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Companies that want to focus on writing their code and not have to think about application servers at all are now looking to platform as a service (PaaS).
A PaaS is a virtual instance running an application server with some management and deployment tools in front of it. Management of the infrastructure and the higher-level runtime (application server, LAMP stack, and so on) are taken care of for you, and there’s generally a marketplace of other services like databases and logging for you to tap. You just deploy your application and provision instances.
Almost all the popular cloud computing provider has PaaS to offer. Each vendor has a set of differentiating characteristics beyond the many technical and cosmetic differences. They might even be targeting different sorts of customers. Which one should you choose?
To find out, we examined seven PaaS solutions based on the top concerns we hear from customers:
In addition to posing these questions to each vendor, we subjected each PaaS offering to a simple test.
The trouble is that all of the tutorials and getting-started documentation seems to be aimed at people working on green field applications. Most of us spend the majority of our time working on existing applications. The big money is getting the legacy to run in our new cloudy world. We wanted to see how easy or difficult it would be to port a legacy application to the cloud.
Our legacy app, called Granny’s Addressbook (aka Granny), is a training exercise we use at my company to teach the Java-based Spring framework. The rationale: Chances are if you’re comparing PaaS, you aren’t a Microsoft shop. If you’re not a Microsoft shop, then statistically speaking you’re a John Doe with 2.3 kids and your application is in Java. If your application is in Java, then it is probably written in the Spring framework. This is basic market math, so we compared the process of deploying Granny on each of the PaaS clouds.
Conclusion of our research was that Google App Engine has the best SLA but also a high risk of lock-in. Red Hat’s OpenShift was a bit disappointing, but we expect the kinks will get worked out as it exits preview status. It likely would’ve been more impressive if Granny were a Java EE application instead of a Spring app. Red Hat and VMware had the best answers with regards to lock-in.
Amazon Elastic Beanstalk isn’t really a PaaS, but it might be a good compromise if you need IaaS customizability with PaaS-like capabilities. Microsoft’s Windows Azure supports the most languages, but it didn’t function as a “true” PaaS for our application. Microsoft’s tooling for Linux didn’t work, and its tooling for Eclipse was underwhelming. We also wanted to try out Oracle Cloud, but when we attempted to create an account, the site reported that the preview was full. We look forward to trying it at a later date
It’s still a bit early in the PaaS space, but you can already begin porting legacy apps to some cloud platforms with only minor changes or possibly none at all. Big companies and small companies alike may find a PaaS to be a compelling way to deploy applications and cut capital expenditures. This market isn’t as crowded as it might seem, as many of the big players aren’t yet out of beta.
Most of the other PaaS vendors (including CloudBees, Heroku, and Red Hat’s OpenShift) are piggybacking on Amazon’s infrastructure. That means if something goes wrong at the infrastructure level, despite their SLAs, they’re talking to Amazon while you talk to them because this is really an IaaS you have ultimate control down to the OS level. On the other hand, where a true PaaS would give you “freedom from the obligation of control,” Amazon Elastic Beanstalk still requires you to manage infrastructure-level resources.
Andrew C. Oliver | InfoWorld