|By Cary Landis||
|December 28, 2012 02:00 PM EST||
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.
Software in a Box
Software as a Service
Platform as a Service
Infrastructure as a Service
The 3rd International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo - to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY - announces that its Call for Papers is now open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
Nov. 28, 2014 03:00 PM EST Reads: 1,179
Cultural, regulatory, environmental, political and economic (CREPE) conditions over the past decade are creating cross-industry solution spaces that require processes and technologies from both the Internet of Things (IoT), and Data Management and Analytics (DMA). These solution spaces are evolving into Sensor Analytics Ecosystems (SAE) that represent significant new opportunities for organizations of all types. Public Utilities throughout the world, providing electricity, natural gas and water, are pursuing SmartGrid initiatives that represent one of the more mature examples of SAE. We have s...
Nov. 27, 2014 04:00 PM EST Reads: 1,307
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
Nov. 27, 2014 04:00 PM EST Reads: 1,642
The Internet of Things is tied together with a thin strand that is known as time. Coincidentally, at the core of nearly all data analytics is a timestamp. When working with time series data there are a few core principles that everyone should consider, especially across datasets where time is the common boundary. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Scott, Director of Enterprise Strategy & Architecture at MapR Technologies, discussed single-value, geo-spatial, and log time series data. By focusing on enterprise applications and the data center, he will use OpenTSDB as an example t...
Nov. 27, 2014 03:00 PM EST Reads: 1,478
How do APIs and IoT relate? The answer is not as simple as merely adding an API on top of a dumb device, but rather about understanding the architectural patterns for implementing an IoT fabric. There are typically two or three trends: Exposing the device to a management framework Exposing that management framework to a business centric logic Exposing that business layer and data to end users. This last trend is the IoT stack, which involves a new shift in the separation of what stuff happens, where data lives and where the interface lies. For instance, it's a mix of architectural styles ...
Nov. 27, 2014 03:00 PM EST Reads: 1,311
An entirely new security model is needed for the Internet of Things, or is it? Can we save some old and tested controls for this new and different environment? In his session at @ThingsExpo, New York's at the Javits Center, Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, reviewed hands-on lessons with IoT devices and reveal a new risk balance you might not expect. Davi Ottenheimer, EMC Senior Director of Trust, has more than nineteen years' experience managing global security operations and assessments, including a decade of leading incident response and digital forensics. He is co-author of t...
Nov. 27, 2014 01:00 PM EST Reads: 1,674
The Internet of Things will greatly expand the opportunities for data collection and new business models driven off of that data. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Esmeralda Swartz, CMO of MetraTech, discussed how for this to be effective you not only need to have infrastructure and operational models capable of utilizing this new phenomenon, but increasingly service providers will need to convince a skeptical public to participate. Get ready to show them the money!
Nov. 27, 2014 11:00 AM EST Reads: 1,285
The Internet of Things will put IT to its ultimate test by creating infinite new opportunities to digitize products and services, generate and analyze new data to improve customer satisfaction, and discover new ways to gain a competitive advantage across nearly every industry. In order to help corporate business units to capitalize on the rapidly evolving IoT opportunities, IT must stand up to a new set of challenges. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jeff Kaplan, Managing Director of THINKstrategies, will examine why IT must finally fulfill its role in support of its SBUs or face a new round of...
Nov. 27, 2014 10:00 AM EST Reads: 1,235
One of the biggest challenges when developing connected devices is identifying user value and delivering it through successful user experiences. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Mike Kuniavsky, Principal Scientist, Innovation Services at PARC, described an IoT-specific approach to user experience design that combines approaches from interaction design, industrial design and service design to create experiences that go beyond simple connected gadgets to create lasting, multi-device experiences grounded in people's real needs and desires.
Nov. 27, 2014 08:00 AM EST Reads: 1,244
Enthusiasm for the Internet of Things has reached an all-time high. In 2013 alone, venture capitalists spent more than $1 billion dollars investing in the IoT space. With "smart" appliances and devices, IoT covers wearable smart devices, cloud services to hardware companies. Nest, a Google company, detects temperatures inside homes and automatically adjusts it by tracking its user's habit. These technologies are quickly developing and with it come challenges such as bridging infrastructure gaps, abiding by privacy concerns and making the concept a reality. These challenges can't be addressed w...
Nov. 27, 2014 07:45 AM EST Reads: 1,528
The Domain Name Service (DNS) is one of the most important components in networking infrastructure, enabling users and services to access applications by translating URLs (names) into IP addresses (numbers). Because every icon and URL and all embedded content on a website requires a DNS lookup loading complex sites necessitates hundreds of DNS queries. In addition, as more internet-enabled ‘Things' get connected, people will rely on DNS to name and find their fridges, toasters and toilets. According to a recent IDG Research Services Survey this rate of traffic will only grow. What's driving t...
Nov. 27, 2014 07:00 AM EST Reads: 1,503
Connected devices and the Internet of Things are getting significant momentum in 2014. In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, Jim Hunter, Chief Scientist & Technology Evangelist at Greenwave Systems, examined three key elements that together will drive mass adoption of the IoT before the end of 2015. The first element is the recent advent of robust open source protocols (like AllJoyn and WebRTC) that facilitate M2M communication. The second is broad availability of flexible, cost-effective storage designed to handle the massive surge in back-end data in a world where timely analytics is e...
Nov. 27, 2014 06:45 AM EST Reads: 1,332
Scott Jenson leads a project called The Physical Web within the Chrome team at Google. Project members are working to take the scalability and openness of the web and use it to talk to the exponentially exploding range of smart devices. Nearly every company today working on the IoT comes up with the same basic solution: use my server and you'll be fine. But if we really believe there will be trillions of these devices, that just can't scale. We need a system that is open a scalable and by using the URL as a basic building block, we open this up and get the same resilience that the web enjoys.
Nov. 27, 2014 06:45 AM EST Reads: 1,398
We are reaching the end of the beginning with WebRTC, and real systems using this technology have begun to appear. One challenge that faces every WebRTC deployment (in some form or another) is identity management. For example, if you have an existing service – possibly built on a variety of different PaaS/SaaS offerings – and you want to add real-time communications you are faced with a challenge relating to user management, authentication, authorization, and validation. Service providers will want to use their existing identities, but these will have credentials already that are (hopefully) i...
Nov. 27, 2014 04:00 AM EST Reads: 1,245
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Nov. 27, 2014 04:00 AM EST Reads: 1,193
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Nov. 26, 2014 02:00 PM EST Reads: 1,629
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
Nov. 24, 2014 07:00 PM EST Reads: 1,723
Bit6 today issued a challenge to the technology community implementing Web Real Time Communication (WebRTC). To leap beyond WebRTC’s significant limitations and fully leverage its underlying value to accelerate innovation, application developers need to consider the entire communications ecosystem.
Nov. 24, 2014 12:00 PM EST Reads: 1,626
The definition of IoT is not new, in fact it’s been around for over a decade. What has changed is the public's awareness that the technology we use on a daily basis has caught up on the vision of an always on, always connected world. If you look into the details of what comprises the IoT, you’ll see that it includes everything from cloud computing, Big Data analytics, “Things,” Web communication, applications, network, storage, etc. It is essentially including everything connected online from hardware to software, or as we like to say, it’s an Internet of many different things. The difference ...
Nov. 24, 2014 11:00 AM EST Reads: 1,753
Cloud Expo 2014 TV commercials will feature @ThingsExpo, which was launched in June, 2014 at New York City's Javits Center as the largest 'Internet of Things' event in the world.
Nov. 24, 2014 09:00 AM EST Reads: 1,787