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5GL PaaS

An Ambitious Vision or just a Marketing Opportunity?

The debate has raged for some time now about the exact definition of a 5GL.  One might argue that there also is still some debate going on about what exactly is a Platform as a Service PaaS.  Throw together two semi-ambiguous industry-specific buzzwords and what do you get?  Well, for all of you cynics out there, the answer is NOT "a great marketing opportunity!"

In all seriousness, taken together, the two do represent an ambitious vision of the future; a world where the "non-programmer", i.e. someone who does not have experience "writing code", can quickly create flexible software solutions that actually work to power real business processes, and that satisfy real business needs.  It's an interesting vision that includes a much deeper penetration of application automation then we see today, including interacting seamlessly with external data sources.

There are two incredible value drivers here, and their magnitude and potential impact is important to understand;

  1. The enablement of non-programmers to "program"  (1000:1 empowerment)
  2. The enablement of businesses to drive technology far deeper into their organization than they do today. (up to 80% increases in productivity, or more?)

Taken together, these factors represent a revolution of productivity and automation just waiting to happen. ...there is SO MUCH more that companies COULD be doing, if only it were easier to do.

The concepts of 5GL and PaaS seem to be the keys to unlocking this vision.  To explain how, let's take each of the two concepts and dissect them a little bit.

What Is a 5th Generation Language (5GL)?
Imagine a ruler.  On one end of the ruler is an extremely specific, precise language that only computers speak, basically "one's" and "zero's".  On the other end of the ruler is the broad, sometimes incomplete and often misunderstood language that humans speak.  The machine's side of the ruler is referred to as the 1st generation language, a 1GL.  As the history of computing evolved, "programming languages" were created that moved further and further across the scale towards "the language that humans speak".

Each time a major breakthrough was made in moving towards human-speak, a new "GL" was coined.  Here is a very rough set of examples to give you a sense of how this worked; 2GL - assembly languages.  3GL - structured languages; Cobol, Java, C++.  4GL - tool sets that solve specific needs, think; report builders, RAD tools, OLAP tools, some web development environments.  Keep in mind that each of these advances in programmatic languages have corresponded to significant reductions in development costs, boosts in developer productivity and ultimately increases in business productivity.

A 5GL then must be some further walk along the path towards "human speak".  Some would argue that you can't abstract an abstraction, and hence 5GL's aren't possible.  Others have argued that a true 5GL imparts some sort of computer intelligence in interpreting human commands.  Finally, some would say that "if it makes development faster, it must only therefore be a RAD tool, and a 4GL"; however the problem with that is that 4GL's still involve code and programmers.  Still, many others say that a 5GL will be characterized by some sort of visual programming language, and this description is probably a lot closer to the truth of it all.

What does seem to be clear about a 5GL is that it will enable legions of talented individuals to quickly produce the kinds of sophisticated software that previously only trained software developers could produce - in any generation of language.

I've seen statistics that say that for every one person who writes code in a 3GL, there are a thousand people who work in higher-order tools (I believe visual basic was actually the higher-order tool cited in that statistic).  A 5GL's promise is to empower thousands of people with the power to do what previously could only be done by the one person.  What would that do for businesses today?

What Is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)?
A PaaS seems to simply be any sort of "development platform" that is served up as a service over the internet.  There are PaaS's which require programmatic capability to be utilized, and there are PaaS's that don't.  There really isn't much to debate here about the exact definition, but what isn't really discussed is its relevance to a 5GL.  Put succinctly, I believe PaaS is a key enabler of a 5GL by eliminating a variety of concerns with systems administration and other connectivity or hardware related issues which again, typically require a highly trained individual to work through, and often involve some sort of code or command line interface.  With a PaaS, a builder simply "log's on" and "builds"...and then later using simple tools, they deploy, manage and perform other tasks necessary to maintaining a production environment, often with point-and-click tools.

More Stories By Treff LaPlante

Treff LaPlante has been involved with technology for nearly 20 years. At WorkXpress, he passionately drives the vision of making customized enterprise software easy, fast, and affordable.

Prior to joining WorkXpress, Treff was director of operations for eBay's HomesDirect. While there, he created strategic relationships with Fortune 500 companies and national broker networks and began his foray into the development of flexible workflow software technologies. He served on the management team that sold HomesDirect to eBay.

During his time at Vivendi-Universal Interactive, Treff was director of strategy. In addition to M&A activities, Treff broadly applied quantitative management principles to sales, marketing, and product line functions. Treff served as the point person for the management team that sold Cendant Software to Vivendi-Universal. Earlier positions included product management and national sales trainer for Energy Design Systems, an engineering software company. Treff began his professional career as a metals trader for Randall Trading Corp, a commodities firm that specialized in bartering and transporting various metals and coal from the then-dissolving Soviet Union.

Treff received his MBA from Pepperdine University and a BS in chemical engineering from The Pennsylvania State University. http://www.workxpress.com

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