How to choose your PaaS provider - making sense of the platforms

Companies look to take their first step into PaaS have first to negotiate the variety of options - which to choose?

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) is set to grow over the next few year with analyst firm Gartner predicting that the market for this technology is on the cusp of several years of strategic growth.

Gartner vice president Yefim Natis said that users and vendors of enterprise IT software solutions that are not yet engaged with PaaS must begin building expertise in PaaS or “face tough challenges from competitors in the coming years”. The technology, unlike its SaaS counterpart, has barely crossed the radar of CIOs.

PaaS, to put it in its simplest terms, is middleware (application infrastructure) in the cloud. It is the middle layer of the end-to-end cloud software stack. It is the intermediary between the underlying system infrastructure (operating systems, networks, virtualisation, storage, etc.) and overlaying application software. 

There are no clear leaders in a market still in the early stages of growth. There are also very few best business practices or dedicated standards. With the market still in its infancy, who are the players to look out for and what are the benefits and drawbacks of their current offerings?

Amazon Elastic Beanstalk
Amazon has been seen by many as an early leader in the area with its Elastic Beanstalk offering. It is a serious competitor, offering a comprehensive Java stack along with a management package around some of the existing EC2 tools such as load balancing, auto-scaling and monitoring.

Using it is simple enough. The application is loaded onto S3 and the AWS console is used to create a new application. The configuration options allow you to state where to find the application and the rules for when Amazon should scale the application.

The service will then setup the load-balancer, create an EC2 instance, install the application, setup auto-scaling and cloud-watch. After pointing a domain to the CNAME, Elastic Beanstalk provides to make the application live and then managed and monitored it.

However, the drawbacks are that the service only supports a Java stack. Developers using Ruby, Python and PHP may find this a non-starter. Elsewhere Beanstalk fails is that the service doesn’t manage or monitor any database used. But if you are a developer used to building software stacks and manually deploying them on EC2, this could potentially take away the strain in application deployment and management.

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