UNDERSTANDING AND ASSESSING THE VALUE OF PLATFORM AS A SERVICE (PAAS) AND CONTINUOUS DELIVERY IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES SECTOR

10 key tips to achieving PaaS success

Sacha Labourey, CEO, CloudBees

Cloud computing is becoming an integral part of many companies’ business and technology strategies.  Within the financial sector specifically, the economic downturn and the resultant regulatory and compliance changes has meant finance and IT departments are under increasing pressure to perform and provide the ability to document that their processes meet various compliance standards. Part of compliance is the software applications that support the processes. Not only this, but customers are more demanding and competition in the industry is fierce, as financial services firms struggle to offer more flexible ways to interact with their customers, providing web and mobile applications that make banking tasks quicker and more transparent.

Improving productivity, development, testing and deployment speed for applications is imperative to financial services organisations today if they’re to stay ahead of the competition.  Responding quickly to customer demands, and using data more efficiently to keep pace with market changes means the IT department in financial organisations are being pushed hard to react at a time when operations are more lean than ever.

Cloud computing, coupled with continuous delivery practices, offer these IT departments a more efficient approach to development that is also cost effective, secure and produces higher quality software.  Automating and improving the process of software delivery, continuous delivery has fundamentally changed the way software developers deliver applications.  And with the power of the cloud and Platform as a Service (PaaS), offering a cost effective foundation to build, run and manage applications, businesses are reaping the rewards.

However, to be able to assess the type of use cases within financial services where PaaS can represent a productivity boost and those where benefits are less evident, you first need to understand the hard-to-unravel structure of various cloud offerings. There are three main offerings: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS).

IaaS

Sacha Labourey
Sacha Labourey

The most basic form of cloud computing is infrastructure provisioning via the cloud. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) typically comprises the provisioning of (virtual) servers, networks and mass storage systems. The user can install whatever he likes onto this infrastructure, from the operating system to middleware to the actual application. This makes IaaS a very flexible instrument. But flexibility comes at a price: the user has to handle all the maintenance of the middleware, operating system, applications and other software utilities himself – only the computing performance and storage capacity scale automatically, because these are supplied by the infrastructure provider. Therefore, the user still needs to deal with every patch, every update and every issue that arises within the database, middleware and O/S infrastructure. The upside with IaaS, is that he can install and run software that is ideal for his processes, and/or which he may have developed himself. However, IaaS is clearly an offering that demands a high level of technical proficiency and sophisticated management – a scenario for large-scale users with very skilled/experienced IT staff.

SaaS

If IaaS is the lowest tier of cloud services, Software as a Service (SaaS) is at the other extreme of the cloud stack. With SaaS, full application functionality is sourced from the cloud, with the user automatically getting a fully-maintained application and supporting infrastructure for the respective app. That said, the cloud provider offers him functionality that is vaguely reminiscent of the “one size fits all” paradigm. The user can set custom parameters himself – but has no influence over application logic and functionality. This model is particularly suitable for processes that are standardised across industries – such as ERP, warehousing or HR. Even if offerings come onto the market that are capable of being adapted to custom requirements, the approach is still one under which the user has, at best, limited influence over the application functionality. That said, users for whom the SaaS shoe fits can realise major productivity gains very quickly and cost-efficiently.

PaaS

PaaS lies in-between the extremes of IaaS and SaaS. Particularly for large-scale financial service organisations who do not just want to use ready-made, off-the-shelf software but wish to map their business processes to customised applications, PaaS offers many advantages. IT departments and development teams in such companies are not limited just to user support and parameterisation of software packages sold to them by a vendor, but can develop some or all of the app themselves.

To that end, PaaS provides them not just with the basic infrastructure, such as servers and storage, but also – depending on the offering – with the functionality of the operating system and middleware. PaaS exists ultimately to relieve the developer’s pain points – typically daunting infrastructure maintenance tasks that are outside of their desired workflow.

PaaS providers create a managed environment that brings together integrated middleware and development services. These platforms create an abstracted environment that supports the creation, deployment and management of a cloud environment.  PaaS allows an organisation to leverage key middleware services without having to deal with the complexitieis of individual hardware and software elements. PaaS offerings vary greatly across the board, so it’s important to recognise the main differences and choose accordingly. Planning is integral to success.

Financial services firm Clarus Financial Technology more competitive and agile thanks to continuous delivery and PaaS

So, PaaS today is fast becoming the platform of choice for many financial services businesses looking to improve productivity, develop and deploy applications quickly and ensure regulatory compliance. Financial services company Clarus Financial Technology provides applications, software and services designed to empower financial firms to operate successfully since post-regulatory reform. The company is seeing real value in the use of continuous delivery and PaaS within the organisation, and has felt the use of CloudBees PaaS specifically has been instrumental in the growth of its business. Gary Kennedy COO at Clarus felt that developing on a PaaS has enabled his team to focus and concentrate efforts where they want to – on developing the Clarus software offerings.  As a result Clarus has seen significant growth in the last two years. He said,  “It was a no-brainer for us. At the outset we knew that taking a cloud-based approach to our application development was going to be critical to our success, and enable us to handle fast growth.  PaaS offers us an agility that our competitors struggle to match. I’d imagine it’s given us around a 10-15% saving in overall costs vs an on-premise solution.”

