PaaS the time: How platform-as-a-service is speeding up federal IT
- By Adam Clater
- Aug 31, 2015
Sixteen years ago, I started my career as a Unix systems administrator at the United States Patent and Trademark Office, building and patching servers, installing applications, backing up data – and waiting on procurement processes that would sometimes take months.
Today’s federal IT professionals don’t have that luxury of time. Systems and applications need to be rapidly deployed, updated and managed. Compound these needs with the impact of continuing resolutions and changing expectations from Capitol Hill, and it is manifest that federal IT administrators do more with less, in less time than ever before.
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way. No longer do federal IT professionals need to wait for long procurement cycles to build a virtual machine or “racking and stacking.” Today, they can build VMs and seamlessly move them to newer servers as they become available. Networking and storage are delivered via 10 gigabit/sec Ethernet connections, and patching is done in minutes or hours.
However, while we can decrease the time it takes to deliver a server (often times from weeks or months to hours or days), federal IT administrators are still delivering a mere "virtualized hardware" platform. This platform is generally composed of an operating system image and perhaps a web or database server that’s ready to be configured.
In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The difference is that now things are able to change more rapidly. That’s where platform-as-a-service solutions come in.
PaaS decreases the time it takes to deploy and integrate applications, thus increasing productivity. PaaS has turned the traditional application server paradigm on its ear by making it far easier – and quicker – to deploy technologies necessary to keep today’s agencies running. With a robust, container-optimized PaaS offering, federal developers, integrators and IT administrators can all play from the same sheet of music while maintaining consistency and conforming to the latest Security Technical Implementation Guide or other security controls.
No more weight (or waiting)
Like Atlas shrugging the weight of the world from his shoulders, PaaS provides both IT managers and developers with a sense of freedom they’ve never had before. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cloud definitions, with PaaS “the consumer does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure…but has control over the deployed applications and possibly configuration settings for the application-hosting environment.” In other words, PaaS allows IT administrators to do what they do best – provide reliable infrastructure in a secure, virtualized or physical environment. Meanwhile, PaaS provides developers with a self-service deployment infrastructure upon which to do what they do best – build applications to service the needs of the agency.
These applications are not so different than the ones I delivered as a Unix system administrator, but PaaS greatly accelerates delivery. For instance, PaaS allows developers to connect web and database servers and deploy them as one unit. As a result, federal developers can push, deliver, compile and run applications in their PaaS – all quickly and seamlessly. Adding components to an application – another option in the drop-down menu, for example – can be done very easily.
Foundation for agility
The tooling works directly with modern agile development methods, allowing rapid feedback between the end user and the developer – cutting the time to deliver new features to minutes or hours. The speed at which these applications are deployed frees up enormous amounts of time that developers can use to create their next application.
This efficiency serves agencies’ mandate to become more modernized, agile and flexible, and it provides an ideal foundation for DevOps. Agencies interested in adopting a DevOps methodology that uses development tools as a source of continuous innovation would benefit by deploying PaaS, as it will provide them with the underlying technology needed to foster an agile culture. Implementation of PaaS further enhances advanced development and QA testing tools like continuous integration /continuous deployment, which is critical to the implementation of DevOps.
Likewise, those interested in deploying Linux containers – lightweight programs that allow agencies to bring applications to fruition with speed and flexibility – should consider PaaS. PaaS solutions allow federal IT professionals to codify or build governance around their container strategies. They provide a standardized framework for containers. This can be augmented by open source projects like Google Kubernetes, creating a full-fledged orchestration and management solution.
There’s more to discuss, but, suffice it to say that PaaS offerings, in conjunction with containers, can create an agile development cycle that addresses the U.S. Digital Services Playbook’s call for a “fast-paced style of software development.”
I wish we had it when I was a system administrator.
Adam Clater is the chief architect, North America Public Sector, Red Hat.