In the cloud, many IT managers think of Platform as a Service (PaaS) merely as a way to improve uptime for operations and applications. But now, businesses are increasingly realizing the strategic benefits of PaaS: They’re using it to enable faster delivery of apps to market, make more time for application innovation, and to augment an IT team’s experience.

That’s according to a recent survey released by Engine Yard entitled “The State of PaaS: 2013.” According to the survey, companies are increasingly using PaaS to transform technology into a source of competitive advantage and deliver on big ideas faster and more effectively.

I had the opportunity to talk with Michael Smith, chief technology officer of New York City-based digital agency Canvas, about how his company is seeing these trending survey results play out in its client work. (Disclosure: Canvas is an Engine Yard customer.)

Like 75 percent of respondents to the survey, Canvas sees greater opportunity for innovation and the ability to deliver apps to market faster as primary reasons for adopting PaaS. Canvas works with a variety of clients, creating everything from Facebook games to complex content management systems (CMS) for large enterprises. As with other companies, the clientele at Canvas doesn’t have one technological persona. According to Smith, one of PaaS’ greatest advantages is the ability to get apps up and running on a known platform instantaneously.

“PaaS definitely provides us, and our clients, with the opportunity to make faster, more agile decisions while delivering high quality results,” he said. “It allows us to bypass discussions about long-term hosting, support and maintenance contracts, which can stall our ability to get a project off the ground quickly.”

Editor’s note: At our upcoming CloudBeat conference, Sept. 9-Sept. 10 in San Francisco, Canvas’s Michael Smith and Engine Yard’s John Dillon will be talking about their PaaS experience and more. Register today!

With PaaS, Canvas can easily launch an application and database instance, then make a prototype publicly available. Smith said the company’s clients benefit from being involved in the creative process from the early stages of development, and being able to test the product easily and efficiently in different environments.

Canvas is currently working on the site for NBC’s “The Million Second Quiz,” which will see the majority of its traffic during the two-week period in early September when the interactive trivia show airs, then slowly scale down afterwards.

Other projects have included a website with CSS- and HTML5-based storybook-like interfaces for the Gramercy Park Hotel, a content management system and API that powers the iPhone and Android apps they built for Grand Central Terminal, and a highly responsive website for Showtime Sports.

Deploying applications to the cloud also helps Canvas to be more nimble, both with choosing the latest technology for building apps and being able to show off those apps to clients.

“PaaS doesn’t lock us into one language, one implementation or one stack,” Smith added, noting that Canvas has projects ranging from mobile applications to mobile websites to complete content management solutions.

According to the survey, the most prominent languages now being used with PaaS include Java, JavaScript, .NET and .PHP (see chart below).


Above: The most prominent languages used with PaaS.

Image Credit: EngineYard

The flexibility to innovate and develop solutions that can scale on demand weren’t the only reasons that so many companies, like Canvas, are moving to PaaS.  Many companies surveyed cited the ability to augment their internal teams with specific expertise as a key driver for adopting PaaS, which saw a 21 percent year-over-year jump when compared to last year’s results.

“Another of our largest clients—one of the world’s largest investment firms—has had great success working with us on products that aren’t core to their banking work and therefore don’t need to exist within the slower paced internal IT infrastructure,” Smith said. “Because the security restrictions aren’t as high, this client has been able to deploy new applications for various campaigns faster than they would’ve been able to had they procured servers through internal IT.”

PaaS also supports the drive for greater mobility.  According to our survey, the largest percentage (38 percent) of respondents said that mobile apps were best suited for PaaS — a trend that Canvas is experiencing firsthand.

“It’s rare for us to build a project that doesn’t have a mobile component, and like websites or applications, mobile usage can vary greatly depending on a variety of factors,” Smith said. “During big fights, Canvas’ project for Showtime Sports sees a spike in mobile access. The proliferation of mobile devices and playing with your phone while watching television has led to larger spikes in traffic. Working with a PaaS is the best way to support that type of traffic.”

In addition to mobility, this year’s survey respondents named other ideal uses of PaaS that included commerce, social, gaming and partner deal apps.

It’s clear, both from  our survey results and the experience Canvas has had, that as more companies become familiar with PaaS, they understand how it can be used to drive innovation, quickly build cutting-edge apps and improve the way businesses interact with their customers, partners and the community.

Both Smith and I will be taking part in a fireside chat at CloudBeat 2013 on September 9 at 9:30 a.m. Pacific, where we’ll talk more about how PaaS is transforming the market and delivering benefits beyond lower costs and basic operational improvements. You can register for CloudBeat here.

John Dillon is CEO of Engine Yard (, the leading Platform as a Service (PaaS).