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Reflections on the future of Platform as a Service (PaaS) after Deploycon

Typical cloud computing conferences feature a large contingent of pay-to-pay sponsors who are looking primarily for ROI from marketing budgets at these shows. It is always refreshing to attend a sponsored event where speakers focus instead on energetic presentations and panel discussions aimed at gaining clarity on evolving topics. Platform as a Service (PaaS) is one aspect of cloud computing that is still evolving but maturing quickly. Deploycon 2013 was a good sponsored workshop (held in conjunction with the Cloud Connect conference) to set the tone on the future of PaaS.

With the skills shortage in cloud computing skills and an effort to improve developer productivity, vendors are in a race to reduce the complexity of deploying cloud enabled solutions. Abstracting the infrastructure to overcome major barriers of security and scalability while avoiding vendor lock-in is key to PaaS vendor success. Customers use different approaches to leveraging PaaS. Customers who have substantial investments in Salesforce users tend to utilize a Force.com solution that allows them to extend their CRM implementation. Vendors with a larger application development portfolio are more likely to use PaaS solutions that allow the choice of the underlying cloud infrastructure like CloudFoundry.

The PaaS market and solutions are divided into different categories to help customers develop cloud solutions:

1. SaaS vendors enabling their users to leverage the existing cloud stack. One example is Force.com

2. IaaS vendors building PaaS capabilities to complement and enhance their offerings. Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk is a good example.

3. Specialty vendors addressing specific cloud issues like integration, database, testing & security. An example is SOASTA for testing.

4. PaaS vendors developing open solutions to abstract multiple IaaS platforms. CloudFoundry & OpenShift are solutions in this category.

So far, large IT vendors have been lacking in a clear PaaS strategy. Due to the breath of their portfolios, products are needed in several of the categories above. The challenge for these vendors is to build coherent messaging able to convince customers to adopt PaaS as part of their IT frameworks. Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Salesforce have built a comprehensive set of products to help customers embark on their cloud journeys.

Large customers using emerging technologies are hard to come by.  Financial institutions are generally slow to adopt bleeding technologies for multiple reasons, and risk avoidance plays a big role. It was refreshing to see Apprenda’s case study outlining the JP Morgan Chase use of private PaaS in IT shops of large enterprises.  Some of the measures of success in the case study were:

  • 2000 applications hosted
  • 700% improvement in developer productivity
  • 70% increase in infrastructure utilizations
  • 50 days improvement in average application time to market

While there are many case studies floating around enterprise adoption of PaaS technologies, it is surprising to see a large enterprise like JP Morgan Chase adopt solutions from a small vendor like Apprenda to significantly improve the efficiency of their IT operations. While the case study does not specify the underlying hardware, infrastructure optimized for the cloud like HP’s Moonshot or OpenCompute could be game changers for enterprises.

While Amazon is mostly known for its Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) capability, start-ups often use Amazon’s PaaS capabilities in solutions. CoupSmart, a Cincinnati startup, leverages Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk to remove complexity from the scaling and monitoring of CoupSmart solutions. While Amazon’s PaaS solution is good for start-ups, Amazon’s challenge is to make the solution appealing for use by enterprises.

Workshops like Deploycon are a refreshing change as they offer attendees an opportunity to gain a clear understanding of an emerging disruptive technology. While the atmosphere inside the workshop hall was based on open discussions without vendor pitches, attendees enjoyed the opportunity to meet vendors outside for one-on-one discussions. My hope is for similar workshops to be held on other emerging technologies like Software Defined Networks.

OpenStack Summit is being held this week, bringing together a large contingent of worldwide supporters of this emerging cloud standard. I look forward to PaaS vendors coexisting with open standards like OpenStack to offer a value proposition that fundamentally changes the IT landscape in large enterprises.

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