Platform as a service (PaaS) is a category of cloud computing services that provides a platformÂ allowing customers to develop, run, and manage applications without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching it.Â PaaS can be delivered in two ways: as a public cloud service from a provider, where the consumer controls software deployment and configuration settings, and the provider provides the networks, servers, storage and other services to host the consumer’s application; or as software installed in private data centers or public infrastructure as a service and managed by internal IT departments.
Platform as a service promises significant savings of both time and money. The biggest names in cloud computing all offer PaaS solutions â€” as do countless providers that specialize in everything from mapping to content management to mobile app development. A few offerings already comply with the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, and a 2013 survey of federal IT professionals found that 95 percent believed their agency would benefit from migrating to PaaS.
Now the reason why PaaS is mysterious for many isÂ a matter of structure and security. Many of the most popular early PaaS solutions, such as Heroku and Engine Yard, were available only in the public cloud, limiting their practical appeal for most federal agencies. Today, however, a wide array of PaaS providers offer private enterprise versions, while Pivotalâ€™s Cloud Foundry and Red Hatâ€™s OpenShift also come in downloadable, open-source versions that can be hosted locally or in a userâ€™s own cloud.
A more significant challenge, however, might be pinning down what qualifies as PaaS. While software as a service (SaaS) is now a familiar concept and the paired pressures of FedRAMP and data center consolidation have put infrastructure as a service (IaaS) on most agenciesâ€™ radar, PaaS remains something of the muddle in the middle â€” more easily defined by what it isnâ€™t than what it is.Â The National Institute of Standards and Technology has detailed the differences between PaaS and its sibling services, but it boils down to this: In addition to virtualized and easily scalable hardware, PaaS provides a ready-to-use suite of code libraries, change-management tools and other application-building resources that the provider installs and maintains.
Federal Communications Commission CIO David Bray said PaaS lets agencies â€œideally begin to build up this library of reusable modules, much like a quilt,â€ so that functions such as user authentication or map-based data visualization can be built once and then used by many different systems. â€œThen in the future, if Congress…or the president asks us to do something, itâ€™s not a matter of building a system from scratch.â€Â There are many organizations adopting PaaS. â€œThere are some early adopters scattered throughout government,â€ Bray said, particularly in the Defense Department and the intelligence community. However, PaaS remains aspirational for many agencies. In the 2013 survey (a Red Hat-sponsored MeriTalk study) that showed overwhelming belief in the benefits of PaaS, just 12 percent of respondents said they were already using it. And although 71 percent said they were at least considering a transition to PaaS, a recent search of FedBizOpps found just one solicitation in the past year that explicitly called for PaaS.
Other IT leaders said the slow embrace likely reflects uncertainty â€” not about PaaSâ€™ potential benefits but about most agenciesâ€™ specific needs and the type of developer skills that will be available.Â Compared to IaaS, â€œPaaS has a greater degree of ease and efficiency, but it also comes with a significant loss of freedom,â€ one agencyâ€™s senior developer said. â€œThe needs [can be] so diverse that paying for and committing to a platform as a service doesnâ€™t make a lot of sense right now.â€
A year to 18 months down the road, â€œonce things settle down a bit,â€ the developer added, â€œthatâ€™s when we would commit to PaaS.â€Â And even when an agency is prepared to zero in on a particular platform, thereâ€™s still the small matter of payment. With the operation and maintenance of legacy systems consuming 70 percent or more of agency IT budgets, thereâ€™s precious little money available to try something new â€” particularly when a PaaS investment cannot be directly tied to a mission system.
â€œThatâ€™s why we have to make the case to Congress for the initial investmentâ€ in PaaS, the FCCâ€™s Bray said. â€œWe need that little bit of breathing room so that we get out of the existing legacy model. Otherwise, the legacy model is just going to get more and more expensive.â€
Editor’s Note: Ideas inspired from;
Tony K. Schneider. “Can PaaS carve out its place in the federal cloud?– FCW.”
FCW. N.p., Web. 28Â Feb. 2016.