What Is an Application Platform as a Service?

Application platform as a service (aPaaS) enables the development and deployment of cloud-based applications. It is similar to other terms used for cloud subscriptions and is often used interchangeably with platform as a service.

What Does aPaaS Stand For?

aPaaS stands for application platform as a service. As part of the cloud era, a service known as "as a service" is sometimes attached to technology that was once installed on-premises. The three most common are software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and platform as a service (PaaS). It is intended to emphasize that a third party is providing the software or technology, similar to how a Netflix subscription allows you to access streaming videos without installing any software or downloading them. SaaS, IaaS, and PaaS are widely accepted and understood throughout most organizations.

Furthermore, since cloud computing entered the public consciousness, several independent analyst firms, as well as industry experts, have formulated their own definitions for a specific market segment. Examples include iPaaS (integration platform as a service) or IT as a service (ITaaS). Gartner defined aPaaS as an example of one of those segments.

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What Is aPaaS Exactly?

aPaaS provides subscribers with the hardware, operating systems, storage, or network capacity for developing new applications. 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, which 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?

aPaaS and PaaS are often confused. A number of blogs and other resources use the terms aPaaS and PaaS interchangeably, thus 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. 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 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, 2021 and see what you think.