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How PaaS is reframing the Shared Responsibility Model to empower App Development

The shared responsibility model fundamentally changed how engineering organizations think about securing and managing software infrastructure. As we’ll explore, Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) providers offer a higher level of abstraction, taking far more of the DevOps and security burden away from developers. This article covers the benefits of the PaaS model and how it compares to traditional SaaS.

Joel Burch

Joel Burch


In the ever-evolving landscape of software development and deployment, the shared responsibility model has fundamentally altered how engineering organizations approach the security and management of software infrastructure. This shift is largely driven by the transition from on-premises infrastructure to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) models. However, that transition is often caught up with technical complexity and uncertainty. For some organizations, the best choice is often to transition from on-premise to Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS).

PaaS represents a significant shift in the shared responsibility model, with implications for both developers and organizations. Unlike traditional on-premises infrastructure or even SaaS, PaaS allows users to focus primarily on application development. This leaves the management of the underlying infrastructure to the service provider. This shift in focus can lead to increased efficiency and productivity - developers are freed from the burden of managing infrastructure and can instead concentrate on creating and refining applications.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the shared responsibility model in the context of PaaS, exploring the implications for developers and organizations, and how this model compares to the shared responsibility model of SaaS. We will also examine the benefits and challenges of working with a PaaS; specifically how the PaaS shared responsibility model eases the operational burden for developers and allows them to focus on software development.

Understanding the Shared Responsibility Model

The Shared Responsibility Model is a fundamental concept of shared computing infrastructure, like a cloud platform. It outlines the operational and security responsibilities between the cloud service provider and the user, providing a clear framework for understanding who owns what part of a software infrastructure stack.

In the context of Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is often the most discussed example, the Shared Responsibility Model is well-defined. AWS is responsible for the security "of" the cloud, which includes the infrastructure that runs all of the services offered in the AWS Cloud. This infrastructure is composed of the hardware, software, networking, and facilities that run AWS Cloud services.

On the other hand, the customer is responsible for security "in" the cloud. This means that the customer controls and manages the security of their content, applications, systems and networks, no differently than they would for applications in an on-site datacenter.

The main takeaway for developers is that the Shared Responsibility Model still encompasses all of the same physical hardware and software that would be present in a traditional on-premise datacenter. However, the responsibility for managing these resources is divided between the cloud service provider and the customer. This approach allows developers to focus more on application development and less on infrastructure maintenance. It also requires a new mindset; shared platforms represent a significant shift in the types and complexity of security and operational responsibilites.

PaaS vs SaaS?

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) represent different approaches to shared, remote computing infrastructure and services. For many organizations that develop and deliver software applications, time and resource constraints mean that it is critical to align organizational goals and resources with the right platform. Doing so means understanding the differences in the responsibility models of PaaS and SaaS 

In SaaS, users typically bear much more responsibility for configuration and security. These models offer several options, from standard vanilla virtual machines to serverless architectures. However, the onus is on the user to manage configuration, runtime security, automation (such as scaling), and network security.

On the other hand, PaaS offers a different shared responsibility model. In a PaaS environment, nearly all of the operational, configuration, scaling, and security burdens are shouldered by the provider. The developers often just need to provide build artifacts, often (but not limited to) Docker containers.

Balancing scalesThe Shared Responsibility Model in SaaS

In a typical SaaS environment, the vendors are responsible for the underlying infrastructure and control planes end-to-end. This means that they manage and maintain the physical hardware, network, storage, and associated software that powers the SaaS applications. This responsibility extends to ensuring the availability, scalability, and security of these foundational systems.

On the other hand, SaaS customers own the virtual infrastructure that runs “on top”. This includes the configuration and management of the network infrastructure, user and system identity (authentication and authorization), and the deployment of virtual machines, databases, and load balancers.

Consider a hypothetical three-tier application running on virtual machines, managed databases, and managed load balancers. In this scenario, the user:

  • Still has to configure the network infrastructure

  • Still has to configure user and system identity (AuthN/AuthZ)

  • Still has to configure and deploy the VMs, dbs, and lbs

  • Has to patch and scale the VMs, as well as deploy apps to them

  • Has to consistently monitor metrics and logs to identify performance issues.

SaaS represents a significant evolution from traditional, on-premise computing environments. However, taking full-advantage of SaaS architecture means devoting significant resources and time into re-designing and deploying existing software applications in a way that maximizes the scalability and flexibility being offered.

