application PaaS as the representative of the whole category.”

PaaS solutions are made up of three components:

The Software Stack, or simply ‘the stack’ is the layer of software that your application runs on. All of the libraries, frameworks, and services that a developer uses to build an application are included in the stack. This includes things like the application framework, the HTTP server, language virtual machine (VM), databases, load balancers, etc.

A PaaS will likely have multiple stack combinations to choose from, with each one tailored to different languages and frameworks, and it’s important to choose a solution that offers a stack that is compatible with your developers’ preferred languages, frameworks, and methods.

A PaaS solution’s deployment machinery creates instances of virtual servers and provisions them with your stack and your application code. This machinery is code built from a combination of scripts and web services.

The user interface (UI)  is the way a PaaS is organized and presented to the user in order to make its use easy and flexible. PaaS users need the ability to hide features that they don’t need or want to change, and to make their desired configurations highly available. A PaaS may provide a web graphical user interface (GUI), or command line interface (CLI), or both.

Reducing Complexity: The Benefits of PaaS

PaaS eliminates the complexity and cost of buying, configuring, and managing the hardware and software needed for on-premise application development, and reduces the time-to-value compared to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) by greatly simplifying configuration and deployment. Here are some of the top advantages gained by using PaaS:

  • Enable faster time to value, by allowing developers to focus on the application instead of on configuring hardware.
  • Complex architectures can be deployed quickly and easily from the user interface, rather than spending valuable hours on complicated backend configuration.
  • Raise agility by automating the steps needed to set foundations for your app.
  • Provides an integrated development environment (IDE).
  • Every platform component is provided as a service.
  • Most PaaS solutions feature native security solutions including network controls, Identity and Access Management as a Service (IDaaS), and more.
  • Business continuity solutions are often embedded in PaaS in order to offer the most uptime possible.

Three Flavors of PaaS

People are often confused by PaaS— it can sound a lot like public cloud IaaS, and to complicate things further, all of the major IaaS providers also offer PaaS solutions. In reality, the components of the cloud computing stack (IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS) are not always distinct from one another, and PaaS solutions are often built on top of an IaaS or SaaS solution, or closely integrated with one.

Many PaaS solutions, such as Pivotal Cloud Foundry and IBM Bluemix, are deeply integrated with IaaS solutions, which bring a high level of flexibility and an excellent platform for hybrid clouds. Others, such as Amazon Elastic Beanstalk, are built directly on top of an IaaS solution, providing an excellent level of integration and vendor support, albeit with a higher risk of vendor lock-in. The third kind of PaaS solution is built on top of a SaaS solution, as Salesforce1 is. This approach offers full integration, high accessibility, and extremely rapid development, at the cost of some granular controls.


Whether you work in a publically traded corporation, a government institution or a small to medium-sized business, the benefits of cloud PaaS are clear, and they’re worth investigating today. Check out the links below for more PaaS news and best practices, as well as useful documents such as our cloud platforms buyer’s guide and our glossary of technical terms.

Latest PaaS News and Best Practices.

The 2016 Solutions Review Cloud Platforms Buyer’s Guide gives readers a free overview of the top 28 cloud service providers, including capabilities references and 10 questions to ask before implementing a cloud solution.

The Solutions Review PaaS Comparison Matrix report compares the top 12 PaaS vendors across features, languages, frameworks, middleware, and services.

Our Cloud Computing Glossary of Terms gives definitions for 50 of the most popular cloud computing terms and acronyms.

Jeff Edwards
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