I live in Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). Most of the projects I’ve been involved in have been around either building these services or deploying applications built on these services. It’s also easy to get customers to relate to single instances of VM’s hosted in the cloud or e-mail as a service. So, when you talk about Platform as a Service (PaaS) we are getting a little out of my element. However, I believe the real value in cloud will come from PaaS. PaaS is the plumbing that will allow organizations to build true cloud aware applications. Popular application providers like Instagram, Tumblr etc. have built great applications on IaaS services like Amazon’s AWS. However, this isn’t the best long term strategy for the enterprise.
IaaS is just another way to host your application on virtual machines. Sure if you re-write your application you can build it to take advantage of scalable virtual machine instances. Same thing with SaaS, it works great just as long as your use case matches well with the features of the service. But when Salesforce.com model doesn’t fit your 50,000 users/1,000,000 customer enterprise where are you going to turn?
When you talk about building your next generation custom supply chain application or CRM, PaaS is where the enterprise can see value. The ability to point your application at a database, web or messaging service in the cloud has great appeal. You are now outsourcing the performance and maintenance of these subsystems to your cloud provider. No need to worry about disk, CPU or memory performance for the underlying infrastructure as the Cloud provider now takes care of all of the plumbing for these components. Your organization can focus on application innovation which will help gain a competitive edge.
So you may say, “Show me to this PaaS of which you speak?” The challenge today is that there is no standard across PaaS providers. You have to pick a provider, a language and marry your success to the viability of the single provider as you are locked in to the provider’s framework. You no long like the service you are getting from your current provider? Well what are you going to do re-write your application for a new provider? This is a problem that the Cloud is supposed to solve. If you wanted vendor lock in you would have gone with Oracle or SAP.
Ideally PaaS services would be just as portable as virtual machines. That’s where the VMware sponsored CloudFoundary comes into play. CloudFoundary gives you a consistent framework across different cloud providers. You say you like Amazon’s database instances but want to have messaging in your private cloud – no problem. You write your application to the CloudFoundary framework and it will be a seamless experience across the two clouds.
Same goes for building a redundant application across multiple public clouds. You can put your production services on Amazon’s cloud and have it backed up by any other provider that has a CloudFoundary service. There are countless use cases for this type of application environment. You could have your development environment provided by a value player or your laptop and your production served by Terremark.
That’s the dream. The reality is that the platform has a ways to go. VMware has made great strides over the past year but similar to the OpenStack this is a big and complex problem. VMware cannot be the only major contributor to the project (at least brand wise). They need more heft to get this to critical mass and wide adoption. OpenStack brought on major open source contributors in IBM and Oracle. I believe CloudFoundry needs another big name to continue the momentum.