Microsoft, Google, IBM and Discuss PaaS

Brandon Butler June 21, 2012
IBM, Microsoft, Google and SalesForce share their strategies regarding one of the hottest emerging areas of the cloud: Platform as a Service.

What do you get when you get four of the biggest cloud vendors in a room to talk about one of the hottest emerging trends in the industry? Not a whole lot of agreement for one thing.

At last week's Cloud Leadership Forum, which was sponsored by IDC Research and IDG Enterprise, officials from IBM, Google, Microsoft and came together to discuss their platform as a service (PaaS) offerings. PaaS is a way to develop and deliver applications in the cloud, but it's the least mature of the three major cloud delivery models compared to infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and software as a service (SaaS). And pretty much one of the only things all four companies agree on is that PaaS is still in its early days.

While PaaS is still a developing market, some experts predict that PaaS could become the most important cloud model. PaaS lets companies build customized applications and designed from the start to run in the cloud. In the near term companies that embrace PaaS have a market differentiator compared to competitors, says Steven Hendrick, an IDC analyst tracking the PaaS market. As the IaaS and SaaS offerings continue to gain widespread adoption, the real differentiators for companies will be applications they have tuned to the specifications of their business needs, he says.

PaaS has some technology advantages as well, he adds. A PaaS environment sits between the software and infrastructure layers, which gives applications designed in a PaaS space insight into the supply and demand of the cloud environment. "That uniquely positions them to understand the workload demands of the applications and the system resources of the infrastructure," Hendrick says.

There's a growing marketplace of vendors attempting to stake a foothold in the PaaS arena. In addition to some of the big-name players like Microsoft, Google and Salesforce, emerging players such as EngineYard, CloudBees and AppFog are also in the market. VMware has an open-source PaaS offering named CloudFoundry, while Red Hat has its own PaaS offering named OpenShift, which is expected to be brought out of developer preview later this year. Amazon Web Services, the dominant public cloud IaaS provider, Hendrick says, could even be classified as a PaaS offering because it offers tools for developers to build and deploy applications in the AWS cloud.

But the four big-name tech stalwarts are making sure they're not left out of the cloud conversation moving forward.

Microsoft may have one of the most recognizable PaaS products in the market with its Azure platform, but Tim O'Brien, general manager and platform evangelist at Microsoft, says cloud is still mostly seen today through the lens of IaaS. "The PaaS question we get today is, 'How is that different from IaaS?'" In a simplified form, IaaS is nothing more than virtualized machines or storage, he says, whereas PaaS is a development fabric. The idea is that developers deploy the software and the application automatically provisions virtual machines to its specifications. To allow for easier connections between the PaaS and IaaS layer, Microsoft recently extended an IaaS offering to Azure, which O'Brien says makes it the most comprehensive cloud offering on the market. "No other provider has that kind of breadth," he says. The other major differentiator is the company's 25-year experience working with enterprise IT, which he says newer tech companies just don't have the experience of. "There are no shortcuts to truly understanding what keeps CIOs up at night," he says.