Is platform-as-a-service just a feature of infrastructure-as-a-service and destined to disappear? Citrix's chief technology advocate Reuven Cohen made that argument recently, but I think it's the other way around: Infrastructure may best be approached through a PaaS.
I think there will several different platforms-as-a-service to help you launch your next-generation application on the cloud of your choice. I say several because there's been a debate recently about whether the successful launch of a Cloud Foundry Foundation amounted to the death knell of Red Hat's OpenShift PaaS and the related Project Solum in OpenStack.
Project Solum is suffering momentary suspended animation, as the dust settles around rival VMware/Pivotal's announcement of a foundation for its Cloud Foundry project. Some Solum backers, such as Rackspace, IBM, and Ubuntu, appear to be shifting allegiance. Joshua McKenty, CTO of Piston, appeared to be only stating the obvious when he bet $10 that Red Hat would be forced to abandon OpenShift and join Cloud Foundry by the end of the year. This isn't the first time in the loosely aligned world of software partnerships that practical considerations have left high hopes unsupported.
[Want to learn more about the bet against Red Hat? See Cloud Crossroads: Which Way PaaS?]
Still, if I know Red Hat, it will be stubborn about keeping OpenShift alive. It's been pushed into a corner before, and told (by seemingly knowledgeable observers) that its position was untenable and it would be left to wither on the vine. When Oracle disliked the pace at which Red Hat updated the kernel in Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Red Hat refused to budge. Oracle responded by announcing Oracle Linux and said it would charge half as much as Red Hat for technical support. Software industry watchers predicted a dire future for Red Hat, and its stock value plunged.
Likewise, when Microsoft rattled the patent saber and said only those Linux distributors who reached an agreement with it were safe from patent litigation, Suse Linux and several smaller distributors signed up. Red Hat was stubborn again. A protracted legal battle was the last thing a narrow-margin, open source company needed. But Red Hat believed Linux should be beholden to no one, and Microsoft's perceived threats never materialized into any action.
Now, McKenty observed, Red Hat is somewhat off by itself in a corner, having lost key support for OpenShift. Rackspace announced the Solum Project as the base from which you could deploy a new application into an OpenStack Cloud. Red Hat was an early enlistee and said it would gear OpenShift to feed that deployment system. Now Rackspace is a platinum supporter in the Cloud Foundry camp.
Is McKenty right? One participant in the debate that took place in the comments to that story said, no, Red Hat will take longer than the 10 months McKenty predicted to admit it's backing the wrong horse. I would suggest otherwise: Red Hat will redouble efforts to make OpenShift a viable PaaS platform, though that issue is not solely in Red Hat's hands. It will have to work in such a way that other companies and independent software developers sign up to help.
The world's first $1 billion open source company has experience in doing just that. It also has a fund of expertise about the Linux kernel and the direction in which Linux applications are moving. What's going to happen is not a Red Hat capitulation, but an expression of Red Hat's stubbornness -- and the emergence of the idea that PaaS is a more valuable platform than first imagined.
There won't be one form of PaaS, but several, each with distinct advantages. PaaS will survive, not as a feature of infrastructure, but as a distinct form of cloud computing that eases access, development, and deployments to public cloud. Go, Red Hat.
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