With DevOps and Container based automation rapidly gaining industry mindshare in 2017, PaaS is emerging as a “fit for purpose” technology for Digital Projects. With the PaaS market beginning to mature, different product subcategories within the main umbrella are being proposed – Structured PaaS, Containers as a Service, Unstructured PaaS etc. For now, these subcategory definitions look largely academic as technology follows business challenges & any such segmentation should largely follow from the challenges being solved. PaaS is no different. My goal for this post then is to approach the market from the standpoint of the key (business) capabilities in an Enterprise Architecture that an industrial grade PaaS should enable, no matter where it falls on the spectrum of PaaS platforms.
Enterprise Architecture based on a PaaS…
Enterprise Architecture typically spans four different areas – 1) Business Architecture, 2) Data Architecture, 3) Application Design & 4) Deployment Architecture. Given the rapidly maturing cloud-based delivery models (IaaS and SaaS) – many EA standards now include compulsory cloud-native awareness and design across the four domains.
We posit that in 2018, PaaS has emerged as the most important driver of an enterprise architecture. PaaS technology can accomplish a majority of the goals of an EA in a variety of ways, as we will cover below.
The definition of what constitutes a Platform As a Service (PaaS) continue to vary. However, there is no disagreement that PaaS enables the easy but robust buildout of a range of Cloud Native architectures. The vision of a PaaS is to ultimately enable massive gains in productivity for application developers that intend to leverage a cloud-based IaaS. At the same time, advances in open source technology in 2017 are ensuring management seamlessness & simplicity for Cloud Admins.
The below graphic illustrates the core building blocks of an enterprise architecture based on a PaaS.
Core Benefits of Adopting an Industrial Strength PaaS…
PaaS technology was originally developed as a way of helping developers with a smooth experience in developing polyglot applications. With the advent of Docker and Kubernetes, the focus has also shifted to enabling CI/CD pipelines and in achieving seamless deployment on a cloud-based infrastructure. The following areas confer significant PaaS capabilities that EA (Enterprise Architecture) teams would otherwise have to cobble themselves:
- Cloud Native via Containers – An industrial grade PaaS abstracts away any & all underlying Hardware/IaaS concerns by leveraging containers. However, it also ensures that the PaaS can leverage the services of the underlying IaaS whether that is Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, OpenStack or VMWare. At a minimum, as long as the cloud supports defacto standards such as Linux and Docker, the PaaS can host any platform or application or package as well as support migrations across the underlying Clouds across Dev/Test/QA/Prod environments. Enterprise IT should be able to easily split workloads across these different clouds based on business needs.The key to all of this is to agree on the Container as the standard contract between the PaaS and the IaaS layers. Thus, the few leading PaaS vendors such as OpenShift have adopted standards-based container technology for development, packaging and deploying applications. Further, the availability of a Container registry is also very important to guarantee the provenance and safety of commonly used Docker Images.
- Developer Services – A PaaS includes development tools that can vastly reduce the amount of time to develop complex n-tier applications. The developer experience needs to be smooth. These should include at a minimum either Docker images or, an easy plugin-based integration that covers a range of enterprise runtimes such as workflow, Big Data libraries, Identity Management, API Management, Broker based messaging integration, Search and Security services. Based on the architectural requirements of a given business project, the PaaS should be able to offer a natural stack of default options for the above services typically using a template such as a simple Dockerfile that calls out the default OS, JVM version & the other runtime dependencies of the application. The PaaS then generates a barebones application that the developer can then just fill in the blanks with their source code. This typically done using a command line, or web interface or by invoking an API. This unified experience then carries over across the CI/CD pipelines, deployment and then management. This way, everyone in the organization speaks & adheres to a common development vocabulary.
- Mobile Application Development –For developers, a PaaS should encompass the easy provisioning of cloud resources through the application lifecycle while enabling application development using microservices. However, leading PaaS providers also include toolkits for cross-platform development capabilities for mobile devices and a range of browsers.
- CI – A robust PaaS provides facilities for Continuous integration (CI). It does this in several ways. Firstly, code from multiple team members is checked (push and merge code pull requests) into a common source control repository (typically based on Git). This supports constant check-ins and automated checks/gates are added to run various kinds of tests. Further included are capabilities such as developer workflow based on includes Git where a push event causes a Docker image build.
- Continuous Delivery – The PaaS can then automate all steps required to deliver the application binaries from a CI standpoint to delivery using CD. These involve supporting automated testing, code dependency checks etc and seamlessly promoting images from one environment to the other.
- Continuous Deployment – Once the PaaS has containerized workloads & deploy them, the next step is to orchestrate them. The PaaS includes capabilities that can then deploy the application on a family of containers & load balance/manage their runtime footprint. This capability is typically provided by a container orchestration layer such as Kubernetes or Mesos. A range of services around HA, service discovery etc are provided by this layer.
- Runtime Characteristics – The PaaS finally simplifies how complex n-tier applications are scheduled and then deployed across tiers, how these groups of containers that constitute an application leverage the network & the underlying storage, how they’re exposed to consuming applications via request routing, how the health of various groups of containers (called Pods in the case of Kubernetes) is managed, ensuring high availability and finally, zero downtime deployments.
PaaS provides enterprise architecture teams with a range of capabilities that enable Cloud Native application development and delivery. These range from i) enabling CI/CD capabilities for developers via application automation ii) providing a range of container orchestration capabilities. These enable rapid deployment, version control, rolling updates etc. All of these ultimately enable rapid digital application development. 2018 onwards, Enterprise Architects can only neglect a serious look at PaaS at their peril.