Cloud computing is said to be a funny business. The term itself is sometimes derided by technical professionals as nothing more than a marketing term used to sell recycled technologies in a brand new package. So, to what extend Cloud computing is actually a marketing gambit and what is truly innovative about it?
To analyze the innovation in Cloud computing, lets analyze SaaS, PaaS and SaaS separately.
To be honest, the idea of SaaS isn’t actually new, but the term SaaS is. SaaS simply refers to software that is provided on-demand for use. To some extend, IaaS isn’t conceptually new either. People have been collocating in data centers since data centers have been around. Also, virtualized software infrastructures are in use for years now. Although in SaaS and IaaS, there is continuous innovation in hypervisors, scalability, elasticity, integration, load-balancing and dealing with multi-tenancy issues, but, lets face it.. a real skeptical critic may still label them as old wine in a new bottle.
What about PaaS? Unlike IaaS and SaaS, PaaS is a much more abstract concept. PaaS providers offer a platform for others to use. Usually what is being provided is part operating system and part middleware. A proper PaaS provider takes care of everything needed to run some specific language or technology stack. Each PaaS offers a solution suitable for a particular environment and in most cases, it’s a totally new approach to decade old problems.
PaaS is a bright promising star on the horizons of Clouds, whose “innovation factor” cannot be easily challenged. This is the real disruptive technology part of the Cloud stack that Gartner analysts refer so often.
These days many PaaS providers are providing multi-tenant solutions. This means that not only is the physical hardware shared among multiple virtual machines but the virtual machines themselves may have several different applications from several different customers on them. Not long time ago, with PaaS used to be synonymous with three things; Google App Engine, VMware’s Cloud Foundry/vFabric and Microsoft’s Windows Azure. Now a whole bunch of companies are providing their new PaaS offering to provide solutions in various domains.
Following are the three examples.
1) Alcatel-Lucent’s CloudBand
Like many telcos, Alcatel-Lucent (ALU) found itself lagging behind in the Cloud computing race. In 2011, ALU had to get serious about their Cloud strategy and needed to offer something different and innovative. Recently they provided the roadmap of their Cloud infrastructure named as CloudBand and PaaS is the counter-stone of that. ALU is always proud on its SAM-portal technology which is a graphic portal that can be used to provision services for their routers. This is something that is not offered by competitors like Cisco. ALU has extended this router provisioning services through a set of PaaS tools provided under CloudBand offering. The use of PaaS in CloudBand would provide a much more powerful, flexible and extendable solution for the user. It is one of the real innovative ways of using the power of PaaS.
Uhuru is a PaaS technology that targets a specific segment of developer community. It targets those developers who have to use .NET, but do not want to take the “official” solution offered by Windows Azure. Uhuru’s product provides native Microsoft .NET extensions to the VMware Cloud Foundry. By using Uhuru together with Cloud Foundry Windows, .NET developers are free to select the most appropriate cloud service from among the many competing providers. Private and public clouds are also both supported with Uhuru .NET Services for Cloud Foundry.
AppScale is an open-source PaaS technology which implements a number of popular APIs including those of Google App Engine, MapReduce (via Hadoop), MPI and others. AppScale executes as a guest virtual machine (guestVM) over any virtualization layer that can host an Ubuntu Lucid image.
There are many other companies using PaaS in new innovative ways offering flexibility, power and extendibility that never existed before. But, keep in mind that the dynamics of Cloud computing are changing all the time. Rapid innovation causes the lines between IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS to blur, sometimes significantly. Nonetheless, the promise of PaaS seems to be real and has already started to materialize.