What is PaaS? Platform as a Service Explained

Posted 2021-11-11  in Cloud Education
blog header

Platform as a service, or PaaS, is a category of cloud computing that allows developers to use deployment platforms to build, deploy, and scale their applications. When a developer uses PaaS, all they have to consider is their code. With PaaS, the cloud provider provides all the backend infrastructure, including networking, middleware, servers, storage, virtualization, the OS, and the runtime environments. This means that users can expect pre-configured runtime environments and predictable scaling, storage, and security options. Users have access to certain libraries, tools, and configuration settings, but they can’t modify the underlying operating system or network settings.

PaaS can be a good choice for developers who don’t need to customize their underlying infrastructure or who want to focus their attention on development rather than DevOps and system administration. PaaS products are very powerful and make it easier to scale, rapidly iterate, and quickly deploy. 

PaaS vs. IaaS vs. SaaS vs. FaaS: What’s the difference?

It’s hard to think about PaaS without also considering the other delivery models for cloud computing, specifically Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS), and Functions as a Service (FaaS). There are fundamental differences to each delivery model and pros and cons for each depending on the user’s needs.

IaaS models provide on-demand computing resources over the internet, including networking, storage, and other infrastructural components. With IaaS, users have complete control over their infrastructure and the software and tools associated with their tech. Still, they don’t have to control or manage the physical infrastructure, like bare metal servers or data centers.

With IaaS, users can choose the level of control over their infrastructure, but they don’t have to control or manage the physical hardware. Developers can set up their infrastructure and decide what layers of abstraction they want. To make maintaining their application easier, they can layer in things like load balancers or even managed services like Managed Kubernetes

With PaaS, users no longer have to manage the operating system, runtime, or other infrastructural components of their application that they would need to manage with IaaS. PaaS provides a fully managed solution for developers looking to launch applications quickly. When developers choose to use PaaS, they can focus on their development work and let the provider manage backend services and system administration. 

SaaS goes further and provides the user with an interface that is easy to use without the user having to worry about any backend components. SaaS applications are popular because of their simplicity and accessibility. Many consumers are familiar with SaaS applications as they are popular ways to deliver software. 

Serverless architecture or Functions as a Service (FaaS) is used for specific functions that are event-driven and can be fully managed by the cloud provider. They execute on code written by the user and are triggered by a particular event. The results of that execution are then sent to the user. This allows businesses to pay per request rather than pay for an entire ongoing structure.

The details: how PaaS architecture works

PaaS platforms provide and manage all the infrastructural components needed to build applications with cloud computing. This means that the underlying infrastructure (such as the operating system and other software) is installed, configured, and maintained by the provider while allowing the user to have access to languages, libraries, tools, and services for application development, as well as a certain degree of control over configuration settings. Developers are able to configure their applications through a straightforward interface.

PaaS allows users to focus their efforts on developing and deploying apps in a tested and standardized environment. DigitalOcean App Platform is an example of a PaaS offering. It allows users to build, deploy, and scale apps and static sites quickly and easily while handling provisioning and managing infrastructure, databases, operating systems, application runtimes, and more.

Scaling in IaaS often requires extra work from the developers to maintain continuity while scaling, or may require some downtime while the scaling takes place. PaaS offerings create a layer of abstraction between developers and their cloud infrastructure, simplifying the experience and allowing for a zero-downtime scaling method. Many PaaS solutions also offer auto-scale functionalities that enable users to specify the parameters or events that trigger the PaaS system to scale automatically.

Developers may choose a PaaS option to focus more on the coding and development of their applications while saving time and money managing infrastructure. PaaS platforms also make it easy for developers to maintain and scale their applications and allow them to easily create and delete resources — great for things like proof of concept needs and saving costs when you only pay for the time your application was in use. PaaS platforms often offer a variety of API integrations, and there are multiple marketplaces available, making it easy to incorporate other technologies into an application.  

