Welcome!

@CloudExpo Authors: Liz McMillan, Kevin Benedict, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Leon Adato

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Containers Expo Blog, Machine Learning , 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.

1980

2015

PC

Cloud

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.


@CloudExpo Stories
With Cloud Foundry you can easily deploy and use apps utilizing websocket technology, but not everybody realizes that scaling them out is not that trivial. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Roman Swoszowski, CTO and VP, Cloud Foundry Services, at Grape Up, will show you an example of how to deal with this issue. He will demonstrate a cloud-native Spring Boot app running in Cloud Foundry and communicating with clients over websocket protocol that can be easily scaled horizontally and coordinate...
In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Scott Davis, CTO of Embotics, discussed how automation can provide the dynamic management required to cost-effectively deliver microservices and container solutions at scale. He also discussed how flexible automation is the key to effectively bridging and seamlessly coordinating both IT and developer needs for component orchestration across disparate clouds – an increasingly important requirement at today’s multi-cloud enterprise.
Any startup has to have a clear go –to-market strategy from the beginning. Similarly, any data science project has to have a go to production strategy from its first days, so it could go beyond proof-of-concept. Machine learning and artificial intelligence in production would result in hundreds of training pipelines and machine learning models that are continuously revised by teams of data scientists and seamlessly connected with web applications for tenants and users.
Vulnerability management is vital for large companies that need to secure containers across thousands of hosts, but many struggle to understand how exposed they are when they discover a new high security vulnerability. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, John Morello, CTO of Twistlock, will address this pressing concern by introducing the concept of the “Vulnerability Risk Tree API,” which brings all the data together in a simple REST endpoint, allowing companies to easily grasp the severity of t...
Recently, WebRTC has a lot of eyes from market. The use cases of WebRTC are expanding - video chat, online education, online health care etc. Not only for human-to-human communication, but also IoT use cases such as machine to human use cases can be seen recently. One of the typical use-case is remote camera monitoring. With WebRTC, people can have interoperability and flexibility for deploying monitoring service. However, the benefit of WebRTC for IoT is not only its convenience and interopera...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to w...
IT organizations are moving to the cloud in hopes to approve efficiency, increase agility and save money. Migrating workloads might seem like a simple task, but what many businesses don’t realize is that application migration criteria differs across organizations, making it difficult for architects to arrive at an accurate TCO number. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Joe Kinsella, CTO of CloudHealth Technologies, will offer a systematic approach to understanding the TCO of a cloud application...
"With Digital Experience Monitoring what used to be a simple visit to a web page has exploded into app on phones, data from social media feeds, competitive benchmarking - these are all components that are only available because of some type of digital asset," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at DevOps Summit at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Channels, a cybersecurity firm, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Channels, Inc. offers several products and solutions to its many clients, helping them protect critical data from being compromised and access to computer networks from the unauthorized. The company develops comprehensive data encryption security strategie...
For financial firms, the cloud is going to increasingly become a crucial part of dealing with customers over the next five years and beyond, particularly with the growing use and acceptance of virtual currencies. There are new data storage paradigms on the horizon that will deliver secure solutions for storing and moving sensitive financial data around the world without touching terrestrial networks. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Cliff Beek, President of Cloud Constellation Corporation, d...
From 2013, NTT Communications has been providing cPaaS service, SkyWay. Its customer’s expectations for leveraging WebRTC technology are not only typical real-time communication use cases such as Web conference, remote education, but also IoT use cases such as remote camera monitoring, smart-glass, and robotic. Because of this, NTT Communications has numerous IoT business use-cases that its customers are developing on top of PaaS. WebRTC will lead IoT businesses to be more innovative and address...
Connecting to major cloud service providers is becoming central to doing business. But your cloud provider’s performance is only as good as your connectivity solution. Massive Networks will place you in the driver's seat by exposing how you can extend your LAN from any location to include any cloud platform through an advanced high-performance connection that is secure and dedicated to your business-critical data. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Paul Mako, CEO & CIO of Massive Networks, wil...
Deep learning has been very successful in social sciences and specially areas where there is a lot of data. Trading is another field that can be viewed as social science with a lot of data. With the advent of Deep Learning and Big Data technologies for efficient computation, we are finally able to use the same methods in investment management as we would in face recognition or in making chat-bots. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Gaurav Chakravorty, co-founder and Head of Strategy Development ...
When shopping for a new data processing platform for IoT solutions, many development teams want to be able to test-drive options before making a choice. Yet when evaluating an IoT solution, it’s simply not feasible to do so at scale with physical devices. Building a sensor simulator is the next best choice; however, generating a realistic simulation at very high TPS with ease of configurability is a formidable challenge. When dealing with multiple application or transport protocols, you would be...
The goal of Continuous Testing is to shift testing left to find defects earlier and release software faster. This can be achieved by integrating a set of open source functional and performance testing tools in the early stages of your software delivery lifecycle. There is one process that binds all application delivery stages together into one well-orchestrated machine: Continuous Testing. Continuous Testing is the conveyer belt between the Software Factory and production stages. Artifacts are m...
As businesses adopt functionalities in cloud computing, it’s imperative that IT operations consistently ensure cloud systems work correctly – all of the time, and to their best capabilities. In his session at @BigDataExpo, Bernd Harzog, CEO and founder of OpsDataStore, presented an industry answer to the common question, “Are you running IT operations as efficiently and as cost effectively as you need to?” He then expounded on the industry issues he frequently came up against as an analyst, and ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that App2Cloud will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct. 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. App2Cloud is an online Platform, specializing in migrating legacy applications to any Cloud Providers (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud).
Cloud resources, although available in abundance, are inherently volatile. For transactional computing, like ERP and most enterprise software, this is a challenge as transactional integrity and data fidelity is paramount – making it a challenge to create cloud native applications while relying on RDBMS. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Claus Jepsen, Chief Architect and Head of Innovation Labs at Unit4, will explore that in order to create distributed and scalable solutions ensuring high availa...
Historically, some banking activities such as trading have been relying heavily on analytics and cutting edge algorithmic tools. The coming of age of powerful data analytics solutions combined with the development of intelligent algorithms have created new opportunities for financial institutions. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Sebastien Meunier, Head of Digital for North America at Chappuis Halder & Co., discussed how these tools can be leveraged to develop a lasting competitive advantage ...
Enterprise architects are increasingly adopting multi-cloud strategies as they seek to utilize existing data center assets, leverage the advantages of cloud computing and avoid cloud vendor lock-in. This requires a globally aware traffic management strategy that can monitor infrastructure health across data centers and end-user experience globally, while responding to control changes and system specification at the speed of today’s DevOps teams. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Josh Gray, Chie...