Experts weigh in on Platform as a Service adoption

Amid claims that PaaS adoption will take off in the coming year, our cloud experts weighed in on its pros and cons -- and what the future will hold.

Platform as a Service has been on the tip of cloud experts' tongues everywhere -- whether it's been reviled or touted. asked a few of experts to weigh in on the anticipated growth of PaaS in the cloud market.

Gartner claims Platform as a Service adoption will explode this year. How is your company preparing for PaaS? What risks do you see with PaaS?

Tom Nolle: I think "exploding" is a bit excessive at this point. I do think that in the long run, the cloud will be driven by applications written for it, applications written to a platform. The challenge for the market is that we're looking at the cloud as a replacement for IT in current apps, which means we're not looking at it as a platform for apps yet to be written. That puts us at risk to picking platforms that are suitable to do what's now done, but not suitable to be the framework of the future cloud.

PaaS is the long-term answer. I just wish that we were thinking about the long-term question more, which is, "What does a cloud-specific app really look like? There's no reason to think that the cloud of the future would be constrained by today's programming models, and yet the PaaS platforms of today are largely those very models.

What will it take to push PaaS to the next level? If portability and interoperability are the answers, which vendors are getting close?

Dan Sullivan: For developers there are a lot of advantages of PaaS, especially if you don't have in depth skills for parts of the application stack. (Anybody who has been Oracle DBA by default knows what I mean.) I suspect we'll see the largest growth in language- and stack-agnostic PaaS providers, such as Red Hat's OpenShift. More specialized providers, like PiCloud, will fill a niche (Python/science and analytic apps) and probably establish a dedicated user group but won't have the broad appeal of OpenShift.

Risk-averse developers may tend to stick with IaaS to keep their options open.

Roger Jennings: The primary risk of PaaS is vendor lock-in to a particular OS or cloud, e.g., Windows in the case of Azure. However, Microsoft is mitigating this issue with today's virtual machine (VM) roles and a full-blown Windows Azure IaaS implementation this year.

Nolle: I think that's going to be a tough call to make, personally. The problem is that we have barely scratched the surface of the cloud and nothing that's happened up to now has any proven relevance to the main push yet to come. I think Microsoft has a clear vision, and I think that any real distinctive cloud future is necessarily focused on PaaS and Software as a Service (SaaS), but I think we're still struggling to find the range of the real cloud story, even at the vendor space. Smaller players like Joyent have some interesting angles, but it may take some real market clout to make a difference, and only the big IT kingpins have that.

What does the success of Platform as a Service mean for the future of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) implementations in the enterprise?

Nolle: Frankly, I think a better question is, “What impact PaaS will have on the future of the cloud overall?” IaaS is just a way of doing server consolidation to a hosted virtual server; it's not a game-changer in a benefit sense. PaaS could be a game-changer if the "platform" that's offered as a "service" is really a new IT architecture created to combine hosting and service-oriented architecture (SOA) into a single grand picture. But the could qualifier is key because I don't think the market is in sync with reality. We need to understand what a cloud platform really is and what it really does, and to do that we need to ask what a cloud application would really look like.

Jennings: PaaS providers offering a la carte enhancements, such as Windows Azure's Media, Mobile, Connect, Service Bus, Workflow, Identity, Access Control, Hadoop/MapReduce and Cloud Numerics features, will relegate IaaS to a low-margin commodity market with Amazon Web Services (AWS) taking the cake and other vendors scrambling for the crumbs.

Sullivan: IaaS and PaaS will appeal to different groups. IaaS is the better option if you are looking for a hosted virtual machine that gives you full control over the application stack from the operating system (OS) level up. If you can find a PaaS with a combination of application stack services that fit your needs, then it can be a better option than IaaS.

A PaaS product like CloudBees might appeal to a Java developer who can take advantage of the development environment, messaging services and identity management functionality. It's really a question of how well the PaaS offering fits your existing requirements and your willingness to commit future development to the platform. Risk-averse developers may tend to stick with IaaS to keep their options open.

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