Article

What is Platform as a Service? PaaS examples, applications, and advice

Understand your PaaS options and alternatives.

By Mark Smith, content marketing manager

Published February 10, 2021
Last updated February 10, 2021

In 2020, the office went virtual. Meetings moved from boardrooms to Zooms, watercooler conversations became Slack threads, and IT infrastructure disappeared into the cloud.

Amid tightening tech budgets, companies shifted their spending from IT hardware to more cost-effective cloud services. Instead of paying for expensive on-premises data centers and servers, businesses were able to access the computer resources they needed through cloud service providers.

Over the next few years, the cloud computing market is expected to keep growing by double digits. And as the cloud expands, it will continue to revolutionize the way that companies create and operate new applications. More and more organizations will build their business apps online with PaaS, or Platform as a Service.

But what is Platform as a Service technology? And how does it compare to other cloud services and app-building options? To answer those and other questions, you’ll want a quick primer on cloud computing.

What is PaaS?

The NIST’s PaaS definition calls Platform as a Service “the capability provided to the consumer . . . to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created using programming languages, libraries, services, and tools supported by the provider.”

In other words, it’s a sales model in which the customer buys virtual access to the servers and infrastructure they need to design and deploy apps. The PaaS provider manages the underlying cloud platform, which the PaaS customer uses to make and run their apps.

PaaS is one of three distinct models for providing cloud computing services. In order to fully grasp PaaS technology, it helps if you understand its relationship to the other two tiers—SaaS and IaaS.

SaaS vs. IaaS vs. PaaS

SaaS (Software as a Service) providers sell access to application software and databases. SaaS customers are end users who typically access the software through a web browser or client program. They don’t see the underlying infrastructure or platform it’s built on, because SaaS providers take care of all the necessary hardware and coding.

SaaS is easily the most popular form of cloud computing. Gmail, Slack, and Microsoft Office 365 are all commonly used SaaS products. Client relationship management systems, or CRMs, are also SaaS-based, as are many customer service and support solutions.

IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) providers sell access to virtualized resources, including servers, networks, and storage. Enterprise customers typically purchase these compute resources as needed, which is more cost-effective than buying hardware outright.

Unlike SaaS users, IaaS customers must manage the applications, runtime, middleware, operating systems, and data they access. The IaaS providers, meanwhile, manage the servers, hard drives, networking, virtualization, and storage.

Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Compute Engine are the three biggest IaaS providers.

PaaS (Platform as a Service) providers sell access to everything a customer would need to develop an app. Unlike the IaaS model, PaaS providers manage runtime, middleware, and operating systems. However, PaaS customers still get to manage data and applications—in contrast to the SaaS model, where customers don’t have to manage anything. So in terms of the cloud continuum, PaaS fits snugly between IaaS and SaaS.

Most importantly, PaaS enables customers to develop, test, and launch an app without having to maintain the necessary software or invest in any new infrastructure.

What is PaaS used for?

Software developers use cloud PaaS technology to basically “rent” all of the tools they need to build an app.

A PaaS provider makes all of the necessary development tools, infrastructure, and operating systems available over an internet connection. That enables the PaaS customer to build a whole app in their web browser.

This setup significantly reduces the overhead costs of app development. It also makes it possible for distributed teams of developers to work together on an app from anywhere in the world (so long as they all have a WiFi connection, that is).

PaaS technology is also prized for its flexibility and scalability. The PaaS platform can run any type of app—web, mobile, IoT (Internet of Things), or API (Application Programming Interface)—and many PaaS services have a pay-as-you-go pricing structure. That allows apps built with PaaS technology to start small and invest in more resources as they scale up to take on enterprise-level demand.

Companies often use the PaaS platform to build microservices—small, independent apps that perform specific functions. For example, a retailer might use PaaS technology to create an app that sends push notifications to their customers.

How to pick a PaaS provider

There are many Platform as a Service vendors that companies can use to create customized apps. Popular PaaS examples include AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Google App Engine, and Magento Commerce, to name a few.

When choosing from available PaaS offerings, there are three key factors to consider:

  1. Security

    Many businesses haven’t embraced the cloud due to security concerns. On-premises software will always ensure more control than cloud computing, but many PaaS providers still offer excellent data protection and security. Be sure to read through proposed service-level agreements to see where vendors stand on support, uptime guarantee, and disaster management.

  2. Languages and frameworks

    Different PaaS providers use a variety of programming languages—including Java, Ruby, Perl, PHP, and Go—and application frameworks, such as Node.js, WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, Spring, Zend, Rack, and Play. When comparing PaaS offerings, find one that aligns with the programming language and framework that your team prefers.

  3. Ease of use

    Going the PaaS route is supposed to simplify the app development process. PaaS providers handle the back end so that developers can just focus on coding. So make sure the PaaS technology you choose is also suitably straightforward. The screens and controls should be intuitive and comfortable for your developers.

  4. Obviously, price is another big factor when choosing any type of vendor. However, PaaS offerings are so varied in their designs and features that you shouldn’t simply select the most affordable option. Be sure to compare capabilities as well as cost when settling on a PaaS provider.

    An app-building alternative to PaaS

    Want to create business apps without paying for new PaaS technology? If you use Zendesk software, you already have access to a free, secure, flexible, and intuitive platform for building and distributing apps.

    Included with all Enterprise accounts, Zendesk Sunshine is an open, flexible CRM platform that’s native to AWS. Sunshine brings all of your customer data together in one place and enables developers and admins to build a better customer experience.

    Creating your own custom Zendesk app is easy with Sunshine. Its flexible framework allows you to use intuitive JavaScript APIs to build apps that extend the functionality of Zendesk Support.

    You can use any client-side or server-side technology you like to build a Zendesk app. If you stick with client-side technologies—like HTML, JavaScript, and CSS—Zendesk can host the app. Or you can use server-side technologies and host the app on a remote server.

    Use Sunshine to build private customer applications that fit the custom needs of your business. Or, if you’d like, go public with your app and feature it alongside more than 250 other apps and integrations on the Zendesk Apps Marketplace.

    A platform for building better customer experiences

    Platform as a Service technology can be an efficient way for companies to build apps without the cost or headache of maintaining all the tech infrastructure. But it’s not the only way.

    Zendesk Sunshine is a modern CRM that has an enormous capacity for innovation. Sunshine is an open platform that’s able to work in tandem with all of your other business applications. Not only that, but it also enables you to build additional, specialized apps at will.

    Sunshine empowers your developers to create apps that streamline and enhance the customer experience—no PaaS required.