What is an aPaaS? Or “How not to make a (P)aaS out of you and me”!

Even though all year I’ve been talking to more and more technologists in London who have been designing or building aPaaS systems, including quite a few of my clients who have been building aPaaS’s too, there still seem to be a lot of people out there who haven’t quite mastered the difference between the three ways Cloud Services are provided (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS) never mind understanding what an aPaaS does.

What follows is the unAuthoritative Explanation:  

The Holy Trinity of the Cloud: IaaS, PaaS and SaaS

IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS 1

It’s probably fair to say that most software today consists of the following nine layers:

  1. Application
  2. Data
  3. Runtime
  4. Middleware
  5. Operating System
  6. Virtualization
  7. Servers
  8. Storage
  9. Networking, all of which can be provided by Cloud Services.

Cloud = CapEx vs OpEx

Cloud is way of providing you with the power you need to run software, and because it’s pay-per-use, Cloud provisioning allows companies to reduce the traditional upfront Capital Expenditure of buying hardware, licenses, support contracts etc. usually required to provide a software service, in favour for an OpEx-based model, where you only pay when you actually use the service (in the same way that the modern household pays for electricity today).

With Cloud provisioning, companies now have a choice, at the one end of spectrum you have “desktop”, or “packaged software” where you must own and maintain each of those nine layers. This gives you total control of the development implementation of the Software but you also have to provide  the computing power for it to run on, making everything CapEx. At the other end of the spectrum you have SaaS, where everything is provided for you, so you have zero control of the way the Software is implemented and it’s all a question of OpEx.

Infrastructure As A Service (IaaS), Platform As A Service (PaaS) and Software As A Service (SaaS) are the main ways that Cloud Services can be accessed, depending upon what percentage of the above list you want to be provided by the Cloud, and what the you are prepared to provide by yourself:

IaaS vs PaaS vs SaaS

What is an IaaS?

In essence with an IaaS, your traditional tin-and-wire Infrastructure components of Servers, Storage and Networking (external) are provided as a maintained service by your Cloud provider, and you must provide the “programmed” part of your software service. The IaaS allows you to build (or install), run and maintain whatever software you want on whatever operating software system you want.

Whether you want to Build your own software or Buy someone else’s software (install), it doesn’t matter. You get lots and lots of control over how your IT Service is going to work, and you have responsibility for everything from its architectural design to how it goes from being a load of written code, to a live piece of software (how it is deployed to the Cloud Infrastructure). You don’t need to employ server admins, but you do need to employ people to manage that deployment (called DevOps Engineers).

What is a PaaS?

With a PaaS, your Cloud provider provides you with a platform that you can build or install and then deploy your software onto (which you maintain). So you worry about what applications you want to provide, how you want them to work, whether you want to buy or build them yourself, you have to define the application and data architecture, how they will be deployed to the Cloud infrastructure etc etc.

In this model you get lots of control over the parts of your IT Service that will be the most customised – the part of your service that makes it “your software”. So at this point an insurance comparison web application could still be run on the same PAAS that provides your local swimming pool’s website. It might be rare, but as long as they both have the same Runtime, Middleware and Operating System requirements, it would be perfectly possible.

What is a SaaS?

With a SaaS you are buying a fully built, fully deployed, fully maintained IT service that will provide a specific service and nothing else. A professional Gmail account or Salesforce is a great example of a SaaS. It’s your data that you enter into the system, and you can normally customise the interface to some extent but nothing else is your responsibility, and because you don’t own any of the underlying software, you have zero control over what services it provides and they are how it run.

So what is an aPaaS?

This is where it gets exciting.

With a PaaS, you have to define, build and implement the way the code you have written is deployed onto the Cloud Infrastructure but your Runtime environment, any required middleware and the Operating System are all provided and maintained for you.

But some people / some companies “just want to code” and don’t want to have to worry about anything beyond the design and development of their application, and some companies want to be able to choose not to have to worry about it. They like the idea of being able to deploy their software at the click of a button and pay for someone else to do the rest.

Which is where the aPaaS comes in; it stands for Application Platform As A Service and it’s a cloud service that provides everything a PaaS does, but it also provides the deployment environment too:

  1. PaaS: development and deployment is your responsibility
  2. aPaaS: only development is your responsibility

Note that an aPaaS is really only relevant if at least some of the IT Service you want to use or provide involves building the software yourself.

Just how exciting is an aPaaS?

As it turns out, very. An aPaaS is perfect for a start-up that has an idea that they want to develop and deploy and get feedback from their target audience really quickly, or perhaps they don’t already have the deployment expertise and can’t afford the cost of employing a separate DevOps Engineer to manage the deployment, or it might even be the case that although they can afford that extra pair of hands, if given the choice they’d rather use the money to employ another developer who can design and develop more revenue generating software IP.

But its not just small companies that are interested in the aPaaS concept, or companies that would choose not take the responsibility for deployment. It’s big companies too.

Quite a few of my clients that currently provide their service in a SaaS model, are building aPaaS platforms to supplement their existing suite of services.

Bob’s Online Provincial Marketplace Software

Say your company currently provides an online Provincial Marketplace software service to its clients through a SaaS model. Its clients can choose to pay to use their Online Grocery Stall service, their Online Butchers service, their Fishmonger service etc, and your platform is flexible enough that your customers can either pay to use all of services you provide, or they can simply pay for each service separately. Now imagine one of your clients wants a service you don’t provide, say a Stationary stall; at the moment they would either have to build and support one themselves, or buy another companies’ software service, which might be one of your rivals. This might be a pain for your client for any number of reasons, and no-one likes the idea of their clients being driven into the hands of a rival company that has a more comprehensive set of services than they do.

If you can turn the deployment environment that you’ve already built for your own internal development teams to use into a service that external customers can access, then you might be able provide an aPaaS option as part of your suite of software services. In our example this would give your clients the option to build their own Stationary Stall service onto your own Marketplace platform, so keeping more of their business, saving them the time and effort it would have required to find a provider and keeping them happy. You might then even find your Provincial Marketplace software ended up being used by customers who had no interest in your traditional set of food-based Stall services, and instead were using no more than the aPaaS service you provide to deploy a whole set of product options you never imagined your software would be used for!

So the aPaaS model allows traditional SaaS providers the ability to offer their clients the option to either Buy software, Build their own software or “Buy and Build”. It has the potential to massively enhance the potential revenue your software service can generate!


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