Beyond PaaS: A New Generation of Middleware for the Cloud

While there’s a tendency to think of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) as the equivalent of placing an operating system and associated middleware stacks in the cloud, the reality is that PaaS is about to change how IT organizations think about application building, deployment and management.

A lot of that change stems from network-latency issues in the cloud, which application developers must take into consideration when building their products, as well as the increasing mobility of the devices that access applications.

Given those constraints, IBM Rational Software general manager Kristof Kloeckner believes that IT organizations will realize the need for an additional lightweight layer of middleware in the cloud, to better handle data transfer from mobile devices. “The applications on mobile computing devices are really single purpose applications, so developers will need lighter-weight integration methods,” he said.

As IT organizations seek to extend the value of existing IT investments, those applications are likely to become more “multilingual”: an application running on a mobile device may be written in JavaScript, but access a Ruby on Rails application sitting on a PaaS platform, which in turn is accessing a legacy COBOL application running on mainframe. Building those applications will require the formation of teams of developers who can leverage their collective expertise.

Many of those applications will end up making calls to either NoSQL databases or NoSQL databases that support SQL interfaces, such as the database service from Xeround. According to Xeround CEO Razi Sharir, traditional SQL databases lack the elasticity needed to scale in the cloud: “SQL databases are not going to be able to meet the service level requirements of cloud computing.”

End Goal

The ultimate end goal, suggests Steve Herrod, CTO and senior vice president of research and development at VMware, should be the creation of an open PaaS environment that doesn’t force developers to adopt one particular language or cloud service. Speaking during a recent event celebrating the first anniversary of the company’s open source Cloud Foundry PaaS initiative, Herrod said the whole point of PaaS was to make developers more efficient: “PaaS is really all about allowing developers to spend more time focusing on the application and less time worrying about the infrastructure.”

According to Herrod, VMware envisions a world where developers move between personal clouds, private clouds and public clouds that share common attributes.

Yet multiple PaaS environments exist, with their own rules and quirks. In order to ensure developers don’t find themselves locked into any one of them, they need a structured approach to building applications for PaaS environments. That’s the theory behind CollabNet’s recent launch of a new kind of PaaS platform, dubbed CloudForge, which is aimed specifically at managing the application-development process.

Guy Marion, CollabNet vice president and general manager of cloud services, explained CloudForge as integrating with cloud services in a way that allows application deployment to any public PaaS service or private cloud. “There has been a PaaS explosion,” he said. “It is clear that enterprise organizations are going to need to develop a hybrid cloud computing strategy.”

IT organizations will need to deploy applications on multiple cloud platforms, he added. That necessitates a PaaS platform that isolates the management of the application development process from the various PaaS services the application might run on. In theory, that approach helps prevent organizations from getting locked into a specific PaaS service.

No matter where the PaaS technology resides, it has become increasingly clear that—for better or worse—the way applications are built, delivered and managed is about to change in fundamental ways. The question now is how people and processes will evolve in order to effectively embrace that change.

Image: Centurion Studio/Shutterstock.com

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