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4 min read

The power of PaaS: Build what you need and buy the rest

Matt Saunders
31 January 24 DevOps
Man with building blocks on a screen

For years, server infrastructure has been consumable on-demand from IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) providers, such as the huge cloud providers AWS, Microsoft, and Google. Together with SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions providing entirely managed systems for organisations to consume off-the-shelf, there are well-established powerful combinations of buy and build available to serve all your IT needs.

However, an emergent middle ground provides much of the value of a fully managed SaaS service combined with the flexibility of an IaaS service. Platform as a Service (PaaS) is driving a new era of mass innovation and business agility. Providing everything a team needs to build, maintain, and run their own applications in the cloud, with transparent yet automated use of IaaS components, a good PaaS enables organisations to accelerate software development without worrying about maintaining basic infrastructure. This is particularly useful for new and small organisations looking for a simple, cost-effective solution to help them grow.

But how can PaaS help you, and is it the next step to take for your business's future? Let's find out.

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What is a PaaS?

A PaaS delivers the hardware and software necessary to imagine, build, test, and run an organisation's own software, without the burden of explicitly managing the infrastructure underneath. It can enable you to deliver anything from simple cloud-based apps to sophisticated, cloud-enabled enterprise applications.

A good PaaS carries the burden of monitoring, maintaining, and updating a development platform, taking care of these routine tasks generally without intervention by your organisation. By automating these processes—which are absolutely essential but ultimately not a differentiator for most organisations—you have more time and energy to focus on your core business, which frees up your people to concentrate on more meaningful, innovative work. 

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How does a PaaS work?

A PaaS offers the building blocks needed by the majority of organisations to get high-quality software delivered efficiently and effectively. Running on top of infrastructure provided generally by one or more of the large cloud providers (e.g. AWS, Microsoft, or Google), it provides a paved road of necessary infrastructure to allow organisations to develop and host their software. As a result, having a PaaS frees your developers from having to worry about the platform on which their software is designed, built, and run.

A PaaS allows larger organisations to take control over how software is delivered and run, benefiting from economies of scale to run the service with a small lean team, and also benefit from centralising security and governance across the whole platform by implementing guardrails and guidelines for everyone. Small and medium organisations can also exploit a PaaS, allowing the business to grow faster by taking care of the burden of running infrastructure for those services that can't just be bought in. Any size business planning for growth can really use the PaaS model to their advantage.

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5 positive impacts of PaaS

1. It increases business agility

Most businesses cannot differentiate themselves by purely buying SaaS services off the shelf. Similarly, without a large and innovative IT team, leveraging IaaS infrastructure is a costly and time-consuming task. PaaS sits in the sweet spot here, allowing businesses to exploit the operational scalability, speed, and flexibility of an underlying platform, and running their own software on top of that. Gaining access to a platform allows developers to innovate faster, with rapid automated testing and deployment of applications without having to build this infrastructure themselves. Scaling and cost efficiency are generally taken care of, allowing businesses to be highly agile in this area.

2. It reduces IT costs

As with IaaS and SaaS, PaaS provides ways for small or growing companies to scale without over-investing in unnecessary infrastructure. You can avoid the expense and complexity of buying and managing the underlying application infrastructure, software orchestrators, and development tools, without needing a large team to look after it all either. Upfront costs are reduced since there’s no need to build anything before you begin developing.

3. It's a catalyst for innovation

A PaaS model will typically be more extensive than the original requirements your developers thought they had. This means that it is easy for your developers to innovate in new directions by being able to use new tools and technologies without the lead time usually associated with an internal IT team providing new infrastructure. With this fast startup capability, your team can deploy new business offerings much quicker, giving you a competitive edge. It also encourages your teams to experiment and collaborate, which is a fertile breeding ground for innovation.

4. It frees up your people

With PaaS, your developers don't need to set up the core stack required to develop and deploy, nor do they need to devote time to maintaining systems. You don't need a separate team to run this core stack either, nor the frequent need to evolve the platform to respond to new technologies and developments in the area. This frees people up to work on other projects or focus on work that is more core to the organisation's objectives.

Furthermore, automation is a big part of the PaaS model, with these platforms typically being designed with automation built-in from the get-go. The more you can automate, the more time your teams can spend developing and deploying new offerings, and the less room there is for human error. It increases productivity and consistency, as your team can do more with fewer errors. This means that the system and infrastructure can scale reliably and efficiently as the organisation's needs grow.

5. Better products, superior customer experience, and business success

PaaS helps developers and business users focus on build without having to worry about infrastructure and operating systems. Development tools, servers, and programming environments are readily accessible, via the cloud, without the complexity and expense of creating and running them in-house. It reduces costs, accelerates time to market, increases business agility, and frees up your people to concentrate on innovation and strategic projects. Ultimately, by adopting PaaS, you can create better products, increase customer experience, and enjoy greater business success.

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Challenges of PaaS technology

Overall, we believe that PaaS is a force for good that can bring about tangible positive change. But while PaaS has its positives, there are always going to be challenges when adopting any new technology. Some of the obstacles are hurdles you can work around; others can be mitigated with foresight.

Challenges may include the following:

  • Vendor dependency: By choosing not to build your own, you are at the mercy of third-party architecture and reliability. This may however be a preferable situation to having these responsibilities in-house.
  • Risk of lock-in: While the platform will generally provide a large amount of flexibility around programming languages, interfaces, and infrastructure stacks, there's a risk of becoming locked into the platform itself. There's a large variety of platform designs available, so moving from one platform to another is likely to cause significant re-work.
  • Security risks: PaaS providers secure the infrastructure and platform, though you are responsible for the security of applications. You'll need to consider whether you have the correct security measures in place, and that the demarcation between the platform and your own platform is well-understood and not leaky.
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Want to learn more about PaaS and how it can benefit you? Get in touch with our team today.

About the authors

Matt Saunders

DevOps Lead in the Office of the CTO at The Adaptavist Group

Matt Saunders is the DevOps Lead in the Office of the CTO at The Adaptavist Group. After being trusted with a root password as a Sysadmin long ago, he now helps teams make the best use of people, processes, and technology to deliver software efficiently and safely.