PaaS as Blackbox: PASS or FAIL?

by Aaqib Gadit  September 24, 2013

It would not be untrue if I call 2013 the year of Platform-as-a-Service or PaaS as we conveniently call it. Throughout these eight months, a lot has changed and to an extent for the better.

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PaaS, built on top of IaaS, offers a way to host scalable and reliable applications on cloud, and simplify apps deployment and life cycle management without the headaches/hassles of hardware or infrastructure maintenance. The rising model brings agility and ease for developers and businesses.

PaaS: The Blackbox

However, this convenience looks great on paper but there are sides to PaaS which are not very well-admired.

Back in February, lyrical content startup Rap Genius (RG) caused a commotion when it confront popular PaaS vendor Heroku of hiding operational facts. The ApacheBench test that RG ran on its app had a slower response rate when compared with the reports that Heroku generated. A static page recorded 6330ms on AB tests whereas Heroku reported 40ms. This rang alarms inside the industry about PaaS practices.

The Rap Genius incident started the debate about the blackbox – like functionalities. Basically, no one (except the PaaS vendor) knows about inside workings of a code when it is process by the cloud infrastructure. This brings us to six points of discussions inside the PaaS industry.

1. Keeping It Simple and Swift:

The current PaaS offerings are undeniably great as they simplify a dull and tedious process. They have their advantages like abstracting many infrastructure level issues from developers, so they can focus on their core work i.e. Coding (Dev), and leave the Operations (Ops) side to the PaaS vendor. This leverages agile app development and deployment under a ZERO-CONFIG approach.

2. One Size May Not Fit All:

While agreeing that PaaS is a great solution, its two-minute-noodle approach may not work for all developers. The biggest problem of PaaS is with customization. Under PaaS offerings, you are pretty much stuck with a setup which the vendor can provide. You cannot make any changes to installations or setups.

3. Dark As a Blackbox:

If I were to describe the current state of PaaS in simple terms, I would regard it with a tunnel where there is light at both ends, but it is pitch dark inside. It is so dark that as soon as you enter you cannot see a thing. Businesses do not like mysteries and they do not simply invest in a system which lacks visibility.

4. Limited or No Server Access:

Lack of server access seems to be fueling the idea that PaaS is made for simple web apps. Under PaaS, there is no option other than trusting the vendors with the servers as they are under their ownership. While to many this may not seem like an issue, however, to many this is a major issue as they do not like to compromise on important elements and reports like error_logs, access logs, custom libraries, mysql_tuning, etc.

5. Troublesome Troubleshooting:

While developers continue to be excited about Public PaaS vendors like AppFog, Heroku, etc., businesses may frown at them because the platform lacks sophistication that is required for mission-driven apps. If something goes wrong, you have to wait for the vendor to fix things as you do not have any access to the server.

6. Think “DevOps”, Provide “PaaS”:

Mixing DevOps (more operations and configuration related) and PaaS (more app related) seems a solution. Amazon Web Services already sighted this and though they have Elastic Beanstalk, they feel the need and came up with Opswork supporting operational controls through DevOps.

[You May Also Read: Businesses Thrive When Developers & Ops Synergize]

As a strong supporter of cloud related technologies, I believe these six issues are mere teething problems for an industry which is rather new and has just started to grow. However, a great responsibility lies on PaaS vendors of providing products which provide functionality and trust. Missing this opportunity may sadly stall the growth for PaaS.

 


 

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About Aaqib Gadit

As Co-founder and Director of Cloudways, Aaqib is responsible for the services portfolio, strategic planning, product and business development.

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