Title topic: Application Cloud

On cloud PaaS: get new software quickly and flexibly

Application Platform as a Service (PaaS for short) is the tool of the moment. But what does this mean for the future of software development?

Urs Binder

The need for a quick market launch is increasingly also being felt in software development. Application Platform as a Service (PaaS for short) is therefore the tool of the moment. The cloud-based solutions provide a complete platform for developing and executing software applications, complete with an operating system, middleware and runtime environment. The user companies do not need to create their own infrastructure and gain time and reliability at lower costs. Despite this, for a long time PaaS services were a niche product. But this has now changed.

 

Christof Marti, lecturer and Technical Lead of Cloud Platforms at the ICCLab of the ZHAW School of Engineering, notes: “PaaS services have not been used frequently in Swiss business until now. We have been receiving more enquiries about PaaS for a good year. Previously, companies were primarily interested in infrastructure services when it came to cloud computing. Now they are asking themselves how they can bring their applications directly to the cloud.” His colleague Michael Bohnert, Head of Service Engineering at the Institute of Applied Information Technology, confirms: “At the ZHAW School of engineering, around 30 people work on cloud computing. Research into the topic of infrastructure is almost complete. Platforms are also closer to adding value for software providers and users – money is being earned through applications, and no longer through the infrastructure.”

 

Platforms en route to success

PaaS platforms are therefore used more broadly today and increasingly also for operating the developed software. For example, at AXA Winterthur, as Urs Stoob reports: “AXA is in the process of setting up PaaS capability for Java and .Net applications to relieve the software developers of administrative tasks.” As Director of Sales & Digital Business Applications, Urs Stoob is responsible for around 100 applications.

 

Until now, AXA Winterthur operated the PaaS platform as a private PaaS in its own data center. “Generally, I am seeing a real transition today: Thanks to the providers of public PaaS services, Platform as a Service is becoming commonplace. The question is: Should you do it yourself or rely on a provider?” According to Stoob, for data-protection reasons, in reality a hybrid approach is often used, combining PaaS services from the company’s own private cloud and the public cloud. A general challenge with all variants is the integration with core IT.

 

The provider – be it the company’s own data center or a cloud provider – has sole responsibility for managing, maintaining and operating a PaaS environment and the underlying infrastructure. The developer can concentrate fully on his core competences and immediately put his project into practice. He configures the required environment via a self-service portal in just a few clicks. The platform provides the required resources automatically. All the developer needs on site is a computer with a Web browser and an Internet connection.

 

Benefits for companies

From the company’s perspective, PaaS supports modern, combined development and operation concepts such as DevOps and continuous delivery. Improvements and adjustments to the software are continuously brought into operation with the aid of automated test and provision procedures. This benefits agility, accelerates the time to market, promotes the standardisation and transparency of the development and operating processes and ultimately also reduces costs.

 

Investments in the infrastructure are no longer necessary. The PaaS services are paid for based on the current need for resources, in accordance with the pay-per-use principle. This makes PaaS particularly attractive for start-ups, which do not have the budget for their own infrastructure with high availability and scalability.

“PaaS platforms have so many benefits that we simply cannot be indifferent to them”

Urs Stoob, Director of Sales & Digital Business Applications, AXA Winterthur

Urs Stoob’s conclusion: “The key is not to use cloud computing to tease out a few efficiency benefits, as we did in the past. It’s about providing real application platforms. The actual value will only emerge through the automated mechanisms.”

 

Christof Marti highlights another aspect: “With PaaS, you can try out new things very quickly and return to the previous version without problems if something doesn’t work. The entire innovation cycle is shortened, because you no longer have to take care of the infrastructure and can concentrate entirely on the functionality of the software.” Marti sees a need to enhance the tools that are required for monitoring, operating, production handover and updating the applications: “When it comes to tooling, the PaaS providers are still in the development phase. This is also an interesting topic for us, in research. And it has market potential for developers who provide such tools.”

“Platforms are also closer to adding value – money is being earned through applications, and not through the infrastructure”

Prof. Thomas Michael Bohnert, ZHAW School of Engineering 

The future of software development

Market researchers see a rosy future for PaaS solutions in general – as well as aPaaS, integration and governance platforms (iPaaS) are also provided as cloud services. IDC, for example, forecasts revenues of 14 billion dollars for 2017, based on an annual increase of 30 percent. More than 10 percent of the total expenses for developing and operating applications are expected to be spent on PaaS services. In its “Cloud Vendor Benchmark 2015 ”, the Experton Group came to the conclusion that aPaaS was the hotspot for 2014 and will become a commodity faster than expected.

 

“After gathering initial experience regarding what PaaS means for application development, we are planning an aggressive migration strategy for the coming year,” says Urs Stoob, describing AXA’s plans. “PaaS is more fun for the developers, has a positive effect on costs, and is more flexible and scalable – these cloud platforms have so many benefits that we simply cannot be indifferent to them.” The forecast from the university is similar: “In five years, more than half of newly developed software will run on the basis of PaaS,” says Christof Marti. 

 

The cloud within the cloud

Swisscom operates an integrated cloud platform with infrastructure services (IaaS), such as processor capacity, memory, network and security elements, which serves as a basis for a number of managed services. The basis for the PaaS services of the Swisscom Application Cloud is a Cloud Foundry environment, which itself is based on Swisscom infrastructure services. As the largest Swiss provider of telecommunications and cloud services, Swisscom can provide its customers with a complete technology platform from a single source.

The Application Cloud is the first Swisscom cloud product that is also specifically aimed at developers and start-ups from Switzerland and across Europe. The company is thus serving a new customer segment. As is usual with other PaaS providers, the Application Cloud services can be ordered via a Web portal with ease and paid for by credit card – a first for Swisscom. As of 2016, corporate customers will also be able to use the Application Cloud in a virtual, private version with an individual portal and the option to pay upon receipt of an invoice.

 
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