Despite years of technology publications and companies writing about the Platform as a Service (PaaS) category, many people still don’t know the difference between public and private PaaS. Regardless of the differences, confusion is still widespread.

Allow me to elaborate. Two weeks ago, I attended Microsoft Ignite in Chicago with several of my Apprenda colleagues. In between handing out amazing swag to conference attendees, we got to answer all kinds of questions about Apprenda and the category of PaaS. I was shocked to find out that many attendees still didn’t know the difference between public and private PaaS.

When asking attendees, “Are you familiar with PaaS?”, their answers would often describe the setup for public PaaS without a peep about the benefits of private.

This was admittedly a little frustrating. I wrote a well-circulated article about PaaS in 2012 in VentureBeat and many other reporters have covered the PaaS space well. But there’s obviously still work to be done, and it’s as important as ever to reiterate what separates public and private PaaS.

One reason for the confusion is that both public PaaS and private PaaS vendors espouse many of the same benefits. PaaS vendors, in general, want to help organizations speed up app development and empower developers to create and deploy applications faster.

But these are two extremely different products. So allow me a moment to explain what separates these two in a relatively simple fashion.

Public PaaS

When PaaS first started as a category in the 2000s, it was as public PaaS. In early 2008, Google App Engine launched and it quickly turned into a category defining piece of software that captured developers’ imaginations. Other players that found moderate early success in the public PaaS space include Heroku (now owned by Salesforce), Engine Yard, and Microsoft’s Azure.

These public PaaS vendors effectively offer middleware that allows developers to set up, configure, and manage servers and databases, but they never have to see the infrastructure side of things. But, and it’s a big but, public PaaS runs on top of a vendor’s Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and leverages the public cloud. For example, Microsoft’s Azure PaaS runs on top of Azure IaaS, while Google App Engine runs on top of Google Compute Engine. You’re tied to one public cloud — one that you may not want to use.

Some small and medium-sized businesses have embraced public PaaS. But because the technology is so closely tied to the public cloud, enterprises and big organizations have largely decided against adopting it. That’s because there are a huge number of regulations and compliance issues burdening enterprise app development. Much of an organization’s data must stay in the private cloud, behind the firewall, to meet government regulations. That doesn’t mean public cloud solutions can’t be adopted in the enterprise, but in the case of Platform as a Service, only private PaaS has been found suitable by most of the Global 2000.

Private PaaS

Private PaaS is a different beast. It allows you to deploy and manage your enterprise applications while also meeting strict security and privacy requirements. The private PaaS software can be set up on any type of infrastructure and can work within the private cloud that is managed by a company’s IT department. Developers might see similarities between private and public PaaS, but in this critical regard, the IT department certainly wouldn’t.

Many use cases for private PaaS in the enterprise have emerged, including hybrid and private cloud strategies, cloud enablement for new and existing applications, and microservices development. The flexibility of the best private PaaS solutions ensures that organizations can use them to meet certain goals and are leading the way for enterprises that want to transform themselves into first-class software companies. So if you want to deploy, say, an OpenStack-based private cloud and still leverage the benefits of PaaS, you can do that.

Apprenda helped define the private PaaS category when it started back in 2007, and counts JPMorgan Chase, McKesson, and AmerisourceBergen as customers. Other organizations, including Red Hat, Pivotal, and ActiveState, also offer private PaaS solutions.

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