Wednesday, August 19, 2015

When Will Cloud Come to PaaS?

One of the perennial cloud predictions has been that 200x would be the year of the Platform as a Service (PaaS) cloud. The logic goes that if an automated data center in the sky is good, an automated development platform in the sky must be even better.

“Normal” clouds like Amazon AWS give the developer a virtual computer to load their OS and App onto. PaaS gives the developer a virtual computer with the OS, database and middleware “pre-loaded,” thereby simplifying the deployment.

Yet so far, PaaS adoption has been anemic and Gartner puts PaaS at 1% of the overall cloud market. At the same time, new technologies like Docker and containers have attracted far more attention from the developer community.

PaaS Lacks “Write Once, Run Anywhere” Simplicity

Developers love the simplicity of “write once, run anywhere.” This is what gave Java its initial allure and it is at the core of Docker’s recent ascendance to the top of the shiny tech object heap. PaaS has traditionally been more of a “write differently for each place” kind of solution.  Issues include:
  1. PaaS lock-in – there is no example in the industry of PaaS portability – each PaaS has its own unique services and configuration. While IaaS also suffers from similar lock in issues, the effort required to port from one cloud to another is much lower here.  
  2. Anemic ecosystem - real applications use many different services, such as database, file storage, security and messaging. In order to deploy an application in a PaaS, the PaaS must support every service that app needs,.
  3. Public/private inflexibility – many PaaS offerings are cloud only (Heroku) or on premise (OpenShift). Even for PaaS offerings that can run on or off premise, replicating the exact service ecosystem in each environment is challenging.

PaaS For SaaS Is a Winner

A no-brainer use of PaaS is to extend existing SaaS applications. In this case, the write once run anywhere problem goes away because there is only one place to build and run the application. 

The big winner in PaaS to date has been SalesForce. Their platform makes it easy for companies to extend their CRM applications or build entirely new applications. With this platform, SalesForce has created huge competitive differentiation in CRM space while also building a PaaS revenue stream approaching $1B a year, dwarfing any other PaaS offering. 

Cloud Native PaaS Could Go Mainstream

Google recently released their cloud native platform, called Kubernetes (which means pilot in Greek). Kubernetes is a cloud operating system for containers that runs anywhere. A number of PaaS vendors are banding together to define the requirements for cloud native computing.

The promise is to simplify still further the process of provisioning services to cloud containers, regardless of where they are running. It will be exciting to see how existing PaaS vendors like CloudFoundry incorporate these new technologies into their offerings.

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