The Shared Responsibility Model in PaaS

Platform as a Service (PaaS) fundamentally alters the shared responsibility model in cloud computing. In a typical PaaS, the cloud service provider assumes a larger share of the responsibilities. This shifts away almost all of the security and operational responsibilities away from users.

PaaS providers handle the management of 'cloud chores'. Unlike SaaS, customers have much less toil work to do when maintaining the software infrastructure. This includes:

  • Configuration

  • Patching

  • Network security 

  • Uptime

  • Infrastructure Security

  • Infrastructure Operations

  • Compliance

Organizations that manage these tasks in-house typically require one or more DevOps engineers, or even a platform team. However, this can create too much overhead for development teams that want to ship fast and iterate. Scaling an internal DevOps or platform initiative is a complex project in itself, and may take a significant investment of time and resources before generating meaningful value.

4 Reasons to Choose PaaS

PaaS provides a number of benefits for software developers that want to ship code quickly and get their applications in front of users.

1. Focus on Development, Not Infrastructure

As Infrastructure-as-Code (IaC) grew in popularity, it promised a unified workflow in which software engineers could develop and deploy both their applications and infrastructure without ever having to context shift. Everything would be written in code, committed to the same repositories, and deployed using the same CI/CD workflows. Unfortunately the reality proved to be a lot messier. IaC tooling often depends on Domain Specific Languages (DSL) such as HCL in the case of Terraform. This forces developers to have to learn an entirely new language just to deploy infrastructure. IaC configurations can often become very complex and brittle, often requiring the attention of dedicated SRE and DevOps engineers to help navigate the complicated relationships between IaC tools and the various cloud APIs they support. Modern IaC implementations often fail to deliver on the promise of a unified development workflow. 

With PaaS, infrastructure configuration is implicitly handled by the provider, meaning no more messy IaC configurations and state management to handle.

2. Automatic Scaling to Meet Demand

In a traditional SaaS platform, scaling to meet traffic or usage demands often involves a complex process of data gathering, analysis, and manual configuration. This process can be time-consuming and error-prone, leading to inefficiencies and potential downtime. 

PaaS, on the other hand, offers automatic scaling capabilities. This means that as demand for an application increases, the PaaS can automatically allocate more resources to handle the increased load. Likewise, when demand decreases, the PaaS can scale back resources, ensuring efficient use of resources and cost-effectiveness.

3. Faster Iteration

PaaS environments are designed to facilitate rapid iteration. By removing the need to manage infrastructure, developers can iterate faster, pushing out updates and new features more quickly. This speed can be a real advantage in today's fast-paced software development landscape, where the ability to quickly respond to user feedback and market changes can be a key differentiator.

4. Value-Generating Activities in Early Product Lifecycle

In the early stages of a product's lifecycle, it's crucial to focus on activities that generate value. This often means developing and refining the core features of the product, rather than spending time on tasks like infrastructure management. 

PaaS supports this focus on value-generating activities by handling the infrastructure, freeing up developers to concentrate on creating a compelling and valuable product.

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PaaS Let’s Developers Focus on Software

The PaaS implementation of the shared responsibility model presents significant advantages to software developers that want to get their applications shipped with minimal worry around infrastructure management:

Choosing a PaaS is the key to unlocking:

  • Critical early-stage developer productivity for new applications

  • Simple, fast with minimal downtime and user impact.

The Shared Responsibility Model in Software as a Service (SaaS) is a fundamental tenet of cloud computing, and one that development teams should understand well. SaaS has been a massive growth lever for the software industry, however SaaS can also introduce hidden complexities and operational burdens that may not be immediately apparent. 

This is where Platform as a Service (PaaS) comes into play. By choosing a PaaS, developers can unlock critical early-stage productivity for new applications. PaaS provides a platform that allows developers to focus on the creative and innovative aspects of software development, without the need to worry about the underlying infrastructure. PaaS can also facilitate simple and fast cloud migrations with minimal downtime and user impact. 

There is a contrast in responsibility and complexity management in cloud computing. While SaaS introduces hidden complexities and operational burdens, PaaS alleviates these challenges by managing the underlying infrastructure, allowing developers to focus on innovation and application development. 

Let’s explore the benefits of PaaS for your organization: Reach out now!

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