Sunday, October 5, 2008

Essential decisions before choosing a good Platform-as-a-Service...

Lots of debates and discussions on Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service are currently in attention. Mckinsey ® recently released their Enterprise Software Customer Survey 2008 which notices the State of Innovation in the software industry in a very high upswing with SaaS & SaaS Platform as an important trend impacting businesses worldwide. Belonging to the Web Application Development Centric Platform-as-a-Service segment, we are happy to address some of the most frequently asked questions & evaluation criteria – which will assist organizations to make their next choice for preferred platform much easily. We will not attempt to define what is a PaaS - Mckinsey has a great 10,000 feet view on this, but may try and reassess the role of application development centric Platform-as-a-Service as we see it.

The concept behind Wolf Platform-as-a-Service is to bring together the ability to develop, use and distribute ready-to-use business software over the Internet in rapid time/speed. Everyone knows that the advent of SaaS & PaaS systems is fueled by the growing stability/rich user experience of internet based applications, maturity of SOA architecture and the need to extend Business Processes outside the organization boundaries providing seamless application interaction experience for knowledge workers. Apart from these, platforms such our Wolf Platform-as-a-Service are build up from ground up with late bound Service Oriented Architecture to remove the mundane/repetitive process from software development, separate the evolution of new technology from customers business process which blatantly adds to more pain & cost and believe we have added substantial innovation in our Platform apart from just offering it as a service :)

In general, most PaaS need a standard browser, comes bundled with RIA based designing/development environment in a locked cloud environment. Try opting for a different cloud, the PaaS could behave very strangely. Apparently, centralized data storage is one of the most important bottlenecks for growth of SaaS and SaaS development platforms worldwide. Nevertheless, PaaS manages/exposes external interactions via web services for mashups & has built-in workflow or rules based designer, versioning, user collaboration, with multi-tenancy, common services such as authentication, billing-metering-monitoring, etc all bundled together. A complete solution to your business software needs, in fact some of them even have social community features for a large spectrum of web application development.

The model is definitive next generation and is the best example of aligning current IT systems with extended business processes using internet as a service backbone which could bring lot more application stickiness, help organizations to unite the strengths of different applications without further capital investments & could very well be de-facto standard for developing software for the next generation. Everything is going inside the Internet, right? For us it is a powerful mean to increase the reach of software applications using different delivery formats to a new set of customers, never thought before, on rent of-course.

As a customer for PaaS, you access the system on pay-per-use or choose between multiple per user per month subscription model or take a ready-to-use business application. The cost covers app maintenance and technology upgrades and guess what, you can also get your app customized to your needs or Do it yourself (DIY), making it a natural and preferred choice for many organizations hassled by the speed of change, complex technology & expensive infrastructure. As Dana Gardner puts it across in his recent post, ‘The new lock-in, they will say (correctly) is not technical but in terms of convenience, simplicity, power, and cost. Seduce them, don’t force them, might be the mantra.’

Interestingly if you contrast this to the likes of a software developer, it’s all about:

1. Innovating rather than just typing
2. Extending the knots without worrying about
- Low level code
- Object/complexity
- Interoperability
- Drive faster prototyping
- Shorter development cycle with minimum worries & efforts to maintain & make great
software available as service.

Summarize the thoughts & you could very well believe the age of mainstream ´user innovation’ is here; remember Eric von Hippel & his outstanding book ‘Democratizing Technical Innovation’.

Nevertheless, the current PaaS offerings might seem a bit confusing to customers & the community itself. To us, we see Application Development Platform as a Service in two different flavors:

[1] one which introduces & makes you think about your next software as complex technology decision and

[2] one which lives up to the promise of simplified technology, empowers businesses with freedom to manage business processes and data & different cloud based systems, brings interoperability & can be accessed across multiple internet enabled channels driving a lot more freedom for business users and ease for software developers.

To give you a simple hypothesis: Compare the needs of a software developer managing a large retail application used by more than 20,000 users & the needs of a retail house business analyst - planning to redesign/enhance their existing IT system to manage 20,000 customers over the internet. It is the choice the target user makes, and his target benchmarks for technology & business design which comes in play. Whether to use another technology to revive the legacy & subsequently make another legacy or to extract the business definition from technology and enable both to live separately? I guess only they would know…

Fundamentally, if everyone believes that a step up from native platforms is what Platform as a Service is all about – then Microsoft.NET ® or Java ® offered as a service on the Internet would have been the ideal platform, right? Any other development centric platform will then need to be benchmarked against these platforms, isn’t it? Does it not remain a technology decision as to which to select. And does it not make it more difficult with more and more Development Centric PaaS platforms rolling out each day. So what does one continue learning as a developer – Java ® - Microsoft.Net ® or the new PaaS way with its own language?

Aren't these platforms designed to provide services? It might be just wise thinking to take a different approach this time by taking the technology decision out of it and putting the service parameters in place. Let the ones making the PaaS worry about software development & delivery while the user gets more control over the Business Application, target achieving their expected user experience, build communication with existing infrastructure, achieve planned performance benchmarks – and leave the rest to the PaaS vendor to provide as service.

The Best Designed Business on the Internet is what one needs to rethink upon. The best software will only get better with technology improvements & internet & with evolving standards & embedding a good business design into technical software will only lock the potential of such a design.

For most organizations continuously grappling to find the answers for common Decision Parameters in choosing their next preferred platform, please realize we are only an enabler and it is our job as technology services companies to enhance our software platform. Focus on your needs and business design and signup for a good service is what we recommend. Click and have a look at the essential decision criteria list attached below:

Sooner than later, organizations evaluating & planning to invest in Platform-as-a-Service will come to terms with these different decision parameters for making their choice. Until then it will only be unfair to compare apples with pears? We rather focus on technology and hope when you make your next business application – you think twice before putting your business into the software or choose a platform which delivers software to enable your extended business model onDemand ...

Sunny Ghosh
Wolf Frameworks

NOTE: The views expressed above are purely personal and for informational purposes only. WOLF FRAMEWORKS INDIA PVT. LTD MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY. The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

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