So … do you really need a PaaS?

Whether using a Platform as a Service (PaaS) is a pre-requisite for building and deploying modern applications or overkill has been the subject of much debate of late. Folks on the Cloud Foundry or Heroku(s crm) side of the fence understandably would (and do) say PaaS is table stakes. Red Hat(s rhat), which launched its OpenShift Version 2 this week would certainly argue that PaaS is ready for enterprise use.

Others —  even some who were previously PaaS boosters — privately say that for most companies, PaaS is just too complicated for most humans, including developers, and that there are easier, more elegant ways to do much of what PaaSes promise. One developer who has been a Cloud Foundry user said  “Micro-PaaS frameworks like and PaaS-inspired technologies like Docker are much more popular and are a growing trend.”

Docker is basically a container that lets devs write an application once and then deploy it across many environments.

Be careful what you ask for

Much of this discussion, admittedly, was self-inflicted. I recently asked on Twitter for companies using PaaSes to come forward. And the usual suspects, including Time Warner(s twx) Music, an ardent user of Cloud Foundry, did so. But my issue is that we keep hearing about the same few companies and not a ton from anyone else. Pivotal made a splash when it announced General Electric(s ge) as a backer of its Cloud Foundry effort, but I’m still not seeing a ton of adoption from big, mainstream companies.

Adron Hall, coder, recon and messenger (he’s not kidding about that title, by the way) at Thrashing Code, took that tweet and ran with it, soliciting input and blogging the results. He notes that PaaS may follow in the footsteps of the Application Service Provider (ASP) wave of the early 2000s (he and I are probably among the few who remember the ASP phenomenon). A quick recap: ASPs offered software applications for rent. The boom went bust but resurfaced later in another guise that we know as SaaS. He suggests that PaaS may follow that same route, that the best of that model will survive and perhaps flourish but not necessarily under the PaaS moniker. (If you want to go back in time on ASPs, check out this story from 2000.)

Is PaaS overkill or tablestakes for next-gen app building?

Via email, Hall also noted something I’ve been seeing: many large enterprises see no reason to “move wholesale to a PaaS” since they already have the infrastructure necessary to interact with their application tier. Big banks and consumer packaged goods companies “have systems in place for deployment of all their apps and such. If they think consolidating is somehow helping them, that would be an interesting discussion, as would the reasons that CIOs & CTOs really think they should be moving to PaaS.”

James Watters, head of product at Pivotal, insists that naysayers are on the wrong side of history.

“I think what you’re seeing is just like when people pushed back on IaaS 5 years ago… Docker is popular because it makes the IaaS approach easier but it’s not a competitor to a PaaS, it just shows that IaaS is now the sleepy incumbent.”

He agreed that most companies have not tested out PaaS yet, but said that’s a function of supply, not demand. “The next two years will change that,” he said, when organizations align themselves to this approach and realize what he said are huge savings PaaS can offer in building and deploying applications.

Jared Wray, the founder of Tier 3 who is now the  cloud CTO at CenturyLink(s ctl), is busily converging AppFog and Iron Foundry, two Cloud Foundry-based PaaSes. In his view, big companies need more than what the lightweight offerings do.  “Docker is good for many things but PaaS is about removing the operations from your application — how to do large-scale load-balancing, scale out, and versioning of services…there are a lot of things that the framework of Cloud Foundry does that are above what Docker does,” Wray told us on the most-recent Structure Show podcast,

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So that leads back to the beginning: And so I ask (again): Do big companies need full-fledged PaaSes to build and deploy the best possible applications? Please comment below.