Cloud // Platform as a Service
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3/20/2014
11:35 AM
Ric Telford
Ric Telford
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PaaS, Present & Future: Developers Will Decide

Platform-as-a-service differs from IaaS. IBM's Ric Telford predicts what we'll see as it matures during the next two years.

More than two years ago I wrote the blog post "PaaS Comes Of Age," where I posited we were entering a platform-as-a-service era -- one in which platform services would become the critical cloud capability for enterprises. A lot has happened since I wrote that post, and now we are seeing this "coming of age" story continue into maturity.

For the uninitiated, PaaS can be thought of as a delivery model for functionality you traditionally associate with middleware. Not so coincidently, it also sits in the "middle" of the cloud stack, between infrastructure-as-a-service and software-as-a-service. PaaS can deliver any combination of application "development" and "runtime" services from the cloud, in some type of measured model (subscription, pay-as-you-go, etc).

Today there are quite a variety of PaaS services, so many that it's hard to keep them straight. Many companies have converged on this space, coming up from the IaaS layer (Amazon's Relational Database Service or Elastic Beanstalk), down from the SaaS layer (Salesforce's Force.com), or even as a new corporate initiative (Google AppEngine or Microsoft Azure). In addition, there are numerous "pure play" PaaS offerings (like EngineYard) and a whole slew of startups.

One aspect to watch carefully in the PaaS space is the role of open standards and open source. Unlike IaaS, where Amazon has become a bit of a de facto standard, PaaS is likely to be more de jure -- built on a set of open standards. IBM just announced BlueMix and a $1 billion commitment to PaaS capabilities. Key to this announcement was the support of Cloud Foundry, an open-source platform layer for the cloud. Started by VMware and spun off as part of Pivotal, Cloud Foundry already has around 40 corporate contributors. Not to be outdone, RedHat's OpenShift initiative is also based on open source and also has a stable of active contributors.

[Want more on Pivotal's latest moves? Read Pivotal Brings In-Memory Analysis To Hadoop.]

It will be interesting to see what the future holds for PaaS. If it tracks with similar technology shifts in IT history, here are some things to assume.

  • Companies need to become comfortable with the concept before they standardize on a PaaS. We are still in the tire-kicking stage in most enterprises, which want to see the value in PaaS before starting any serious shift off traditional middleware. This would imply a year or two before real PaaS growth. But, much like the shift from client/server applications to Internet-based applications, when the shift starts it will ramp quickly.
  • Open systems will coexist with proprietary. Much like Java and .Net, there will be followers of each.
  • Developers will decide. Think early days of Microsoft or today's Android. The PaaS vendors that are most successful in courting and keeping software developers will rise to the top. Don't be surprised if you start seeing some "PaaS-justifying applications" -- compelling SaaS offerings that run only on a particular vendor's PaaS. (For the gamers out there, an analogy is Titanfall for Xbox One.)
  • Consolidation will occur, but not as much in the PaaS market as in IaaS. Some believe that IaaS vendors could consolidate down to as few as six major ones.
  • If you look at today's analogue -- the server and storage business -- this seems about right. But PaaS is a much broader set of capabilities, and one in which ecosystems can develop around standards (much like the Java community today), but still have room for a larger field of competitors.

I will check back in two more years and see if these predictions prove to be accurate.

Please post your comments below. You can also follow me on Twitter @rictelford as I track a lot of the happenings in the world of cloud, or look me up on LinkedIn.

Private clouds are moving rapidly from concept to production. But some fears about expertise and integration still linger. Also in the Private Clouds Step Up issue of InformationWeek: The public cloud and the steam engine have more in common than you might think. (Free registration required.)

