Welcome!

Agile Computing Authors: Stackify Blog, Yeshim Deniz, Elizabeth White, Pat Romanski, Shelly Palmer

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.


@ThingsExpo Stories
BnkToTheFuture.com is the largest online investment platform for investing in FinTech, Bitcoin and Blockchain companies. We believe the future of finance looks very different from the past and we aim to invest and provide trading opportunities for qualifying investors that want to build a portfolio in the sector in compliance with international financial regulations.
A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
Imagine if you will, a retail floor so densely packed with sensors that they can pick up the movements of insects scurrying across a store aisle. Or a component of a piece of factory equipment so well-instrumented that its digital twin provides resolution down to the micrometer.
In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settle...
Product connectivity goes hand and hand these days with increased use of personal data. New IoT devices are becoming more personalized than ever before. In his session at 22nd Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, Nicolas Fierro, CEO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions, will discuss how in order to protect your data and privacy, IoT applications need to embrace Blockchain technology for a new level of product security never before seen - or needed.
Leading companies, from the Global Fortune 500 to the smallest companies, are adopting hybrid cloud as the path to business advantage. Hybrid cloud depends on cloud services and on-premises infrastructure working in unison. Successful implementations require new levels of data mobility, enabled by an automated and seamless flow across on-premises and cloud resources. In his general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Tevis, an IBM Storage Software Technical Strategist and Customer Solution Architec...
Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
No hype cycles or predictions of a gazillion things here. IoT is here. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, an Associate Partner of Analytics, IoT & Cybersecurity at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He also discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data...
Coca-Cola’s Google powered digital signage system lays the groundwork for a more valuable connection between Coke and its customers. Digital signs pair software with high-resolution displays so that a message can be changed instantly based on what the operator wants to communicate or sell. In their Day 3 Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Chambers, Global Group Director, Digital Innovation, Coca-Cola, and Vidya Nagarajan, a Senior Product Manager at Google, discussed how from store operations and ...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
"IBM is really all in on blockchain. We take a look at sort of the history of blockchain ledger technologies. It started out with bitcoin, Ethereum, and IBM evaluated these particular blockchain technologies and found they were anonymous and permissionless and that many companies were looking for permissioned blockchain," stated René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventi...
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...
Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
We are given a desktop platform with Java 8 or Java 9 installed and seek to find a way to deploy high-performance Java applications that use Java 3D and/or Jogl without having to run an installer. We are subject to the constraint that the applications be signed and deployed so that they can be run in a trusted environment (i.e., outside of the sandbox). Further, we seek to do this in a way that does not depend on bundling a JRE with our applications, as this makes downloads and installations rat...
Widespread fragmentation is stalling the growth of the IIoT and making it difficult for partners to work together. The number of software platforms, apps, hardware and connectivity standards is creating paralysis among businesses that are afraid of being locked into a solution. EdgeX Foundry is unifying the community around a common IoT edge framework and an ecosystem of interoperable components.
DX World EXPO, LLC, a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
In this strange new world where more and more power is drawn from business technology, companies are effectively straddling two paths on the road to innovation and transformation into digital enterprises. The first path is the heritage trail – with “legacy” technology forming the background. Here, extant technologies are transformed by core IT teams to provide more API-driven approaches. Legacy systems can restrict companies that are transitioning into digital enterprises. To truly become a lead...
Digital Transformation (DX) is not a "one-size-fits all" strategy. Each organization needs to develop its own unique, long-term DX plan. It must do so by realizing that we now live in a data-driven age, and that technologies such as Cloud Computing, Big Data, the IoT, Cognitive Computing, and Blockchain are only tools. In her general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Rebecca Wanta explained how the strategy must focus on DX and include a commitment from top management to create great IT jobs, monitor ...
"Cloud Academy is an enterprise training platform for the cloud, specifically public clouds. We offer guided learning experiences on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and all the surrounding methodologies and technologies that you need to know and your teams need to know in order to leverage the full benefits of the cloud," explained Alex Brower, VP of Marketing at Cloud Academy, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clar...
The IoT Will Grow: In what might be the most obvious prediction of the decade, the IoT will continue to expand next year, with more and more devices coming online every single day. What isn’t so obvious about this prediction: where that growth will occur. The retail, healthcare, and industrial/supply chain industries will likely see the greatest growth. Forrester Research has predicted the IoT will become “the backbone” of customer value as it continues to grow. It is no surprise that retail is ...