Explaining PaaS

In a recent CloudU report – I made an effort to explain the Cloud Computing stack to non-technical, Mom and Pop businesses. As I reflected upon last week, the triangle metaphor is slightly imperfect for describing what the Cloud is. One of the reasons for this is the high degree of breadth that Platform as a Service has come to enjoy. It is this breadth that I want to reflect on in this post.

I ran a CloudCamp in Sydney, Australia a few weeks ago and when talking about Cloud there it struck me that the audience was quite polarized. On one hand there were a number of what most would regard as (warning, extreme generalization coming!) stereotypical developers – the sort of people who like to hack, wear sandals, have long hair, fuel themselves on Red Bull and pizza and like to work with programming languages like Ruby.

At the other extreme there were the folks that I’ll call business developers. This group (another extreme generalization coming) are at home in strategy meetings, might even wear a collar and long pants, and are happy using words like “synergize, buy-in, optimality and business-process-alignment”. While these generalizations I make somewhat in jest, it IS fair to say that development is a little segmented across these lines.

So to are Cloud platform tools that developers use. On the one hand there are tools that focus on automating some of the infrastructural requirements that developers need to face – think of them as offerings to automate application deployment. On the other hand there are the declarative development tools that allow developers to take business data and create processes and work flows based upon that data. The first approach is typified by tools such as Heroku and EngineYard whereas the later approach is that taken by force.com for example.

It’s a topic that I recently had the opportunity to discuss with Byron Sebastian, formerly CEO of Heroku and, since the acquisition of Heroku by salesforce.com, in charge of all Salesforce platforms. Sebastian agreed with the general thrust of what I was saying, and I’ve since been testing the theory out on CloudCamp attendees by using, as is my style, some pretty coarse generalizations that thrust home the difference between these two different approaches.

My, admittedly unscientific, experiments have shown that non-technical audiences grasp the concepts I espouse in my video about the two different types of PaaS – Infrastructure PaaS (iPaaS) and Application PaaS (aPaaS). It’s a way to clarify one part of the Cloud Computing stack that has been problematic for people, and an approach I’ll continue to use when talking to audiences.

We’re covering these areas of Cloud Computing on an ongoing basis at CloudU, an educational series aimed at increasing the knowledge and skill that SMBs have about the Cloud.

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