Is iPaaS the next thing?

Gartner recently launched iPaaS, Integration Platform as a Service. iPaaS is defined as “a platform for building and deploying applications within the cloud and between the cloud and enterprise”. It enables developers to create integration flows that connect applications that run in the cloud or on-premise, and to deploy them without installing or managing any hardware or middleware.

iPaas delivers where PaaS came short: where most PaaS offerings are limiting developers to one single cloud platform, iPaaS is designed to give access to a choice of platforms. iPaaS also provides integration flows, the development and life cycle management of integrations, and the management and monitoring of application flows.

One interesting iPaaS platform is AppStack by Appcara, who aim to bring application development to a whole new level by “elevating the abstraction level from the servers/infrastructure to the application layer”. With this approach, Appcara brings all the benefits of PaaS to any IaaS environment, so the developer has the choice of platforms, even if a mix is required. The developer can now also migrate operational applications to different cloud stacks; there is no more lock-in.

To better understand the need and potential of iPaaS, we should probably do a quick analysis of what cloud computing has brought us over the past 4 years: 2008 was the year when the cloud paradigm shift started. It was also the year when the three fundamental layers in cloud computing were defined for the first time: IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. The whole infrastructure stack, including hardware, hypervisors and orchestration tools (cloud platforms), was named IaaS, infrastructure as a Service. “As a Service” implied that compute, network and storage resources could be consumed – and paid for – in an opex model, rather than purchasing costly hardware (capex).

Service providers saw great potential in this new sales model. They found a lot of interest for their “public cloud” services from developers who could now quickly set up development and test environments, and decommission them when their projects were finished. But a few companies saw more potential in this new computing model. Instead of just offering scalable compute instances and storage, those companies created an additional layer on top of IaaS. This layer would be called Platform as a Service (PaaS) and would provide all of the facilities required to support the complete life cycle of building and delivering online applications. The latter would later become the third “layer”, SaaS: Software as a Service. Applications in a SaaS model run mostly online and do not require local installations.

Cloud computing has brought a lot of benefits for suppliers, developers and end users. It has also fostered a lot of innovation, mostly on the IaaS level. Hypervisors have become a commodity and there are many (cloud/orchestration) platforms available that enable companies to build private or public clouds. On top of that, a number of “Cloud (Server) Managers” make it possible for users to deploy cloud instances over multiple private and public clouds. In spite of all that, it is still complex to develop and maintain applications in the cloud.

While the XaaS stack has been quite generally accepted, the real-world situation is different. Few public and private cloud offerings provide PaaS and the few PaaS offerings on the market do not disclose all that much about the underlying layers. So the XaaS stack actually looks like this:

Application developers have two options when building a cloud application: use one of the available PaaS platforms, or go build a development environment on one of the public clouds. The benefits of a PaaS platform are obvious: you get an out-of-the-box application hosting, deployment, testing and development environment, complete with libraries, etc. The provider will provide extensive integrated scalability, maintenance, and versioning services so that the developer can fully focus on the application and its features. The problem is that PaaS platforms are very much closed shops: once you pick your platform, you have to stay with it. The provider can change their terms and as a developer you have little or nothing you can do about it.

For this reason, many developers choose to build their own environment in a public cloud of choice. It requires a lot more preparation but with the help of Cloud Server Managers, but it’s not all that bad. The benefits are limited mobility and flexibility, but the problems come at a later stage: lifecycle maintenance is a pain, migrating to a different cloud is not all that easy and few applications are truly designed as cloud applications. Most of the cloud applications that are developed today have a similar architecture as traditional applications, with VM’s rather than dedicated servers. Cloud Server Managers do not help developers to change the way they think.

iPaas platforms will enable true cloud mobility and resiliency.  iPaaS eliminates service offering lock-in and limitations that make Cloud architectures truly resilient. Platforms such as Appcara provide developers of cloud applications with a richer set of resources and give access to multiple cloud and virtualization technologies. iPaaS works on a higher level than IaaS providers, only the orchestration interface point is important; the choice of hypervisor is not important.  Over time, we have become less interested in the brands of hardware and that same phenomenon now is moving up the stack.


~ by tomleyden on January 7, 2012.

One Response to “iPaaS”

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