Pivotal puts PaaS in the spotlight

Venture from EMC, VMware and GE could help enterprises exploit big data for new apps

In launching Pivotal, the partnership of EMC, VMware and GE is attempting to refocus the conversation in the market about how a new generation of applications that use big data will be built.

Paul Maritz

Former VMware CEO Paul Maritz has a new platform for building big data apps

Paul Maritz, the former long-time Microsoft executive and VMware CEO who now heads Pivotal, says there’s a lack of an application development platform with built-in capabilities to manage and analyze large quantities of data geared toward the enterprise. Pivotal is a “new platform for a new era,” he says.  

As such, Pivotal is bringing to the forefront the platform as a service (PaaS) market, a niche area of cloud computing that pundits, and vendors, believe could play a critical role in the future of how applications are developed.

[BACKGROUND: Pivotal launched from EMC, VMware technologies]

Platform as a service (PaaS) is at its core about providing a framework for developing new applications in the cloud. The market is young and immature – research firm Gartner says PaaS represents about 1% of the $131 million cloud computing market – significantly less than the 15% stake software as a service (SaaS) holds and the 5.5% portion made up by infrastructure as a service (IaaS), the latter of which Gartner says is the fastest growing portion of the cloud computing market.

Pivotal dropped a hammer on the rest of the market Wednesday though, says Krishnan Subramanian, an analyst at Rishidot Research who follows the PaaS industry. So far the PaaS market has been made up of vendors like Heroku (which is owned by Salesforce.com), Engine Yard, CloudBees, AppFog and Apprenda. Most of these companies provide developers with a platform for writing code and not having to worry about configuring the underlying infrastructure to deploy applications. Subramanian says Pivotal is one of the first companies to speak about PaaS with a heavy emphasis on big data and accompanying analytics. “Pivotal is building a different kind of platform around big data,” he says. “They’re taking the market in a slightly different direction.”

During the launch event, Maritz said enterprises require "a set of new applications that can be easily run on existing substrates" to take advantage of the huge amount of data that will be available for companies. Leading technology companies have realized how to leverage big data, but many enterprises are struggling with it. “We’re in a world of big data,” Subramanian says, agreeing with Maritz, and adds that new apps will need to be made to handle that data.

Pivotal takes a three-pronged approach to providing a platform for building apps, managing that data, and running it either on enterprise’s own equipment, or on one of a variety of public clouds, including Amazon and OpenStack, officials said. Pivotal incorporates several projects from both EMC and VMware, including EMC’s distribution of Apache Hadoop, as well as VMware’s Cloud Foundry PaaS.  

“Pivotal is the first application platform that combines cloud, Big Data, and rapid application development and it represents a fundamental shift in enterprise IT,” says Hyoun Park, principal analyst at Nucleus Research. “By creating an enterprise-grade Big Data application platform, Pivotal has the opportunity to quickly unlock value from transactional data that has traditionally been archived and ignored without requiring a long period of up training, integration, and upfront development time.”

A $105 million investment from industrial giant GE, which was also announced Wednesday, should not be understated, he adds. GE will be a test-bed for proving the value of analyzing data on this new platform.  

It’s not happening right now though: Pivotal is set to release its first products in the fourth quarter. With backers such as EMC and VMware, which hold significant takes in enterprise shops, plus a reference customer in GE already on board, Pivotal will likely be a force to be reckoned with in the cloud and app development markets going forward.

Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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