Application platform as a service offers development and deployment environments for applications from the cloud. The term is similar to others used for cloud subscriptions and is often used interchangeably with platform as a service. In this blog post, I’ll explain what application as a service is, its benefits, how it connects to PaaS, and what it has to do with low-code.

Interested in aPaaS with a twist? Read the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise LCAP, 2019  

What Does aPaaS Stand For?

aPaaS stands for application platform as a service. In the world of cloud, it’s common to tack “as a service” onto technology that at one time might have been installed on-premises. The big three—and most common—are software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and platform as a service (PaaS). The idea is to emphasize that a third party is providing the software or technology, much like how a subscription to Netflix gets you access to streaming videos without your having to install any software or download them. SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS are widely accepted and understood by most organizations.

In addition, over the years since cloud computing entered the public consciousness, independent analyst firms and industry experts have coined their own versions to define a specific segment. Examples include as iPaaS (integration platform as a service) or IT as a service (ITaaS). Coined by Gartner, aPaaS is an example of one of those segment definitions.

Okay, But What Is aPaaS Exactly?

aPaaS provides subscribers with the hardware, operating systems, storage, or network capacity for developing new applications. I like how Wikipedia defines it, even though they lump it with PaaS (more on that in a bit), so I’m going to tweak the definition as follows: aPaaS is a category of cloud computing services that provides a platform for developing, running, and managing applications without the complexity of building and maintaining the infrastructure typically associated with developing and launching an app.

Basically, aPaaS provides app development projects with underlying infrastructure and a software layer for the actual development and design. Instead of installing a downloaded development tool or using a coding tool to create your application and handing it off to be deployed, you are subscribing to a service that provides all that for you.

The Benefits of aPaaS

The most notable benefit of aPaaS is speed. Building and delivering apps is much faster. Reusable components, visual IDEs, abstraction and automation streamline application development, provisioning and deployment. For example, an aPaaS made it possible for wellness company Spotcheck to build a mobile platform that keeps users connected to their health data everywhere in just five months.

Another advantage of aPaaS is offering those with little or no development experience the opportunity to build applications while enabling professional developers to bypass repetitive, boring tasks so they can focus on solving business problems with unique applications. With aPaaS, U.K. fintech thinkmoney built a mobile banking application with features like biometric security without having to hire experienced developers. And, it’s how a team of professional developers at GarantiBank delivers fast and continuous process improvement from the cloud to meet their customer experience, operational excellence, and digital transformation objectives.

One other major benefit is scalability, which is the hallmark of all cloud services. Businesses change and grow, that can be problematic with on-premises infrastructure. There are no such problems with aPaaS, which, like Paas, can grow right with your business and development needs.

aPaaS vs. PaaS: What’s the Difference?

Ah, aPaaS vs. PaaS. Confusion between the two abounds. A number of blogs and other resources use the aPaaS and PaaS terms interchangeably, thereby limiting platform as a service to application development. However, there are others who broaden the scope, saying that it is an integrated solution, stack, or service delivered via an internet connection that can contain an operating system, middleware, database, or application.

Despite the different definitions of PaaS, there’s no question the two types of services are connected. In Gartner’s opinion, aPaaS and PaaS are so tightly linked that soon no one will even say “PaaS.” Although aPaaS puts the “application” in PaaS, Gartner has a point. When it’s time to think of examples, the two types of service delivery definitely merge. There’s AWS Elastic Beanstalk, Heroku, Windows Azure, Force.com, OpenShift, Apache Stratos, Magento Commerce Cloud, Google App Engine, Salesforce, Appian, Mendix, OutSystems, and more.

Is Low-Code Application Platform as a Service? It’s Complicated

Low-code application development is more a method than a service, characterized by a visual IDE, one-click deployment, code generation, and more. In fact, there are on-premises installations of low-code platforms. However, it’s no accident that Salesforce, Appian, Mendix, and OutSystems appear in lists of aPaaS examples. These platforms are all available from the cloud, so that makes them aPaaS, right? The answer is complicated, so we look, once again, to Industry analysts for our answers.

In 2014, Forrester created the term “low-code” but did not mention cloud or service as a requisite, and in 2015, it delivered its first Forrester Wave for Low-Code, which did not factor cloud in, either. (You can get all the details about what happened next in this blog post about the 5th anniversary of low-code). Two years later, Gartner segmented its aPaaS category into one called high-productivity application platform as a service. In that category, it put many of the platforms that Forrester identified as low-code, including OutSystems, along with others who it had originally identified as aPaaS.

Gartner’s opinion was that this segment of aPaaS offered true rapid application development and high productivity. For that it warranted a split from aPaaS and even enterprise aPaaS, which it described as designed to support the enterprise requirements for business applications and application projects.

In summary, for about two years, Gartner’s answer to the question was that low-code platforms offered as services were indeed aPaaS, just a very special kind. But, since their last hpaPaaS Magic Quadrant, things have gotten really interesting.

From Enterprise Application Platform as a Service to hpaPaaS to LCAP

In 2019, Gartner created yet another new category, low-code application platform (LCAP). Gartner defines it as supporting “rapid application development, one-step deployment, execution and management using declarative, high-level programming abstractions, such as model-driven and metadata-based programming languages” and “the development of user interfaces, business logic and data services, and improve productivity.”

Some of the vendors in the Gartner aPaaS Magic Quadrants, and most of the vendors in their enterprise hpaPaaS Magic Quadrants moved over to the new Enterprise LCAP Magic Quadrant, including OutSystems.

So, is LCAP another type of aPaaS? Read the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms, 2019 and see what you think.