Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) is receiving a lot of attention lately, and rightly so. The great potential of PaaS cannot be ignored, and it seems that the attendees at this week’s Cloud Connect at the Santa Clara Convention Center couldn’t agree more.

While PaaS was only featured in just a few presentations last year, it is overwhelmingly present in this year’s agenda. Many enterprises are finding that infrastructure-as-a-service is too low-level and software-as-a-service often isn’t customizable enough, but PaaS is the “just right” Goldilocks-like middle layer providing full customizability and a high-level programming model with easy deployment.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to participate in a panel on Wednesday titled, “Moving on Up: Enterprise Private PaaS.” Joined by Diane Mueller, cloud evangelist at ActiveState, and Guy Naor, CTO of EnterPaaS, the panel took a deep dive into what enterprises should ask themselves and should look for when selecting a PaaS solution. While each of us has a number of different views, there were a few topics upon which we unanimously agreed.

While public offers like, Google App Engine and Microsoft Azure received a lot of early attention in this space, private PaaS solutions are gaining ground due to their ability to provide increased flexibility and control—essentially, PaaS on the customer’s terms and not the cloud provider’s terms. The panelists highlighted the increase in private PaaS adoption, but agreed that enterprises would never fully commit to a fully private PaaS, nor should they. There are a number of cases where public PaaS makes sense. For example, if a media company is pushing a movie trailer to its website for just 60 days, public cloud is the way to go.

This brings me to my next point: Flexibility was a huge theme in this panel and seems to be a widely sought-out capability by all enterprises. First and foremost is having the flexibility to choose public or private before you build and run your applications. This decision can be done after the application is built, but it is best to decide which option is most beneficial to the company.

The second was flexibility in regards to how many languages a PaaS solution supports. The most common are Java and .NET, but some stated, “The wider the support the better.” I, however, disagree with this statement, as I’m always wary of the “One solution fixes all” statement. My argument is that a PaaS solution should comprehensively deal with one language at a time in order to provide the best value to a customer. High value comes only from deeply integrating with a language’s underlying stack, and placing emphasis on “many languages” robs customers of the ultimate end value. The bottom line is, we agreed to disagree.

Another element that was discussed multiple times was automated application life-cycle management, which goes along with the flexibility theme. It is important for enterprises selecting a PaaS solution to ensure that updates and upgrades to applications can be made easily, without any downtime for its users. If the correct PaaS solution is selected, developers can easily roll out updates whenever they choose to do so.

Here is how to build your own private PaaS, and the benefits your enterprise can look forward to receiving once its implemented:

Building a private PaaS
Now that your enterprise has made the decision to go the private PaaS route, where do you start? What should you think about first, and with the many options on the market today, which one should you choose? Here are the seven steps to deploying your own private PaaS:
1. Identify stack proliferation
2. Identify value distribution across different types of apps (i.e., mission-critical, business)
3. Identify stakeholders: developers vs. IT operators
4. Identify the deployment model: private IaaS/virtualization or operating systems on bare metal
5. PaaS vendor selections
  a) Identify key value props: trivialize application ops, equip developers/cloud app developers
  b) What are the highest value stacks (their proliferation value)?
  c) Remaining stacks: lowest-common denominator PaaS
  d) Ensure alignment with the runtime vendor (e.g. with MS for .NET)
  e) PoC to test key assumptions, product readiness
6. Rollout time: up to eight weeks
7. Let it catch on like wildfire: Evangelize these new cloud platforms to developers so they can forklift existing apps to the PaaS for immediate value

What do enterprises gain with private PaaS?
• Improved project agility
• Improved developer productivity
• Reduced administration overhead
• Improved resource utilization efficiency
• Improved billing transparency

However, I would like to point out that some applications are not meant for PaaS. PaaS tends to be best suited to Web and SOA applications, as well as large composite applications. Traditional client/server workloads typically aren’t compatible with PaaS architectures.

Overall, it was a great panel and I really enjoyed participating with Diane and Guy. I hope this summary was beneficial, and please let me know if you have any questions or feedback. I’d be very interested in hearing your perspective on the PaaS industry and how you see it playing out.

Sinclair Schuller is CEO of Apprenda; previously, he worked for Morgan Stanley, Eden Communications, and the State University of New York.