Verizon cozies up with Cloud Foundry as PaaS market heats up

With IDC predicting PaaS to be a $14B market, vendors are jumping in

Verizon, which just recently launched a major overhaul to its cloud platform, today announced plans to integrate the VMware/EMC-backed Cloud Foundry open source platform as a service (PaaS) initiative into its offering.

Here’s why that news is important: the PaaS market is getting awfully crowded, awfully fast.

[BACKGROUND: PaaS market to reach $14B by 2017, IDC says]

Seen by many as a secondary player in the cloud compared to the much larger and more robust IaaS and SaaS markets, the PaaS industry has in recent months become a focus for many of the leading cloud computing vendors.

PaaS could be an important initiative in the cloud because of what it enables. Most PaaSs are a cloud-based application development platform used to build apps that are hosted in the cloud. Others view the PaaS market, especially open source PaaS tools like Cloud Foundry and others, as being an intermediary that act as a portal to access infrastructure from Amazon, OpenStack or other IaaSs.

IDC further legitimized the market recently when it predicted that it could reach $14 billion by 2017. That’s only a small chunk of the nearly $200 billion-a-year industry Gartner predicts the cloud market to be by that time though.

Still, the promise of the PaaS market has gotten the attention of IaaS and SaaS vendors, many of whom have rolled out PaaS-like features to their offerings, or plan to soon. A variety of other companies are looking to stake a claim in this nascent industry too. In recent weeks we’ve had news such as:

-- Just this week Red Hat announced features and reduced pricing for its PaaS offering named OpenShift, this comes weeks after it rolled out a series of new partnerships for its PaaS, including with open source containerization platform Docker.

-- Rackspace announced a new open source initiative named Project Solum for the OpenStack community that will also likely serve as the basis for its PaaS offering, and be a competitor to Cloud Foundry.

-- IBM has committed to integrating and helping develop open source Cloud Foundry, which is currently being backed by Pivotal - a spinout from EMC and VMware

-In June, CenturyLink/Savvis bought PaaS provider AppFog  

[MORE PaaS: 10 Most powerful PaaS companies]

All these announcements came when the PaaS market was already a crowded field. Major IaaS and SaaS providers are already in this market. Salesforce.com, for example, has one of the strongest PaaS plays with its Force.com PaaS. It’s a lightweight application development platform that is meant to be a tool for building business process apps - like those for an HR department - that integrate with customer data that’s already in Salesforce.com’s cloud, primarily its popular namesake CRM tool. For more technical developers, Salesforce.com bought Heroku, which is another application development platform.

Big IaaS companies are considering a play in this market as well. Amazon Web Services, the leading IaaS provider has PaaS-like features for its cloud, but has come short of offering a full-fledged PaaS. The company is hosting its second annual customer conference this week in Las Vegas named re:Invent and there is expected to be news from the company. But, it already has features like an array of software development kits (SDK), and Elastic BeanStalk, among other tools, which help customers automate the deployment of applications on AWS infrastructure. Microsoft and Google began their cloud offerings with PaaSs (Microsoft with Azure and Google with App Engine), then expanded into the IaaS market.

A variety of private cloud PaaS that run on a customer’s premises are in the market as well, and many are focused on specific development languages. These include .Net development platform Apprenda, Java-focused CloudBees, EngineYard for Ruby on Rails apps.

Recently, momentum in this market has only accelerated. Rackspace’s introduction of Project Solum marks the third major open source PaaS on the market, behind OpenShift and Cloud Foundry. Solum has been met with mixed reactions in the market thus far, but the project is still in its very earliest stages.

Verizon’s announcement of the company backing Cloud Foundry adds to the impressive list of backers CF has brought on board in recent months. Pivotal has big plans for using CF in its offering as well, and is stepping up its marketing of Cloud Foundry - it took out a full page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal this week to commemorate the launch of Pivotal’s productized version of the open source Cloud Foundry PaaS named Pivotal CF. In what seems to be a back and forth between the CF and Red Hat OpenShift communities, OpenShift has rebutted some of those moves by CF by announcing partnership with containerization project Docker, and price reductions to its offering.

Even as all this is happening, some question the long-term viability of the PaaS market and where all these offerings will eventually end up. North Bridge Venture Capital Partner Michael Skok, for example, has spoken about a “PaaS Squeeze” in which the PaaS market is becoming dominated by IaaS vendors offering application development tools to run apps on their clouds, and SaaS vendors offering PaaS-like capabilities to build new apps that integrate with their existing SaaS programs. That could squeeze out pure-play PaaS providers like the private PaaS ones. Verizon’s move to cozy up with CF could be the beginning of another IaaS/PaaS blend.

Whatever happens with the PaaS market, it’s clear that it is one of the hottest areas in the cloud right now.

Senior Writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing for Network World and NetworkWorld.com. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW. Read his Cloud Chronicles here.  

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