Most of the discussion around PaaS these days tends to focus on the rapid application deployment capabilities. That’s the easiest thing to demo in a 3-minute video so it tends to get the headlines. I believe that in 2013 we will move on from this eye candy and dig into some of the higher value benefits that PaaS can provide. This is not unlike virtualization which started out primarily as a server consolidation solution but has evolved into a complete re-invention of the modern datacenter and datacenter processes.
From an enterprise perspective, ‘private PaaS’ will be used by both enterprise application developers and enterprise IT. Each constituency will expect a different set of benefits. Aside from rapid deployment, developers will expect PaaS to help them build better cloud applications with fewer lines of less complicated code. Enterprise IT will expect to provide a more agile and efficient infrastructure while maintaining corporate security, compliance and application architecture guidelines. Typically these goals have been at odds with one another. More controls and compliance typically means longer time to business value.
The genius of PaaS is that it actually incents developers by providing agility in exchange for compliance. If developers build apps using on the enterprise PaaS, they release them faster *and* they are nearly assured of being compliant with enterprise guidelines since they are running them on a shared, pre-configured platform. If for some reason they want to build an application not well suited for PaaS, the process reverts to the existing bureaucratic nightmare. Compliance is achieved with a carrot rather than a stick.
There is another major and often overlooked downstream advantage of PaaS in the enterprise – application inventory. Inventory has long been the Holy Grail within the enterprise simply because you need to know what you have before you can reliably act on it. After nearly two decades of CMDBs and an assortment of inventory tools, it’s still a mess. Most enterprises couldn’t tell you how many apps they have, which servers they are running on or who is using them. This is after buying multiple “application discovery” solutions over the years. In fact, most couldn’t even tell you which services, infrastructure and components applications are made up of because they simply count servers. We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars in unnecessary cost and risk. At a Gartner conference I recently attended, analysts pleaded with attendees to force their CIOs to retire an old application for each new one created in order to control ongoing cost. You can’t do this without an accurate inventory of what you have. The fact that modern apps are dynamic and no longer statically tethered to physical infrastructure means that the problem is only going to get harder.
Accurate application inventory is an intrinsic benefit of PaaS. It’s easy to tell what’s running where, what apps are made up of, what’s being used, who is using it and how it is changing. This benefit makes nearly every downstream enterprise IT task easier including disaster recovery, monitoring, change management – you name it. While it’s difficult to quantify these benefits with hard dollar savings, PaaS opens the door to solving so many of the hairy enterprise IT problems that have plagued customers for the better part of the last 25 years.
I’ll dedicate a few posts this year drilling deeper into some of the more specific and strategic benefits of PaaS in the enterprise.