Click here to close now.


Containers Expo Blog Authors: Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Ian Khan, Jason Bloomberg, Liz McMillan

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Containers Expo Blog, IoT User Interface, Agile Computing

@CloudExpo: Article

PaaS Is What Drives the Cloud

The cloud is quickly evolving in ways that are similar to desktop computing of the 1980s

Cloud computing and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) may seem like something only for the IT guys to get excited about, but the ultimate benefit is accruing to ordinary users. While most day-to-day non-tech folks don't understand the inner workings of PaaS (nor should they have to), this disruptive system is bringing in changes that are on the same scale as the early shift from command-line to GUI.

In the 1996 documentary, "Triumph of the Nerds," Steve Jobs described his early vision to take the desktop to the masses: "It was very clear to me that while there were a bunch of hardware hobbyists that could assemble their own computers... for every one of those, there were a thousand people that couldn't do that, but wanted to mess around with programming - software hobbyists." Steve Jobs was a visionary. He knew that his computer needed a graphical, easy-to-use operating system so that millions of non-tech people could use it. Then, operating systems offered by Apple and Microsoft, and easy-to-use tools like VisiCalc and later MS Access brought personal computing to the masses.

The cloud is quickly evolving in ways that are similar to desktop computing of the 1980s. As PaaS tools emerge, they're quickly transforming the cloud into a true computing platform... one in which anyone can participate who has a good idea and basic computing skills. In the same way the early graphical operating system brought computing to ordinary people, cloud computing is already moving towards a level of democratization and pervasiveness that is having a dramatic impact on how people work. Just as PCs were once seen as something "with potential" but nonetheless only used by a handful of "hobbyists" as Jobs put it, cloud computing is seeing the same revolution. Just like prior computing platforms, the cloud needs an operating system to make it more useable and approachable by the masses. In cloud jargon, PaaS will soon be the operating system for the cloud.

Getting Under the Hood of the Cloud
From a purist's perspective, operating systems are defined as software that manages computing resources, and that's exactly what PaaS is doing for the cloud.

These days, it's difficult to imagine the desktop PC without operating systems. The OS is what makes the PC easy to use, and without it we'd all be still using cardboard punchcards. It just makes the underlying infrastructure more approachable by providing a common user interface and common security model, and by shielding users from all of the behind-the-scenes complexities that make computers do what they do. Inasmuch as some people may scoff at PC operating systems, they're an incredible bargain. Where else can we buy millions of lines of code for a couple hundred dollars? Operating systems make computing possible because they make computers easier for everyone to use.

The same is true for PaaS. Whether we're talking about a desktop operating systems or PaaS, many things remain the same across both paradigms. They are both designed to shield developers and other users from under-the-hood complexities of managing complex infrastructure. They both help developers build and deploy applications faster. They both serve as the middle layer of the "three layer cake" that rests between software applications and the underlying infrastructure. They both make it easier to run and monitor software applications. They both give users a Graphical User Interface (GUI) and shared visual experience across applications. They both make computing easier for everyone.

Regardless of how similar, cloud platforms may also be a lot more complex than their desktop OS predecessors. The cloud is more than a single computer, and even more than a collection of computers. The cloud is at its best with multiple users sharing resources that are provisioned and deprovisioned on the fly. The cloud needs to deal with special security challenges. The applications may be spread across thousands of web services that need to be served as an integrated experience. So, speaking of an operating system for the cloud requires a broader philosophical discussion.

I Don't Want to Live in a World Without OSes
There was a time when there were no operating systems. PCs were difficult to use. Security was terrible, because every software program had its own way of doing things. Those early PCs were usable, but only barely, and only by a small community of uber-geeks. It took hundreds of lines of source code to accomplish a simple task. In the post-Windows world, things changed and the world of computers became democratized. Forty years ago, who would have imagined that pre-schoolers would be using computers today? With the advent of the graphical user interface and the operating system calling the shots behind the scenes, non-tech users were suddenly able to use computers to accomplish complex tasks. The OS contains millions of lines of code, handling things we now take for granted, but in those early days would have had to have been engineered at a cost of millions of dollars. Can you imagine writing a software application without an operating system platform to support it? It would be an exercise in futility. Yet, web developers are still bypassing the cloud platform - the operating system for the cloud - on a regular basis, and spending countless unnecessary hours and dollars in development and deployment.

What Cloud Platforms Do for You
A standardized, recognizable user interface, combined with common security and support features, has assured for decades that computers are speaking the same language. The standardization and stratification afforded by operating systems led to the capability of computers to be efficiently and effectively connected.