Clarus has used the CloudBees platform since inception to provide source control management, continuous build management via Jenkins, hosted databases and web application deployment.  Kennedy said, such agility is tremendously valuable to us and of course our customers, as is our ability to have anywhere, anytime access wherever we are in the world.”

The evidence is clear, but if you’re a financial services organisation, what should you consider in your move to PaaS?

  • Understand your current computing environment: Before you can plan your future you have to understand current and previous situations.  By understanding where you are and what’s currently working, you can assess future needs.  Key questions include: what type of computing environment is being used? How well does it support existing business needs and how well will it support change? Does your current structure allow you to move quickly? Understanding all of these will allow you to plan sufficiently for the future.
  • Be PaaS savvy: Whilst it’s tempting to jump straight in, it’s important to gain an indepth understanding of what your options are within a PaaS environment. Be sure you understand the different vendors’ offerings, how each platform works and what new skills will need to be learnt.
  • Experiment: One of the benefits of the cloud model is that you can experiment with commercial offerings on the market without spending cash.  Many of the PaaS vendors will let you try before you buy.  With some experimentation you’ll get a good idea of what it means to use a PaaS environment.
  • Know what your requirements are: create a set of requirements with some consideration for pop-up concerns, for example what development language is preferred? How much abstraction is needed? Do you want a platform that automates many of the routine tasks in both development and deployment? What middleware is in use and what services might you need? How much integration is required with other public or private environments?
  • Evaluate with key stakeholders: A PaaS environment can have a dramatic impact in how an organisaiton develops software, so it’s important not to make individual decisions.  With PaaS touching many parts of the business, a team that represents all the key constituents and stakeholders is essential (for example, development, quality assurance, and operations personnel).
  • Practice makes perfect: Conduct a pilot project.  Identify a project that’s well defined and can illustrate to the development and operations teams how well PaaS supports a specific business project.  Trying several PaaS environments will be more enlightening, will provide some education and ultimately enable you to make a better decision.
  • Plan a well-designed organisational structure: Technology is only as good as the organisation using it. Change is difficult and many developers and operational personnel may be resistant to trying a new approach. Educate co-workers on both cloud computing itself and the benefits of a PaaS environment. Many IT professionals are concerned that cloud environments may make their skills and knowledge obsolete, however PaaS actually can make IT more effective in supporting the business. PaaS frees IT from the day-to-day, mundane infrastructure maintenance activities and allows them to focus on more strategic, value-add activities.
  • Continuous evaluation: Cloud computing as a commercial practice for companies is evolving, so you should continue to evaluate emerging standards and best practices. Embrace these approaches to remain competitive.
  • Embrace the continuum of the develop/deploy cycle: Successful companies know that after they develop and deploy an application with a PaaS environment it doesn’t end there.  Applications are increasingly dynamic.  Cloud-based applications are continually being updated with the latest innovations.
  • Define a strategy roadmap: plot a roadmap for what’s going to be put in practice over the next few years – a three- to five-year roadmap helps you to construct a meaningful and realistic plan.

Continous delivery, in combination with PaaS is transforming enterprises across all sectors, it offers cost savings, improves productivity and allows businesses to remain competitive whilst staying compliant.

About the Author:

Sacha Labourey

CEO and Founder

Sacha was born in Neuchâtel, Switzerland and graduated in 1999 from EPFL. It was during Sacha’s studies in 1996 that he started his first consulting business – Cogito Informatique. In 2001, he joined Marc Fleury’s JBoss project as a core contributor and implemented JBoss’ original clustering features. In 2003, Sacha founded the European headquarters for JBoss and, as GM for Europe, led the strategy and partnerships that helped fuel the company’s growth in that region. While in this position, he led the recruitment of some of JBoss’ top talent and acquisition of key technology. In 2005, he was appointed CTO of JBoss, Inc. and as such, oversaw all of the JBoss engineering activities. In June 2006, JBoss, Inc. was acquired by Red Hat (NYSE:RHT). After the acquisition, Sacha remained JBoss CTO and played a crucial role in integrating and productizing JBoss software with Red Hat offerings. In 2007, Sacha became co-General Manager of Red Hat’s middleware division. He ultimately left Red Hat in April 2009. Following a period of research, Sacha became convinced that public cloud infrastructure would lead a fundamental IT paradigm shift and that middleware would play a key role in that shift. As a result CloudBees, Inc. was formed in April 2010.

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