Cloudy days are here, but in the most positive sense. After the hype we are gradually witnessing a healthy adoption of cloud computing. However, as cloud can refer to IaaS, PaaS or SaaS platforms, the degree of adoption among these subtypes varies significantly.

Among the three platforms, SaaS and IaaS have seen far more adoption than PaaS. Here’s why. Using SaaS is fairly straightforward as it requires minimal configuration and development from a user’s perspective, and the benefits of using SaaS are loud and clear. Using IaaS is little more involved as it requires users to deploy and manage virtual machines in a typical IaaS platform. The business benefits from using IaaS are also obvious.

When it comes to PaaS, a typical user is expected to be much more technically savvy compared to one using either SaaS or IaaS. This is because a PaaS user not only has to understand the technical services offered by a PaaS platform, but also has to appreciate the nuances of inter-dependency and inter-operability with other applications running on the same PaaS platform. This is, by far, the most complex platform among the three to master from a technical standpoint. However, the good news is, once a user masters the PaaS platform, he gets to have a lot more control and flexibility in building and deploying complex applications not possible with either SaaS or IaaS.

But who is actually using PaaS? Is it government agencies or IT start-ups? Which way is PaaS adoption headed? Is PaaS development too complex or is that just a myth? To investigate such questions, Accenture Technology Labs set out to understand the domains and organisations that use PaaS, their use cases, and the expected benefits of PaaS. We looked at several providers before conducting a small study on the case studies publicly available.

We analyzed the official Microsoft Azure and case studies to understand the demographics of popular as well as upcoming PaaS platforms. Azure had 56 and had 6 publicly listed case studies. A cross-cutting analysis was performed on the 62 studies available as of 1st December 2011.

The most interesting question was - Who is using PaaS?

We discovered that IT and Software Engineering emerged as the leading domains for PaaS users (sharing about 40% of all case studies). This is perhaps expected, given that utilising a PaaS platform requires in-house development expertise and resources. However it was interesting to see that Media, Government and Manufacturing had a good share of the pie as well with approximately 30%, combined. This suggests a genuine interest and belief in the long-term value and potential of PaaS across certain industry segments.

However we uncovered virtually little or no PaaS adoption by Financial and Healthcare domains as yet. We posit that this is due to two main reasons that still need addressing - reliably migrating and integrating mission critical systems and ensuring enterprise grade security guarantees. We’ve found that an open-source PaaS platform still has the flavour of an experimental development test-bed, which, while exciting to work on, is not as robust and well-supported as an enterprise would want.

The other question we wanted to better understand was: What are the business drivers for PaaS usage?

In terms of the benefits, we saw the case studies mentioning reduced costs, increased scalability, and faster time to market as the top expected benefits. The very fact that organisations mention reduced costs and faster time to market at the very top should contradict the notion that PaaS requires a significant investment of time and effort upfront. Other benefits like increased agility and scalability, as well as simple efficient development, were expected from the initial premise claims of PaaS.

The top PaaS usage scenarios in the case studies we reviewed were extensions to core applications and data collaboration. We believe that this is due to the fact that by using PaaS platforms for development and deployment of new features and integrations, organisations can avoid significantly re-architecting their existing applications. While it is true that integration challenges exist while trying to use PaaS with existing in-house environments, they seem better handled as PaaS providers and users are becoming more mature. More importantly, these findings hint at PaaS playing an important role in the emerging use of the cloud in a hybrid manner.

We believe that these are exciting times for PaaS providers and consumers. While new providers are emerging, we have seen the existing ones mature in terms of their offerings in the last six months. In the next year we expect to see a significant increase in PaaS adoption as well as many platform specific tools and integrations being provided by the respective PaaS vendors and niche players to reduce the barriers of adoption and support PaaS migration.  For organisations seeking scaleability, flexibility, and ease of deployment for key business applications - it’s your Paas.

Posted by Vibhu S. Sharma Ph.D, Accenture Technology Labs India research manager and Sanjoy Paul, Ph.D, Accenture Technology Labs India director