Ric Telford is VP of IT Services Strategy and Cloud at IBM. His career highlights 30 years of software development, IT service delivery and business strategy.  Ric has not only developed systems but also delivered them.  He has been involved with cloud for the last ... View Full Bio

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john_mathon
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john_mathon,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/27/2014 | 4:23:00 PM
Re: Future
ric, i couldn't agree more.  I believe that a services / API centric approach with social mixed in is a start.  The cloud should track the dependencies of everything so when you go to change anything everyone it affects will be notified.  The network effect of the cloud will lead to rethinking everything.
john_mathon
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john_mathon,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/27/2014 | 4:19:35 PM
Re: PaaS resembles language frameworks on steroids
I like this idea.  PaaS should theoretically be as simple to use as some interpretive languages making it as simple to write and test some code as writing programs in Basic but with "control" and scalability and the ability to incoroprate other services easily.  Somehow the magic to make it all happen and be available to everyone should be part of it ultimately.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
3/24/2014 | 3:59:37 PM
PaaS resembles language frameworks on steroids
These comments on PaaS remind me of how programmer's frameworks first emerged for particular languages, such as Spring and Ruby on Rails.The cloud offers a multi-language setting where the same plumbing, middleware and aids to application development can be readily assembled. The potential is much greater in the cloud because its a future deployment environment after dev., as well.
rictelford
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rictelford,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/24/2014 | 11:57:22 AM
Re: Future
Thanks!  I agree - we need to re-imagine all of IT and what it looks like when built on the cloud and for the cloud.
Madhava verma dantuluri
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Madhava verma dantuluri,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/24/2014 | 12:59:42 AM
Future
Excellent article, there is so much scope for the great work down the line and PaaS is a start.
rictelford
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rictelford,
User Rank: Apprentice
3/23/2014 | 10:45:28 AM
Re: The key point for decision
I agree with all these comments - especially the topic of legacy application migration.  Businesses will go through an analysis of "leave it," "replace with SaaS," or "move to cloud."  A good PaaS will focus on making the "move to cloud" as painless as possible and offer much greater upside than moving to cloud by just porting to an IaaS.
Ruslan Synytsky
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Ruslan Synytsky,
User Rank: Strategist
3/22/2014 | 6:59:32 PM
Re: The key point for decision
I agree. Exactly. Moreover, we should understand that the next big jump is the Cloud-Backend-a-a-Service. I believe this is the best option for devs to think about the future development trend. Because the difference between legacy apps and new cloud-model driven apps is huge. However, CBaaS direction is still at early stage and enterprises are looking for solution right now.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
3/22/2014 | 11:02:34 AM
Re: The key point for decision
I think one of the key ways we'll see developers drive PaaS is through application modernization as they start to transition their existing legacy applications to something more cloud friendly.  Due to the flexibility that PaaS offers in terms of OS/platform, it makes sense that developers will flock to these pre-configured environments and leverage them as a base to code their new applications to modernize their overall environments.  Very exciting stuff!
Ruslan Synytsky
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Ruslan Synytsky,
User Rank: Strategist
3/22/2014 | 6:01:23 AM
The key point for decision
A really informative article.  I totally agree with the statement that "developers will decide" which platforms are winners.  We've found that a big part of the decision making process, and something that can potentially delay or defer the decision to utilize PaaS at all, is the effort required to migrate applications and vendor lock-in. Developers should not have to code to proprietary APIs in order to enjoy the benefits of PaaS. Ability to reuse existing standards and collected expertise in software development is the key point for the decision.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
3/20/2014 | 12:51:16 PM
PaaS will tend to be open source and come in flavors
An excellent discussion of PaaS, Ric, and some telling points on how standards and open source code will have a lot to say about which types of PaaS survive and thrive. VMware/Pivotal had good foresight to build a successful open source project around Cloud Foundry. More power to them. Google App Engine and Microsoft Azure are different beasts where the PaaS closely resembles the infrastructure as a service itself, and applications that developers compose there should probably be run there. Red Hat OpenShift will bring additional standards and open source, with expertise in the Linux kernel and Linux Containers. It may develop its own distinctive flavor of PaaS.
Google in the Enterprise Survey
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