Platform Crashes And The Current State Of PaaS: A Castle Allegory

A few days ago, Pressable (former Zippikid), a Wordpress hosting platform, suffered a serious database issue that took their platform down for a while:

My own little tweaked castle

My own little tweaked castle

Life happens and developers exist so, to a certain extent, something like this is bound to happen to many of today's tech start-ups. Too many things too fast.

In any case what I wanted to highlight here, is why the specific PaaS trend that Pressable follows didn't make it any easier for them to quickly recover from the incident.


Your own castle or a castle for all?

Pressable like many other PaaS (i.e. WPEngine, GetPhanteon, Heroku...) follows a castle for all strategy. Basically, and VERY generally,  they build a large infrastructure pool that runs their service and host all their customers inside this "castle". Each customer has her own small place inside the castle to do her things, but all the services (the gate to the outer world, the water, the food ...) comes via the castle.

Then you have another approach, let's name it my own castle that Engine Yard, Cloudways and other PaaS follow. Here, instead of building a huge castle, packed with people sharing services, every one has his own (much smaller) castle. This means that they can do (more or less) whatever they want with their castle: paint it pink, put metallic doors or build a moat around it. Also the services each castle receives, are mostly independent from the services to other castles, so no food for some other castle, doesn't mean no food for you.

So which type of castle do I want?

It really depends on your taste but it is a decision you really want to carefully gauge, as it will affect your living standards.

Let's see strong and weak points of each approach.

A castle for all

As for the strengths of this option:

  • BIG castle - So, if properly built. it can offer very good defences and security for its inhabitants.
  • Fully serviced - As long as you can pay and the people organizing the services do a good job, you get as much food, water and wood as you need.

And which would be the weaknesses?:

  • BIG castle - As we have just seen, if the castle has a weak wall, bad foundations or the owners let the moat dry, ALL inhabitants are in serious trouble.
  • The Lord rules - You must abide by the laws of the Lord. You may like them or not, but if you live inside the castle, you must comply them or find a new place to live.
  • No pink castle - No thought of customizing the castle to your needs or likes, after all, it is not yours!
  • Black box keep - You don't have any idea how the Lord in its keep manages the affairs of the castle. No idea how he gets the food, water and wood that you need.

My own castle

So let's now see what good can offer owning you own castle:

  • Do as you please - You have much more latitude to decide about the affairs of your castle. Surely you still have to abide by the rules of the country your castle is in (i.e. your PaaS provider) but otherwise, you are free to do as you want in your own castle.
  • Independence - Your neighbour fate isn't your fate. If he picked up the wrong enemy, bad luck for him. Even your country (aka PaaS) fate, isn't your fate! (though you better choose your country carefully).
  • Mobility - You live in a small castle, with not that much stuff to carry on. So, if you don't like the castle, you can nimbly move to another one with nicer walls, deeper moat or better views. Not only this, you can as easily move to a whole new country (i.e. PaaS) if you want!

But surely there must be some bad points!:

  • Small castle - Having a small castle is nice and dandy, unless you have a sudden wave of refugees from a fallen Lord castle few miles away. You may be a bit tight inside the walls!. But, hey, wouldn't it be amazing if your small castle was inflatable and able to grow and shrink depending on how many people was coming to visit?. Pretty soon, you will see this type of castle in the market that will solve this issue (aka containers)! :)
  • You rule - Ruling can be fun, but then you have decision to take!. Do you want crocodiles in the moat?. How high the walls needs to be?. How much wood do I need to survive the winter?. My advice here would be to live in a country (aka PaaS again!) where the standard small castle is nice enough to need minimal tweaking and offers plenty of water, food and wood around to happily thrive!

Wrapping Up

Of course this is a very high level approach to different PaaS offerings and the very high level differences between them, but hopefully it captures the essence of the different approaches and is easy to understand too.

Luckily, the world is a large and diverse place, full of castles of all types and sizes. Hope I have made choosing yours a bit easier!