Cloud // Platform as a Service
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9/4/2013
00:53 AM
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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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Lorna Garey
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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.
jemison288
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jemison288,
User Rank: Moderator
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.
D. Henschen
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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.
jemison288
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jemison288,
User Rank: Moderator
9/4/2013 | 4:49:49 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
Definitely good points here. My perspective is that, with something like Heroku, there is *no* ownership of stack components from a patch perspective. It's just left hanging in the breeze. So my point is just that if there is a walled garden, the vendor has to own the components, and so that is at least theoretically better. But, as I say in the piece, Microsoft can definitely still screw up Azure.
StefanF055
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StefanF055,
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
jemison288
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jemison288,
User Rank: Moderator
9/4/2013 | 4:51:33 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
Putting applications in containers doesn't eliminate the problem of ownership over patching.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/4/2013 | 8:51:12 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
To say that PaaS vendors are destined to become the DreamHosts of tomorrow is a given: Commoditization happens over time. PaaS vendors will either figure out ways to add value (and maintain margins) or they will be made obsolete by the inevitable march of technology.
jemison288
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jemison288,
User Rank: Moderator
9/4/2013 | 11:41:20 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
The point about DreamHost doesn't have anything to do with commoditization--it has to do with only being able to fulfill the bottom end of the market.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/4/2013 | 10:23:50 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
Re: taking responsibility for the platform, my question is whether the issue is technical or contractual. Does it really need to be a single stack, or just a PaaS provider willing to take responsibility for making the pieces fit together?
jemison288
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jemison288,
User Rank: Moderator
9/4/2013 | 11:42:48 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
I'm actually making both points: I'm saying that (a) there isn't any PaaS provider (other than Microsoft) who will take responsibility today, and (b) I have a hard time believing that any PaaS provider is actually capable of doing so, because they don't develop the software in question (and if they don't control it, how could they take responsibility for it?)
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
9/5/2013 | 12:33:55 AM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
Joe is talking knowledgeably about where software responsibility lies (or doesn't lie) in the cloud, an issue that's not going away. It will become paramount as production systems move toward being hosted by cloud service providers. The cloud has to be a much more standard environment than the typical enterprise data center. Cloud providers other than Microsoft have a shot at this, but Microsoft has an inherent advantage when it comes to a standardized and well-maintained platform as a service. It's going to show in the long run.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
9/5/2013 | 4:29:44 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
Wouldn't Salesforce Force.com have a similar integrated stack advantage, at least for the apps that fit within their framework?
jemison288
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jemison288,
User Rank: Moderator
9/7/2013 | 12:57:38 AM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
Yes, although I put those in a separate category ("Proprietary PaaS") and generally view them as a bad idea, unless you're getting something from the proprietary aspect. (e.g., PropertyBase, which leverages Salesforce's brand and contacts).
cbabcock
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cbabcock,
User Rank: Strategist
9/12/2013 | 8:15:52 PM
re: Microsoft Is The Apple Of PaaS
Microsoft is trying to grow up as a PaaS provider. In some ways, PaaS represents the most mature thinking inside Microsoft. It's not chasing after other people's customers (a la touch screens) and it knows its business value. See Mark Russinovich remarks here.
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