A world of PaaS-ibilities

Platform-as-a-service market remains fragmented, but clear leaders should emerge within next year or two

Enterprise developers looking to tap into Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings over the next 18 months will not want for choice. In fact, one could argue that the existence of so many choices is creating confusion and inhibiting the growth of PaaS.

Gartner has estimated that the worldwide PaaS market will reach $927.3 million this year. The biggest segment of the market (pulling down 38%) is what Gartner calls aPaaS -- or application PaaS - which is defined as a service that offers functionality similar to that of an application server in the traditional on-premises software architecture sense.

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IPass -- a suite of cloud services enabling development, execution and governance of integration flows between any combination of on-premises and cloud-based processes, services, applications and data within individual, or across multiple organizations -- is a very distant second in Gartner's forecast. From there, the PaaS categories get broken down into application life-cycle PaaS, business process management PaaS, database PaaS and messaging PaaS, to name only a few of the "other" market segments.

What further complicates the PaaS menu is that vendors jockeying for position in this space can't be neatly categorized. Most deliver a variety of services that span Gartner's segmentation. Take PaaS power player SalesForce.com, for example. It's got its own foot in four segments, sometimes with multiple offerings. Partners building services on top of the SalesForce.com platform play in still other categories. Microsoft's Azure PaaS conglomeration touches on four PaaS segments, as does IBM's portfolio, and Google registers in three.

Even seemingly razor focused start-ups like CloudBees, which has pinned its early success on bringing both existing and new Java-centric applications into the cloud (see Case Study), play in multiple PaaS segments. CloudBees CEO Sacha Labourey, considers this type of breadth a competitive advantage. "What we're offering is complete, end-to-end life cycle management for Java-based cloud applications," Labourey says.

It makes perfect sense for vendors to be scrambling to cover as much PaaS ground as possible because - as Gartner and several other competing analyst firms contend - the market currently stands at the cusp of several years of strategic growth, hitting $1.755 billion by 2015. Industry watchers predict there will be an eventual aggregation of PaaS offerings into suites that are both well integrated and optimized. Gartner says this process will take place in steps with PaaS functionalities consolidating around certain use cases circa 2013 with integrated, comprehensive PaaS offerings emerging in 2015.

"Whoever owns the platform this year will own the cloud for the next 10 years," says Kamesh Pemmaraju, head of marketing for Cloud Technology Partners, a cloud computing consultancy.

Pemmaraju divides the PaaS playing field into public and private sectors. Public PaaS vendors - companies like Saleforce.com with Force.com and Google with App Engine -- are the most mature in his estimation. "You just subscribe to these services and access them through a Web browser. You own nothing. You just jump in," Pemmaraju says.

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Zimmer, a leading global manufacturer of medical products such as orthopedic reconstructive tools, spinal and trauma devices and dental implants, made the jump early last year. The company had issues delivering timely information to its sales reps and customers, and turned to Salesforce.com's Force.com platform to help build highly mobile and interactive information sharing applications that could operate in both connected and disconnected modes. Zimmer partnered with mobile cloud services specialist Model Metrics (which has since been acquired by SalesForce.com) to create - in just 12 weeks -- an iPad application that shares the latest information on Zimmer products as well as new techniques to utilize them both in the office and in the operating room.

Zimmer's Global CIO Raj Kushwaha says the time to deploy the new project was even further reduced because the company was already in the middle of a SalesForce.com's CRM deployment, so the new application was deployed at the same time.

"We went from prototyping on 30 machines to a full deployment on 3,000 machines in just eight weeks, which still is amazing to me," Kushwaha says.

Alternatively, under Pemmaraju's explanation of the market, private PaaS, is a slower roll. Private PaaS is better for customers who fear loss of infrastructure control, have specific requirements for securing data, and have data location issues because they operate on an international scale.

The players in this emerging part of PaaS are long-standing application development platform providers such as Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, all of which are tapping into their existing developer bases to build cloud-enabled applications on private clouds or in public/private hybrid environments.

But for corporate coders getting pressure from upper management to tap into PaaS for bottom line business gains, the choice really comes down to an age old developers' dilemma: do you want ease of use and automation or do you want breadth of control?

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Says Red Hat's Jimmy Guerrero, dubbed 'The PaaS Dude' by the loyal Linux following (his real title is senior product marketing manager of the company's OpenShift open source PaaS project, "PaaS is no different. If you want it to provide a high level of automation so you can get it out the door quickly, you're going to have a lower degree of management.'' And if you need to have a lot of control over the platform, then it's not going to be easy to use.

Forrester Research analyst John Rymer says the biggest transformation in the PaaS landscape this year lies in the fact that enterprise customers are no longer looking at the cloud as a place to solely deploy brand new applications. And most of the PaaS providers are answering that call by "taking a more pragmatic approach to moving existing enterprises into the cloud" by supporting more development environments and more underlying Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platforms, Rymer says.

Cloud Technology Partners' Kamesh agrees, saying the two emerging developments to watch in this more "open" PaaS arena are two open source PaaS projects: CloudFoundry, launched last April and spearheaded by VMware; and, OpenShift announced last May and driven by Red Hat.

Both companies have trusted roots in the enterprise with their respective underlying server virtualization and virtualization management software suites, so it makes sense for them "to attempt to the cloud platform pull through" from that vantage point, Kamesh says.

Jerry Chen,vice president of cloud and application services for VMware, says, "We want to facilitate the multi-cloud approach to building and running applications.'' He argues that a corporate developer should be able to build an application in a micro-cloud on a laptop, deploy it in a private cloud for testing, move it to a public cloud provider and relocate it to another public cloud provider if terms prove to be more palatable there.

"The race is certainly on between Red Hat and VMware. The winner of that contest will be the company that can build the biggest development partner ecosystem around their platform," says Rymer, who wouldn't hazard a guess to which company that would be.

Burns is a freelance writer and editor who has over 15 years experience covering the networking industry. She can be reached at cburns1227@googlemail.com.

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