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Editor's note: All you need to know about cloud computing is right here.

There is no question that enterprises today are looking to the clouds to create efficiencies, gain competitive advantage and realize significant cost savings. Where the debate often emerges is around the cloud approach selected and employed -- namely, Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) or Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS).

While IaaS solutions are interesting, they fail to fully deliver on the scalability, elasticity and cost improvements enterprises seek to gain by moving applications to the cloud. This is due to the fact that the true costs of delivering applications and services in a cloud environment relate not to the racking and stacking of infrastructure, but rather to the development, deployment and management of applications -- and only PaaS solutions can address these costs.

To better understand the role of PaaS for the enterprise, let's first take a look at what exactly a platform-oriented cloud solution provides.

Towards a passable definition of PaaS

While definitions of PaaS vary, there are several fundamental characteristics to a true PaaS solution. While Wikipedia currently defines PaaS as "the delivery of a computing platform and solution stack as a service," this definition doesn't really do justice to the topic. Let's take a look at some of the core elements that define PaaS and make it such an invaluable asset for enterprises:

1. Runtime Framework: This is the "software stack" aspect of PaaS, and perhaps the aspect that comes first to mind for most people. The PaaS runtime framework executes end-user code according to policies set by the application owner and cloud provider. PaaS runtime frameworks come in many flavors, some based on traditional application runtimes, others based on 4GL and visual programming concepts, and some with pluggable support for multiple application runtimes.

2. Abstraction: Platform-oriented cloud platforms are distinguished by the higher level of abstraction they provide. With IaaS, the focus is on delivering to users "raw" access to physical or virtual infrastructure. In contrast, with PaaS, the focus is on the applications that the cloud must support. Whereas an IaaS cloud gives the user a bunch of virtual machines that must be configured and to which application components must be deployed, a PaaS cloud provides the user a way to deploy her applications into a seemingly limitless pool of computing resources, eliminating the complexity of deployment and infrastructure configuration.


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