The operating system is a big part of the conversation when it comes to PCs, laptops, and smartphones, but when it comes to the cloud, the operating system conversation gets a bit...cloudy. What is the operating system for the cloud? Individual components - the servers on the back end - each have an OS, but the servers themselves are not the whole cloud. At a more abstract level, it's PaaS that serves the operating system role when considering the cloud as a whole.

If you're developing an app for Microsoft Windows, you can count on the OS to transparently handle routine things like getting the mouse to move, connecting to the printer, or common features such as copy/paste or search. Cloud platforms work the same way, implementing a core set of functions with common features (such as user signup, security, reporting, etc.). Developers then use that to build on top of that instance, customize it, and build features on top such as form creations, data entry, or report writing, without complex programming.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines PaaS as:

"The capability provided to the consumer is to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created using programming languages and tools supported by the provider. The consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure including network, servers, operating systems, or storage, but has control over the deployed applications and possibly application hosting environment configurations."

In short, what the NIST definition says, is that PaaS allows users to gain access to a set of services for accomplishing a variety of tasks by providing a layer of abstraction over things like scaling, storage, and management - and is therefore very much like an operating system.

Obviously, the cloud has a physical layer, with cloud data centers running multiple computers that may be based on Windows, UNIX, Linux, or any one of several other true operating systems; but if we think on a grander scale and take the cloud as a single, large entity, Windows and UNIX isn't really what drives it.

PaaS is one of the centerpieces of the cloud revolution. Just as with the operating system in traditional computing, PaaS gives users a standardized infrastructure and common security, signup, reporting, and countless other features and functions. Though it is not exactly the same thing as an operating system, and is in fact much simpler, Cloud Platform is the logical replacement for OS as we enter the cloud era.

Imagine Having to Forge Your Own Padlock
Not everyone needs to be a blacksmith. Most of us wouldn't have a clue if we had to create a padlock out of forged steel, or put together the door locking mechanism of an automobile. Yet far too many companies are still taking that approach with application development. Take hardware and software security as an example. Even within the cloud, many providers have approached security as an afterthought to be considered after everything else, or worse, implementing their own proprietary security approaches. It was this early lack of uniform security that caused concerns over the security of the cloud.

However, these concerns need not be an issue. Windows, Linux, OS X, and most every operating system has built-in security mechanisms. Cloud platforms by their nature impose common software elements, which are used by developers as a type of "bolt on" functionality so that they do not have to write them from scratch - and more importantly, to add a level of maturity to the final application.

This bolt-on approach of cloud platforms is what ultimately solved the security concerns many companies had over the cloud. PaaS imposes a standard, tested security model for managing things like authentication and authorization, role-based access, multi-tenancy, and policies. As a result, any SaaS application running on top of this platform immediately benefits from that built-in security, in the same way that Windows, UNIX and OS X users benefit from the proven security built into those systems.

From Punchcards, to Command Line, to Modern Day
Like any OS, the cloud platform drives down development costs, reduces time-to-market, improves profit margins, lowers risks, and improves security and interoperability. It lowers the skill requirements needed for most tasks. Ultimately, the cloud platform - whether you use one as an end user or not - is what makes cloud computing available to everyone, and that's the real power of the cloud.

Cloud platforms, like operating systems, have evolved and today we're seeing two different types of PaaS that are as different as command-line DOS and Microsoft Windows 8. Like early command-line MS-DOS, the first cloud platforms were fairly basic and limited in scope, providing mostly auto-scaling and runtime services that made it easier to deploy and scale software for large numbers of users over the cloud. These systems made it possible to add features such as performance monitoring, scaling, provisioning VMs, and load-balancing, without having to re-invent the wheel each time. These types of platforms do offer useful functions, but stop short of helping to create code and applications.

As operating systems have moved from being less like crossing the wilderness in a covered wagon and more like crossing the Universe in Captain Kirk's Enterprise starship, cloud platforms are starting to see a similar shift. A true cloud platform takes on more of an end-to-end approach. Going far beyond the basic auto-scaling and runtime services of the first cloud platforms, today's Cloud Platforms are true software development platforms that start with hosting and deployment, and move all the way to development with a hosted toolset with built-in cloud functionality. It provides tools for building and deploying software on the cloud. In the true spirit of operating system functionality, this type of cloud platform provides for push-button deployment with no server-side configuration required, and the platform itself is in the cloud so that there is no need for downloading to, or uploading from a desktop environment to access its functionality.

Who Benefits from the Cloud?
We've talked about how cloud platforms offer a lot of common core functionality, but they do a lot more than that. They can also reduce the software footprint and maintenance costs - since responsibility for maintaining platform code is the responsibility of the platform provider.

Cloud platforms are still dramatically underutilized, despite their enormous potential and power. Enterprise systems are still costing multiple millions of dollars, often taking years to implement, and experiencing a high failure rate - even though a cloud platform would easily bypass many of these troublesome problems and roadblocks. Some developers still create proprietary, stovepiped applications and functions at great expense, often causing IT buyers to pay substantially more than necessary, and experience lock-in.

