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How to Skin a PaaS: White-Labeling and Theming Stackato
by Diane Mueller

Diane Mueller, November 14, 2012

Stackato OEM It should come as no surprise that ActiveState is offering the ability to rebrand and white label Stackato to select enterprise and OEM partners. Stackato, ActiveState's Enterprise PaaS, comes from a long line of products that have been embedded in enterprise software and hardware. OEM-ing our language distributions have been a significant part of our business since 1997.

What is interesting is how easily and seamlessly Stackato can be embedded into an enterprise's private cloud deployment, or into a cloud hosting provider's cloud portal, and themed to match the organization's own brand. This theming and customizing is the "skin" of the application.

Tara Gibbs UI/UX

So I interviewed ActiveState's UX/UI guru, Tara Gibbs, to get her point of view on "How to Skin a PaaS". She is the person who made it possible, designing the Stackato Management Console to be "re-skinnable" (if there is such a word). We talked about ActiveState's philosophy on enabling you to put your brand on our product.

What’s ActiveState’s background in white labelling?
While we have a long history of providing OEM language distributions of ActivePerl, ActivePython and ActiveTcl, this is our first foray into providing a product that supports theming.
You made it possible to theme Stackato. What do you know about themeing anyway?
Part of my job here at ActiveState is maintaining the Drupal installations that run several of our sites. That work has included designing and building the Drupal themes. I've also built out several custom themes for Wordpress.
Why is white labelling important for user experience?
Being able to theme Stackato's web management console means that users can have a more consistent experience when Stackato is included in part of a larger suite of services. You can give the console a similar look and feel as the rest of your offerings. Users won’t be surprised by unexpected color scheme changes or references to ActiveState when they're on a service hosted by someone else.
So, what parts of Stackato are re-skinable?
The look and feel of the entire Management Console can be controlled using CSS. The content of the EULA, and /welcome & /support pages can be customized. The name 'Stackato' can be replaced across the entire console, and the Stackato client can also be renamed if required. Certain elements and features can be toggled on and off as required.
How is this skinning done?
I tried to keep it as simple as possible, while providing enough flexibility for most needs.

There's a /theme directory in the Management Console which contains a CSS file which you can use to override the default Stackato styles. Extra images that you may want to use in your theming (ie: tiling background patterns) can be added to the theme directory as well.

There's also a settings.js file which, as the name suggests, contains settings you can change. The settings are paired up with comments explaining their use.

In the settings.js file, there are a few options for replacing the default Stackato content with custom content. That content would be stored in files in the /theme directory as well.

Will changes get overwritten during upgrades?
Upgrades are done by migrating data from an old cluster to a new one. You'll need to reapply your theme after a migration. With each new release, it's possible that there will be new console features that will require new CSS rules or that have new settings.js options that you may want to change.

Interested in white labelling Stackato?

Have a look at the Stackato Theming & Customization documentation to see just how easy we've made it to brand your own Platform as a Service. Or reach out to Ron Buckley, our OEM sales representative, and he’d be delighted to connect you with more information. Please note that an OEM license is required to deploy a re-themed Stackato in production.

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Diane Mueller is a Cloud Evangelist at ActiveState. She has been designing & implementing financial applications at Fortune 500 corporations for over 20 years. Diane has been actively involved in development efforts of XBRL Open Standard (http://www.xbrl.org) since 1999.