Guest Column | August 13, 2019

Why The PaaS Journey Is Getting Stickier

By Michael Burch, NetEnrich

Cloud Impact On MSPs

MSPs and other cloud partners are playing a growing role in this next phase of cloud.

With more and more enterprises taking a larger stake in the cloud, the game is changing. Many organizations begin their cloud journey by “lift and shifting” on-premise apps and infrastructure to the cloud. Companies can realize greater benefit, however, by moving to the next level of cloud which is PaaS. When thinking about how to explain the three core cloud deployment models to an IT or infrastructure director, it’s useful to couch the discussion in layers of IT responsibility.

IaaS: This is where IT takes on the most burden, as even though they aren’t managing or procuring hardware, they still must manage updates, patches, monitoring, provisioning and scaling. Generally, costs are lower, but effort doesn’t decline dramatically.

PaaS:  When you commit to a PaaS strategy, the cloud provider does much more of the heavy lifting. Using containers, serverless architecture and other cloud native tools, IT doesn’t have to worry about monitoring, OS management or any of that. The cloud provider takes over the installation, configuration and scaling of the application infrastructure, leaving IT to focus exclusively on developing and improving the application code.

SaaS: At this level, the provider also handles all IT requirements for the application. You can think of SaaS as a completely outsourced cloud application and environment and the lowest effort for IT organizations.

According to the latest research from Gartner, the total PaaS market contains more than 360 vendors and more than 550 cloud platform services in 21 categories. Gartner predicts that the PaaS market will double in size from 2018 to 2022 and that PaaS will be the prevailing platform delivery model moving forward.

Benefits Of PaaS

If your company’s focus is in technology and you’ve got sizable internal expertise and resources, there are operational and marketplace reasons why you might stick with IaaS. For most companies, managing infrastructure is not a core competency, making PaaS a sensible choice. Here are the key benefits:

  • Innovation and customer experience:  By moving up the chain of lower infrastructure management responsibility, IT gains a lot of time. That means teams can focus almost exclusively on improving the application and attending to customer needs, rather than worrying about the infrastructure. They don’t need to continually hire infrastructure experts and train staff to keep up with changes in the cloud. They also can move faster to release application enhancements, as a result.
  • Easier to ensure high performance:  End-user tolerance for application errors and performance glitches are continually declining. With speed and a frictionless experience being top requirements for new apps and services, PaaS is your new best friend. You can ensure high availability, security and scale by checking a box, directing the cloud provider to make the magic happen automatically according to the parameters you set. Auto-scaling services available on the major cloud platforms means you don’t need to make any decisions if traffic is spiking unpredictably, as the service distributes your workloads accordingly to ensure service level requirements.
  • Cost savings:  In IaaS, there can be waste and redundancy. You may need to set up dozens of application servers to support the unknown demands of seasonal workloads, new product launches or hot marketing campaigns. You often can’t just switch off the VM when you don’t need it. With PaaS, you aren’t paying a cent unless a user is hitting your website or application. Considerable cost savings also come from the reduced man-hours required to run the cloud infrastructure. That’s also an attractive perk for the MSP, as it means higher margins.

2 Paths To PaaS

Depending upon the application, IT must undertake different journeys to the world of PaaS.

  1. Re-factoring. This is the purest route to PaaS, as you are rewriting the application in microservices to take full advantage of cloud infrastructure and thereby the cloud provider’s PaaS offerings. You’re not bringing any on-premise baggage or legacy technology into the cloud but starting completely afresh. Of course, this is an extreme route, since it requires considerable development work and DevOps expertise.
  1. Re-platforming:  It’s not always possible or wise to rewrite an application. The code might be too old, or it doesn’t make sense from a business perspective. Let’s say a company has a large e-commerce platform that works well, and which customers love. It would not make economic sense to invest the money or time to rewrite that system. Therefore, with the help of a DevOps team, the company takes the existing application and redeploys it in containers to get the elasticity benefits. This is easier, faster and in some cases less risky. For the most part, the company can get the same benefits of PaaS by re-platforming.

PaaS Challenges And The Value Of The MSP

As we’ve established, the PaaS journey will go mainstream sooner rather than later. Adopting PaaS is easier if you undertake it at the very beginning of the cloud journey. Too often, companies say they will get started with a lift-and-shift migration and move to PaaS later, but that’s much easier said than done. A two-phased moved to the cloud requires the company to endure two major transformations, rather than committing to a slightly larger change at once. It’s overwhelming for IT (and business, given the disruptions) to move everything to the cloud and then rewrite or re-platform everything all over again. Regardless of the approach, many companies will need help with re-platforming and re-factoring. This is where MSPs can make a considerable difference, by offering their deep DevOps and cloud management expertise.

Beyond the actual development work, monitoring code in PaaS is much less straightforward than in IaaS. While it’s true that PaaS takes care of all the main infrastructure tasks, customers are ultimately responsible for end user experience. In IaaS, developers can install debugging tools on their machines so that they can monitor line-by-line any code failures as they work.

In PaaS, developers don’t have access to the machine or VM, so it’s not possible to install debugging tools. Cloud providers now offer tools that help, such as Azure App Insights, which enables the automatic logging of debugging data directly to Azure. These tools are new and require DevOps expertise to use, which may not be a skill available within the customer’s IT organization--making this another area where MSPs can deliver value.

Looking Ahead

The three largest public cloud players all have PaaS offerings, each with their own advantages and distinctions. Expect further enhancement and differentiation among these cloud providers when it comes to PaaS-- which is a huge plus for meeting diverse customer needs. We’ll also see growth in terms of the application frameworks which developers can use in PaaS. Currently, .NET, Ruby and Java are the main languages that work with PaaS but there will surely be expanded choices for developers before long. It’s hard to see any major barrier for the growth of PaaS deployments in the cloud; developing the expertise and networks to help customers get there faster and more successfully is a smart business move for any cloud implementation partner.

About The Author

Michael Burch is Cloud Architect for Azure with NetEnrich.