Platforms and Applications Align in the Cloud

This is the second of two articles on hybrid cloud solutions, platforms and applications that that are a good match for the cloud environments that host them. The main focus of this article is cloud platforms and application workloads and the cloud services that host and supports them. Read part one here.

Align Applications With the Cloud Paradigm

Many companies have discovered that you can’t just move any application to the cloud. Unless you consider the specific strengths and limitations of a given public or private cloud service, your will not be successful in moving an application to the cloud. If the application is new and you are developing it to align with a platform and service paradigm, that is a different story. However, many companies are trying to use cloud as a platform that offers a technology-refresh opportunity for existing applications. This is a decent idea but has significant limitations and, unless you are willing to analyze and do some application rework, you will not achieve your goal.

What Matters

What really matters with applications in cloud computing is an application design that aligns with the cloud platform. For example, the application should be built so that is can scale so the cloud environment can provision a new image as the workload demands it and scale down after the peak is over. This is important as it is taking advantage of the scalable computing idea. It is interesting and useful that some cloud services offer more granularity than simply starting up and shutting down a VM. Since clouds services charge you for what you use, you need an application design that takes advantage of this characteristic to manage the costs of running the applications and to realize some operational cost savings.

Another thing that matters is picking a cloud platform that has software that does many things to help the application programmer so they can focus more on the business logic. Cloud environments are not all the same but the environments that have platform support offer application models and patterns that provide support from design through operation of the application. Without this you are missing something special: support for the cloud approach up from the infrastructure into the application software stack.

Platform Services

Platform services vary from supplying basic installed and tested software to intimacy with almost every aspect of the application development cycle. Having middleware installed and administered has its strengths. These software-supplied environments offer support for a variety of language, built-in middleware and database patching, automation and human service labor, and other benefits not unlike those supplied by a good IT department. Application intimacy, however, can take this to a new level.

Services Directly Aligned With the Application

Useful platform services ensure that the required runtime and framework is set up every time the application is loaded. This is an example of application intimacy. Another example is loading agents that make it possible for the platform services to manage the availability and performance of the application.

Most cloud platforms supply services that anticipate the needs of the development and support communities and make their tasks more straightforward. Using IBM Bluemix as an example, services are provided that includes database, messaging, push notifications for mobile applications and elastic cashing for web applications. Bluemix makes these services easy to use by supplying starters, boilerplates, runtimes and buildpacks.

A starter is a template with predefined services and application programs that you modify and use. Like the other Bluemix services, the starter has a relationship with another Bluemix component—in this case the starter is associated with a particular buildpack, explained later in this article. A boilerplate is a container that is used to get a particular application up and running quickly. If the application is a mobile application then the boilerplate you should use is one for a mobile application as it contains the necessary mobile support elements.

A runtime is a set of resources for an application and its middleware provided in the form of a container. This container is automatically configured for use so it saves time and reduces errors. Buildpacks are scripts that prepare an application for execution on a target platform. When you specify a particular buildpack it is selected at runtime otherwise a default one is used. To get a more complete understanding of IBM Bluemix, view the catalog, with more than 100 starters and services.

Another approach to PaaS is IBM PureApplication Service on Softlayer, which has a hybrid cloud focus. You can use this service to re-architect existing applications and to provide hybrid support linking cloud and existing IT. Another PaaS example is IBM Cloudant's database as a service (DBaaS) which manages, scales and supports databases in the cloud. Compelling reasons to use Cloudant’s DBaaS are explained. There is also a marketplace with platform services called the IBM Cloud Marketplace. It contains more than 100 platform services as well as application and infrastructure solutions. The IBM Cloud Marketplace helps enterprise cloud customers find, investigate and try out cloud offerings and solutions from IBM and IBM Business Partners.

Are Cloud Platforms Worth It?

Cloud IaaS is really useful but PaaS is a difference-maker when it comes to having cloud work for your company. PaaS calls on you to make a commitment to a cloud service, public or private, but the productivity gain from a rich PaaS is worth the effort. It may seem challenging to define a workable PaaS environment but the secret to doing this is involving the development community in every step along the way. Apart from building your own in-house, there are a variety of marketplace solutions that are worthy of examination.

Joseph Gulla is the IT leader of Alazar Press, an imprint of Royal Swan Enterprises. Previously, he was an executive IT specialist at IBM ending his 28-year career with the company in August 2012.

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