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Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS

If you follow risk assessment best practices, public platform-as-a-service is a no go. That is, unless you sign on with a control freak.

Why Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS

Apple's ascendency over the past decade is often attributed to the maniacal control it exercises over hardware and software. Because of that near-complete dominance, Apple can take responsibility for the full user experience, and that leads to better products. Take, for example, the fact that my 2011 MacBook Air always resumes from standby in a second, whereas my Lenovo ThinkPad running Windows 7 often takes more than a minute -- and sometimes doesn't ever properly resume at all. Yes, the number of options that Apple provides is limited, but it darn well makes sure they work together properly.

There's a strong parallel between my Apple vs. Lenovo laptops and Microsoft Azure vs. pure public PaaS. If you select the Microsoft stack (.NET, SQL Server, IIS) and you run it on Azure, then (from a risk assessment standpoint, at least) Microsoft can take control for patching and updates across your full application stack. In fact, updating the host OS is a key selling point of Azure, and problems resulting from those updates are covered by the Azure service-level agreement. So, unlike with Google App Engine or Heroku or other pure public PaaS players, Azure should pass a standard vendor risk assessment without issue, provided you're using the pure Microsoft stack.

Now, I'm not saying Azure is bulletproof. Microsoft could certainly screw up patching and do other things to undermine it from a risk management standpoint. Azure can run non-Microsoft stack elements (see touting of such support in a recent blog post), but in doing so, it enters the messy risk management world of other public PaaS offerings.

There are also many selection criteria outside of vendor risk assessment, as we discuss in our PaaS Buyer's Guide, among them a few good reasons not to use Azure. But there's no getting around the fact that, for mission-critical applications, passing a vendor risk assessment is a necessary evil.

The Future Of PaaS

I see two types of platforms that can sit on top of either private clouds (OpenStack, CloudStack) or public IaaS (or both) as the future the PaaS. PaaS-enabling software, like Apprenda, Cloud Foundry or OpenShift, allows organizations to provide the benefits of PaaS to their developers while maintaining control over the stack (including patching). And cloud configuration management software and services like Enstratius, RightScale, SaltStack and Scalr allow organizations to template-ize servers in a way that's more free-form than PaaS, but with many of the same benefits of making server launches repeatable and simple, and developer code testing and deployment painless.

I don't have a strong sense which of these will win. It's ultimately a question of whether PaaS-enabling software can build in enough flexibility to support the many different ways that developers end up having to configure their stacks, and/or whether cloud configuration management software and services can provide enough structure around configuration management to keep server definitions from devolving into the equivalent of brownfield code.

Oh, and I expect to see Microsoft Azure in the future of PaaS as well, at the very least supporting its own walled garden for public, private and hybrid clouds.

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User Rank: Ninja
9/4/2013 | 4:47:44 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
I would at least hope that Red Hat takes some of its expertise from RHEL to build some guarantees around a specific OpenShift stack. But I would doubt that IBM has the expertise (or attention) to do such a maintenance task itself, and Google is fine with perpetual beta / giving customers 95% of what they need at 5% of the cost and letting the people who need the 100% solution go elsewhere. But I do think that Red Hat has a chance of mitigating some of the issues I raise here.
User Rank: Apprentice
9/4/2013 | 3:18:03 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
You have missed an emerging variant of PaaSes based on the container concept. Check out the Docker project. No solid full blown PaaS based on this available yet, but many in the creation phase. Cloud Foundry v2 has embedded support for warden which is similar.

By packaging apps into containers the infrastructure provider becomes increasingly irrelevant from an application functionality point-of-view, but very relevant from a deployment scalability/robustness perspective. That's the right balance. To marry your app to the PaaS is just looking for trouble down the line
D. Henschen
D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
9/4/2013 | 2:44:28 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
This analysis puts a lot of faith in sole ownership of stack components, but I suspect the biggest challenges in running a reliable PaaS have a lot more to do with flawless operational execution and proactive communications with customers about changes that might impact their applications. Even walled gardens are known to harbor a few weeds. I also question whether the Apply-style control analogy can apply to enterprise IT, where diversity generally rules.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
9/4/2013 | 2:31:06 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
Joe, Do you see any moves by bigger PaaS players, like IBM, Red Hat and Google, to try and get their own internal stacks, whether by acquisition or in-house dev? I mean, besides being a compliance pain point for customers, you know the PaaS provider has to deal with finger pointing every time a patch hits. Something *always* breaks.
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Google in the Enterprise Survey
Google in the Enterprise Survey
There's no doubt Google has made headway into businesses: Just 28 percent discourage or ban use of its productivity ­products, and 69 percent cite Google Apps' good or excellent ­mobility. But progress could still stall: 59 percent of nonusers ­distrust the security of Google's cloud. Its data privacy is an open question, and 37 percent worry about integration.
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