Although the platform as a service (PaaS) market is smaller than both IaaS and SaaS segments of the cloud computing industry, research firm Forrester says this technology could be one of the most important cloud-based services for businesses moving forward.
While IaaS provides infrastructure for companies to get on-demand virtual machines, storage, databases and other services and SaaS vendors offer a cloud-based version of an application, PaaS vendors provide an application development platform for building and hosting customized applications that are tuned specifically for their business's needs. "Public cloud platforms are the keys that unlock the flexibility, productivity, and economic advantages of cloud computing," says the research firm's most recent Wave report on the public cloud platform market.
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Familiar faces from the cloud industry are quickly establishing themselves as the heavyweights in this market, Forrester found. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Salesforce.com offer the broadest range of services for the PaaS market, plus they combine a strong network of partnering companies and enough market share for them to be stable over the long-term, Forrester says. But instead of offering a pure-play PaaS, these vendors are blurring the lines between their strongholds in the IaaS and SaaS markets and increasingly incorporating PaaS functionality into their services, Forrester cloud experts James Staten and John Rymer found after reviewing 60 vendors and writing in-depth profiles of 14.
IaaS vendors such as Amazon Web Services are rolling out features that make it easier for developers to not only build applications in its cloud, but scale them and host them. Core services like its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) on-demand virtual machines and Simple Storage Service (S3) are augmented by more developer-focused services like Elastic BeanStalk and Amazon Simple Workflow Service, and a broad variety of software development kits (SDKs). AWS does not have a pure PaaS offering, instead, it has "focused on providing a collection of services that can be combined with custom code to accelerate application creation," Forrester reports.
On the other end of the PaaS spectrum would be a company like Salesforce.com, which has a strong holding in the SaaS market, and has begun expanding its services into the PaaS market. The company's Force.com platform provides a way for workers with little coding experience to create applications and workflows that integrate with its core SaaS offering, which focuses on customer relationship management (CRM). In addition to Force.com, it also has Heroku, which is tailored more toward developers who want to customize their code. Ironically, Heroku runs on AWS's infrastructure.
The blurring of the lines between these services may make it tricky for customers to choose which platform is best for them, but Forrester says the key criteria that should be considered are the types of developers within your company and the robustness of the partner network of the vendor.
There are three types of PaaS users, Forrester says: A DevOps pro, is someone who is a familiar coder, who also wants control of the infrastructure the applications run on; a coder cares only about the application development process and does not want to deal with configuring the infrastructure; and finally a rapid developer may not have coding experience, and is looking for an easy extension from an IaaS or SaaS platform.
Different vendors in the PaaS market serve these different segments, Forrester found. AWS is a market leader for DevOps pros and coders because the infrastructure setup is so tightly coupled with the application development. Salesforce.com, on the other hand, is good for rapid developers who may not have coding experience.
Other vendors in the market include CloudBees, Cordys, Mendix and MioSoft which Forrester says are strong platforms for rapid developers while IBM, Google, Engine Yard and Rackspace are well-suited for DevOps pros. Forrester focused its study on public PaaS offerings, so it excluded private PaaS vendors.
A second major consideration is the robustness of the partner networks for the PaaS offering, Forrester says. Third-party vendors offer development tools, databases and support that integrate with a PaaS offering and can be a customer's best friend. "A large ecosystem dramatically improves the customer's ability to deliver applications, find support for key components, supplement staff with consultants, and empower management of its cloud applications," Forrester says. In naming AWS, Microsoft and Salesforce.com as leaders in the public PaaS market, Forrester noted their strong partner networks.
PaaS could be an important market for businesses moving forward though. Forrester estimates that this year 30% of enterprises will use some form of public cloud computing offering. "Public cloud platforms empower (application development and delivery) pros with frameworks, tools, and consoles that speed creation, deployment, and ongoing updates," Forrester says. "Select the right platform and AD&D pros will be highly productive."
Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.