This resistance is curious and unnecessary. Some of the more open cloud platforms offer open APIs as well, which allow for even greater flexibility and openness.

Early operating systems were monstrous beasts, hard to understand, and ordinary people never approached using their full functionality. Modern operating systems on the other hand, are geared towards making things easier for end users, not engineers. This is exactly the case with the cloud platform. Software developers can, of course, make excellent use of a cloud platform, but ordinary IT users who are not skilled programmers also make use of the cloud by having a platform for easily and quickly creating useful applications, proof-of-concepts, and prototypes, often without having to involve the IT department and without any programming at all; while easily incorporating all of that built-in core functionality.

The cloud has become the computing platform of the future. There is a popular quote attributed to Thomas Watson, founder of IBM: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." That quote assumed that computers were only for the very largest customers. We've come a long way since that speculation, and the general trend has been to move computing into the hands of everybody from big business users all the way down to preschool children. Cloud computing continues that trend by bringing greater levels of access to high-end applications and data storage, as well as new techniques for collaboration, to even the smallest mom 'n pop businesses, telecommuters, and independent work-at-home contractors.

Mr. Watson got many things right and to his credit once again, what if his quote was saner than it once sounded? The term "cloud" refers to the computing power that is available across the Internet. In a sense, the cloud is rapidly transforming a worldwide network of computers into the largest single [virtual] computer in the world. And even more, PaaS is quickly becoming the operating system for Mr. Watson's futuristic computer.





Software in a Box

Software as a Service

Operating Systems

Platform as a Service

Hard drives

Infrastructure as a Service

More Stories By Cary Landis

Cary Landis owns and operates Virtual Global, Inc., where he currently serves as lead architect for the SaaS Maker™ cloud platform. In the past, Cary has engineered nationally-deployed software systems for federal agencies, including the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) / Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and NASA. He also co-founded KeyLogic Systems. Cary currently resides in Morgantown, WV.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

@ThingsExpo Stories
We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
Just over a week ago I received a long and loud sustained applause for a presentation I delivered at this year’s Cloud Expo in Santa Clara. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and had some very good conversations with many of the attendees. Over the next few days I had many more meaningful conversations and was not only happy with the results but also learned a few new things. Here is everything I learned in those three days distilled into three short points.
DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, rich desktop and tuned mobile experiences can now be created with a single codebase – without compromising functionality, performance or usability. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, demonstrated examples of com...
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningful and actionable insights. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at...
Most of the IoT Gateway scenarios involve collecting data from machines/processing and pushing data upstream to cloud for further analytics. The gateway hardware varies from Raspberry Pi to Industrial PCs. The document states the process of allowing deploying polyglot data pipelining software with the clear notion of supporting immutability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Shashank Jain, a development architect for SAP Labs, discussed the objective, which is to automate the IoT deployment process from development to production scenarios using Docker containers.
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
Countless business models have spawned from the IaaS industry – resell Web hosting, blogs, public cloud, and on and on. With the overwhelming amount of tools available to us, it's sometimes easy to overlook that many of them are just new skins of resources we've had for a long time. In his general session at 17th Cloud Expo, Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect at SoftLayer, an IBM Company, broke down what we have to work with, discussed the benefits and pitfalls and how we can best use them to design hosted applications.
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, exploreed the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessions, I wanted to share some of my observations on emerging trends. As cyber security serves as a fou...
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now all corporate assets – people, objects, and spaces – can share information about themselves and thei...
The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Yet a closer inspection at the data reveals less than half of these cloud projects involve production...
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true change and transformation possible.
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" in this scenario: microservice A (releases daily) depends on a couple of additions to backend B (re...
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Container technology is shaping the future of DevOps and it’s also changing the way organizations think about application development. With the rise of mobile applications in the enterprise, businesses are abandoning year-long development cycles and embracing technologies that enable rapid development and continuous deployment of apps. In his session at DevOps Summit, Kurt Collins, Developer Evangelist at, examined how Docker has evolved into a highly effective tool for application delivery by allowing increasingly popular Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (mBaaS) platforms to quickly crea...
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound effect on the world, and what should we expect to see over the next couple of years.
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, wil...
PubNub has announced the release of BLOCKS, a set of customizable microservices that give developers a simple way to add code and deploy features for realtime apps.PubNub BLOCKS executes business logic directly on the data streaming through PubNub’s network without splitting it off to an intermediary server controlled by the customer. This revolutionary approach streamlines app development, reduces endpoint-to-endpoint latency, and allows apps to better leverage the enormous scalability of PubNub’s Data Stream Network.