Seven Key Requirements Corporate IT Needs from PaaS

This guest post was contributed by Pankaj Malviya, a serial entrepreneur with more than 15 years experience in enterprise software product design, development, and implementation of customer service solutions for Fortune 500 companies. In 2006, Pankaj founded LongJump, a Platform-as-a-Service provider that helps companies rapidly develop and deliver customized applications online (see our coverage of LongJump here).

It’s time for corporate IT to get their heads in the clouds.

Cloud computing initiatives are gaining momentum with businesses of all sizes, particularly with enterprises that are looking to adopt the right solutions to address their ongoing business and IT challenges. Emerging on the horizon is a broad range of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offerings that enterprise business and IT units are examining more thoroughly. PaaS solutions are appealing as a direct evolution of SaaS-based, single-discipline solutions that are targeted toward the horizontal enterprise.

Why should corporate IT departments rely on the costly, time-intensive maintenance of heavy infrastructure and continually reinvent the wheel to create powerful applications? PaaS offers a simple promise: develop, deploy and fine-tune enterprise-class SaaS applications within a single environment across all business units. The net effect is a more cost-effective, centralized way to extend, build and manage custom applications.

Thus IT is free to focus on innovating solutions that engage knowledge workers in increased productivity and collaboration and improve overall business efficiency. PaaS also affects the economics of application development, providing a faster time-to-value for developing, deploying and integrating custom applications, resulting in a more than 50 % improvement on productivity for total platform spend per dollar, according to McKinsey & Co.

As such, corporate IT has an important leadership role in applying PaaS. Unlike single-department SaaS tools where a business unit may have had primary say for functionality, adoption and manageability, PaaS has a cross-departmental impact within an organization. It’s critical for corporate IT, and not just the business units themselves, to fully understand these different platforms and provide the governance and manageability needed to sustain their value. Otherwise, it can become yet another rogue technology that IT will have to deal with, rather than the leveraged solution it promises to be.

Current PaaS providers offer many components resulting in widely different PaaS offerings that can be broken down into three buckets:

  1. Delivery platforms such as Amazon EC2 or Google’s App Engine that provide a cloud environment for developers to host their applications.
  2. Development platforms that offer cloud-based integrated development tools.
  3. PaaS platforms that offer an end-to-end platform to facilitate both development and delivery of integrated custom applications.

What should corporate IT require in their PaaS solution? From LongJump’s customers, certain requirements keep coming up as key to their adoption and success. We’ve identified 7 requirements that all IT organizations should consider.

  1. Enterprise-Class Platform: A PaaS solution geared for corporate IT should not only have a proven operational history, but also have a strong track record for application delivery, a scalable architecture, a high availability, reliable platform, and deployment flexibility. A growing consideration to plan for is whether the platform can be hosted or extended on-premise. PaaS vendors should be willing to back their platforms with SLAs.
  2. Business Alignment Focus: PaaS presents a significant opportunity for both business and IT to align strategies to collaborate and achieve overall business goals with customized, integrated applications. Where information management is needed, a PaaS solution should provide IT with the capabilities to automate data policies and triggers, repeatable business processes, workflow and approval cycles, with the requisite built-in reporting.
  3. Open Standards-Based Extensibility: Best-of-breed components should undoubtedly be present such as industry standard tools, plug-ins and APIs. Unfortunately, we are seeing many PaaS solutions requiring proprietary code and non-industry standard language knowledge to code on their platforms. PaaS offerings which rely on industry standards such as Java, XML, MySQL, Apache, etc., enable the use of customizable, reusable building blocks to lower development, service and maintenance costs, speed up time-to-value, and help a business extend the platform quickly by writing their own functions or making UI changes.
  4. Enterprise and System Interoperability: By this time next year, another dozen or more competitive PaaS and PaaS-like offerings will likely emerge, yet currently there is no standard interchange for these systems adding to a risk of “lock in.” Thankfully, many businesses have and utilize existing SOA initiatives that already support common Internet-based connectivity to external systems such as SOAP/WSDL and RESTful web services. Any PaaS offering worth its salt must support these interfaces until a dominant interoperability standard evolves.
  5. Application Administration Tools: PaaS should be highly serviceable, so that a company can easily administer it for users, group roles, permissions, version control, release management, data management, etc. It should also ideally connect to existing LDAP services to provide a single point of access for administration.
  6. Visual Application Building Tools: PaaS offerings that feature visual application building tools help corporate IT build and realize applications faster and further before they have to roll up their sleeves and begin coding. Robust PaaS solutions should provide visual environments across the platform for layouts, forms, fields, validations, rules, formulas, workflows, etc.
  7. Service Partner Providers: In many cases, corporate IT doesn’t have the resources to manage a custom application from scratch and would invariably need to bring in outsourced help. Does the PaaS provider have established partnerships in place with companies that provide essential specialized services that will help manage or optimize the PaaS solution? Businesses should inquire about these partnerships, since adopting a platform means the company is also committing to the PaaS provider’s hosting partners, server partners, consulting partners, etc.

It’s hard to miss the growing buzz around PaaS and Cloud Computing. Gartner named cloud computing one of the top ten strategic technologies for 2008, noting that web platforms are emerging to provide service-based access to infrastructure services, information, applications, and business processes through cloud computing environments.

There is a real promise for enterprise organizations to benefit from PaaS, but it’s important that IT fully take control and advantage to meet their application needs. Platforms that meet the needs and conditions faced within enterprise IT will have a real impact on an organization’s ability to streamline their application projects.