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CloudBees move shows PaaS is no place for the little guy

CloudBees is the latest small PaaS provider to bow out, leaving enterprise IT questioning the market as larger vendors squeeze out remaining players.

The platform as a service space continues to be tumultuous, as September brought another round of musical chairs...

to a sector still trying to cement its public cloud foothold.

CloudBees, Inc., one of the earliest companies to offer platform as a service (PaaS), opted to get out of PaaS to focus on its Jenkins service. Meanwhile, Oracle reportedly is set to launch a new PaaS for building Java applications, and this week telco Ericsson bought a majority stake in Apcera, which launched its Continuum PaaS service.

Mergers and acquisitions have been a constant among PaaS vendors. The moves were initially to gain polyglot programming, but more recently they have centered on larger infrastructure vendors expanding their presence at all layers of the cloud stack, according to Jay Lyman, an analyst with 451 Research, LLC, based in New York.

"A crowded PaaS field of both standalones and others -- such as Google App Engine, Amazon Beanstalk, Red Hat's OpenShift, Pivotal, IBM BlueMix and others -- along with Docker containers have made PaaS highly competitive and challenging," Lyman said.

The rate of adoption in the enterprise of public-cloud based [PaaS] has been slower than I think any of us had imagined three years ago.
Steven Harrisvice president of products, CloudBees

CloudBees, based in Lewes, Del., has offered its PaaS RUN@Cloud for more than four years. The company is instead focusing on Jenkins, with a subscription business for enterprises based on the open source continuous integration tool. It wasn't struggling to get a foothold with PaaS, and there are "many customers using CloudBees in critical ways for their business," according to Steven Harris, vice president of products. Still, the overall PaaS market hasn't been what was expected.

"The rate of adoption in the enterprise of public cloud-based [PaaS] has been slower than I think any of us had imagined three years ago," Harris said.

PaaS stumbles out of the gate

Many early cloud adopters went for infrastructure rather than platform services because they were more open and flexible, and because developers could bring their own middleware, said John Rymer, an analyst with Forrester Research, Inc., based in Cambridge, Mass.

"PaaS has been the ugly redheaded stepchild since its inception," Rymer said.

PaaS was first presented as a multitude of things but hasn't really settled into doing any one thing well, Rymer said. PaaS vendors also missed the mark by making the wrong assumptions about what products would be attractive to customers.

"A lot of people saw it as PaaS being an interpretation of existing Web development environments," Rymer said. "That hasn't worked out so well."

Instead of simply moving hosting to the cloud, vendors are now offering a more attractive product by building new sets of Web-based tools that improve the speed and flexibility for application deployments, Ryman said.

IaaS, meet PaaS

The convergence of PaaS and infrastructure as a service (IaaS) by larger vendors will continue to squeeze smaller, independent companies, according to David Linthicum, senior vice president with Cloud Technology Partners, a Boston-based consulting firm. Providers with platform and infrastructure services tethered together are performing well with PaaS, so expect a number of second- and third-tier vendors to follow CloudBees lead or partner with infrastructure vendors.

"We're seeing a natural normalization in the market around other players that are dominating and have much bigger bank accounts," Linthicum said.

PaaS continues to fail on its original promise of true portability -- a promise that never made sense because of the need for the different layers of the stack to be coupled to some degree, Linthicum said. But that doesn't mean there won't be room for platform services from large vendors offering services at all levels of the stack, as PaaS will be more important when DevOps and continuous integration become a larger focus within enterprises.

Smaller vendors could survive by complementing larger vendors, but they face an uphill fight in convincing enterprises to let them host critical cloud applications on their platform, especially as legacy vendors such as IBM start to enter the same space, Rymer said.

"In that environment you have to specialize and compliment the gaps in the big vendor offerings, and that's how you make money," Rymer said. "It's not by saying we're better than IBM. Even if that's true, good luck with that."

Open source TBD

CloudBees said it will also provide Jenkins within Pivotal. The Cloud Foundry-based vendor is all-in on PaaS, and deals like this provide more tools for customers still wary of PaaS and show the type of investments it takes to last in this sector, according to Nima Badiey, head of business development for Pivotal.

"Success in middleware is an expensive proposition," Badiey said. "Only a few companies can make that magnitude to create a brand new platform."

The open source dynamic is one to watch in the PaaS market, with Red Hat offering OpenShift and Cloud Foundry having the backing of IBM, Pivotal, EMC and others, Rymer said.

Forrester has just started to get questions about these products from enterprises because of the backing of such large vendors, but there is concern that customers aren't aware of just how immature these products are, Rymer said.

"Users' expectations are far too high," Rymer said. "These products are not anywhere near as mature as the offerings that have been in the market and used at scale for years."

If successful, however, these open source options could further box out some of these smaller vendors and the private PaaS companies that have been quietly carving out a niche within certain industries.

Trevor Jones is the news writer for SearchCloudComputing. You can reach him at tjones@techtarget.com.

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Do you see space for smaller public PaaS vendors to compete against the larger vendors?
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To use a PaaS implies that you outsource your IT operations and support process. For an enterprise IT team that is a divesting event, and for the business team it is a huge risk. Therefore, enterprise PaaS is the purview of the incumbents. I can see vertically integrated PaaS that masquerades as tailored SaaS work for smaller vendors.
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Oh no, I thought (upon reading this)! Surely not "People as a service" now! I really need to study up on my "Wiley's acronyms for dummies" now.
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People as a service has been happening for years - just ask professional staffing and temp firms. 
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