PaaS has many uses

Developers who don’t need to customize their underlying infrastructure and want a fast, easily managed, and readily scalable way to develop their application often choose PaaS. PaaS is a great way to host mobile and web applications and static sites. Often, developers want to spend their time and energy working on their idea — whether that’s a mobile app or a website or blog. PaaS offerings allow developers to boost productivity and spend their time on what matters most to them. Developers can also build APIs or run background workers on PaaS platforms, freeing up time and resources.

Additionally, developers can choose a fully managed database for their applications so that they don't need to worry about managing their databases. DigitalOcean’s Managed Databases is a fully managed solution that takes away the complexities of database management and handles things like set up, scaling, updates, and backups automatically. Stringent security policies for PaaS providers and additional security features can offer another level of comfort for users.

Purpose-build PaaS

Some PaaS providers build their software for specific uses or types of applications. For example, PaaS for Artificial Intelligence (AiPaaS) often includes pre-trained machine learning models and APIs for various common uses. AiPaaS makes it easier for teams to build AI applications without the massive computing and hardware costs while saving time with pre-built services. Communications platform as a service (cPaaS) focuses on voice, video, and text messaging capabilities. Integration platform as a service (iPaaS) provides an easier, more comprehensive way for users to integrate with APIs and connect data across public and private clouds and even on-premises environments. Finally, mobile platform as a service (mPaaS) focuses on application development for mobile devices.

Benefits of using PaaS

PaaS is a popular option for many developers and businesses, especially those that need the ability to iterate and pivot quickly as they develop new applications. Some benefits of PaaS are:

  • Faster time to market: PaaS offerings are built for speed. Developers can iterate and deploy more quickly and efficiently.
  • Scalability: Easily scaling applications with little-to-no downtime can make all the difference for a business experiencing high growth.
  • Flexibility: Most common programming languages and frameworks are supported by PaaS offerings, meaning you don’t have to learn a new skill to get started. You have the flexibility to choose the language and framework you're most comfortable with to develop your application.

Considerations when exploring PaaS solutions

PaaS is a fantastic solution for those looking to deploy their applications quickly without worrying about infrastructure, and users of all kinds can benefit from the power and flexibility it provides. However, when deciding what solution is best for your business and goals, several factors are essential to consider:

Loss of user control and visibility: 

PaaS is optimized for ease of code deployment rather than deep customization of the underlying infrastructure. If users need more visibility and control into the infrastructure, PaaS may not be the right solution. Teams that want complete control over their production environment and the design and behavior of their infrastructure should consider using an IaaS solution.

Vendor lock-in:

It can be challenging to migrate applications built on PaaS platforms. Using open-source cloud solutions makes it easier to migrate computing operations from one provider to another. 

Cost:

PaaS may seem expensive in the beginning. While it is initially more costly to use a PaaS solution than to build something yourself on an IaaS solution, users often find they save money with PaaS over time, especially accounting for hours spent managing the infrastructure of applications.

Regulation: 

PaaS uses cloud computing for its infrastructure, which means that it’s essential to consider how data is collected and stored and what regulations you may be facing with your customer data. Some industries, like healthcare and finance, have strict rules about storing and using customer data and may not allow customer data to be held in public clouds. Organizations also need to consider the data protection and privacy laws in the location where their services are used. 

Security and data considerations: 

All the major cloud providers are regulated and have strict security requirements, along with entire security teams and other experts dedicated to keeping information safe. Still, cloud services are open to some security threats. While these instances are extremely rare, it’s a good idea to find out how the cloud service provider secures data and how they recommend customers further secure their data.

Providers may also use your data for things like understanding the use of their product, selling or personalizing ads, or training machine learning algorithms. Find out what a provider’s policies are for using and deleting data before giving them access.

Interested in learning more about PaaS and if it’s the right solution for your business? DigitalOcean offers a variety of simple products that meet developer needs. Explore what you can do with DigitalOcean’s App Platform