Peeling back the layers of the Platform as a Service market

The PaaS market can be split into traditional IT vendors and independent, niche providers. Which choice offers an enterprise long-term cloud health?

Even though some claim the sky is the limit with PaaS, choosing the wrong Platform as a Service provider can quickly put a fence around your sky.

Much like the cloud market in general, the PaaS market is also beginning to heat up -- and hype is rampant. There are several dozens of PaaS providers, half of which are still unheard of by most consumers.

According to Gartner, the PaaS market will reach nearly $1 billion in 2012 and is expected to grow to $1.75 billion by 2015, a growth of 75% in just three years. If this is the case, how can consumers get a handle on what’s available and what’s just hoopla?

The PaaS market can be divided into two vendor types: large traditional IT vendors, such as HP, IBM and Oracle; and smaller, independent PaaS providers.

Much like the cloud market in general, the PaaS market is also beginning to heat up -- and hype is rampant.

Smaller PaaS providers that have been operating for two or more years may have more PaaS expertise and motivation to offer better services than traditional IT vendors. These niche vendors hope that combining their cloud experience with a growing interest in cloud computing and a specific focus on Platform as a Service will give them an advantage over larger less-cloud-focused IT vendors.

While traditional IT vendors now offer PaaS products, several also maintain a broad range of existing IT products -- hardware and software. And many of these vendors can buy their way into the PaaS market by purchasing small, established companies. But that means these vendors will have one foot in the PaaS market and another in core businesses. And trying to make legacy hardware, software and applications fit with new acquisitions without disrupting business can be tricky.

But size does have some advantages in the PaaS market; large PaaS providers have greater operational skills, resources, money and the ability to handle larger security needs. Additionally, providing PaaS capabilities requires skilled staff -- kernel engineers for languages such as Java and Ruby,

IT staff that can optimize storage and other highly skilled and specialized development teams. To compete with large vendors, independent PaaS vendors may need to increase their scalability, manpower and overall sales revenue.

Public vs. private vs. open PaaS products

Public PaaS offerings include Salesforce.com’s Force.com and Google App Engine. Private PaaS vendors, including Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, are tapping into their existing developer bases to build cloud-enabled applications on private or hybrid cloud environments. If you want ease of use and automation, look into a public PaaS provider.

Private PaaS providers are best if your enterprise is worried about losing control, you have specific requires for securing data or you require your data be hosted in a particular geographic region because of compliance concerns or because your enterprise operates on an international scale.

PaaS consumers are no longer satisfied with building applications and running them on another Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider’s platform. They want their PaaS vendors to support more development environments with multiple languages and more underlying IaaS platforms. This is bringing to the forefront two emerging “open” PaaS projects.

VMware launched Cloud Foundry in April 2012; Red Hat announced OpenShift in May 2011. Both of these projects try to facilitate a multi-cloud hybrid approach to building and running apps. The winners will be the ones that can capitalize on this approach, whether they are open source or proprietary, and can build the biggest development partner ecosystem around their PaaS platform offerings.

Making the decision: PaaS provider selection

So how should an enterprise choose a PaaS provider that they can rely on for the next three, five or even 10 years? Is it better to select a large IT vendor that’s jumping into cloud because they can? Or should they go for smaller independent PaaS providers that only have PaaS on their roadmaps? Is combining products from large and small PaaS providers the answer?

Platform as a Service is a big investment in time and money; your enterprise’s cloud health could well depend on the PaaS provider choices you now. Here are a few guidelines for choosing the most suitable PaaS provider for your business needs:

  • Application development. Determine the types of applications you can and cannot develop on PaaS. There may not be any PaaS vendors that can provide you with the underlying infrastructure you need to develop certain apps -- even though a number of providers offer various infrastructure choices. You have to be able to test the apps using the PaaS architecture and tools. If some of your apps require special hardware for developing and testing, you may find it difficult to use a PaaS provider.
  • Portability and interoperability. Successful PaaS vendors will provide offerings that facilitate both application portability and cloud interoperability. Because many companies plan to build hybrid cloud environments, be sure the PaaS vendor(s) targets its offerings for hybrid computing development, which means they facilitate the movement of apps among various clouds. To ensure interoperability among clouds, you should also check that potential PaaS products allow you to:
      • Abstract app runtime, middleware and data handling from the underlying infrastructure
      • Support a broad range of languages such as Java, Ruby, Grails, etc. Microsoft supports only .NET and PHP and Oracle PaaS supports only Java. Look for a provider that offers a choice of deployment options, which will help you avoid cloud vendor lock-in.
    • Version updates. Some vendors, particularly large historically IT-based vendors, bring to market new or updated PaaS offerings that are architecturally tied to operating system releases, management releases, etc. Such releases or updates might occur once or twice a year. With PaaS, however, this would it difficult to create new offerings and release them quickly because they would depend on OS features. Vendors such as Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and to a less extent Red Hat, fall into this category.
    • Target markets. Be aware that PaaS vendors design their products to appeal to key developer markets, which often is their own installed base. For example, Microsoft Windows Azure directs its attention to .NET developers; Red Hat targets the open source community with OpenShift. VMware is one of the few vendors that focus on a broad group of developers, including the open source framework Cloud Foundry.
    • Management and maintenance. Be mindful of vendors that propose openness and what that means to the cloud consumer. These PaaS technologies may be based on dozens of different open source projects, some of which the vendor manage and some of which they don’t.
    • Compatibility issues. Beware of PaaS vendors that try to be everything to everyone. Even though they may say their PaaS strategy is compatible with all major cloud ecosystems, it’s impossible to do this without becoming a lowest common denominator. These PaaS providers likely can’t work with all cloud ecosystems without allocating unusually large resources to keep up with an extremely dynamic and rapidly emerging market.
    • Sustainability. When selecting a PaaS provider, look for a business partner that can stand the test of time. You should look at a provider’s experience in providing PaaS offerings; examine financial information and predicted growth of the business. Does the provider have a good set of partners? Does the provider have a list of satisfied customers you can speak to? Is the provider innovative, does it meet customer needs and is it holding its own among the competition? 

Bill Claybrook is a marketing research analyst with over 35 years of experience in the computer industry with the last dozen years in Linux, open source and cloud computing. Bill was research director, Linux and Open Source, at The Aberdeen Group in Boston and a competitive analyst/Linux product marketing manager at Novell. He is currently president of New River Marketing Research and Directions on Red Hat. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science.

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