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Gambling on the public PaaS provider race

When it comes to platform as a service, the usual suspects of Amazon, Microsoft and Google are at the top of the list -- but unique customer requirements complicate finding the best PaaS provider.

Platform as a service is the most imprecise area of cloud computing. Most PaaS offerings provide facilities for...

application design, deployment, testing and self-provisioned hosting. More advanced services include team collaboration, database integration, middleware services, Web service integration, storage, state management and version management services. However, different PaaS providers offer different services. Varying definitions, features and approaches lead to confusion within the emerging space and among enterprises implementing the services.

The specific focus of each provider varies. This may include support for specific programming languages -- Ruby, Node.js, Python and Java -- or perhaps tight integration with major databases, such as Oracle's Cloud Platform. Even the delivery models vary between providers with private PaaS from ActiveState, App Fog and Apprenda.

There is one major pro and one major con that comes with PaaS:

  • On the con side, most PaaS offerings place the developer in a sandbox, with only the features and functions that the PaaS provider furnishes to build and deploy applications.
  • On the pro side, PaaS offers the ability to automate much of the development and deployment activities, as well as provide the developers with the ability to offer self- and auto-provisioning capabilities.

Betting on the best platform as a service

A common question I get at conferences is, "What's the best PaaS to bet on?" Unfortunately, that question leads us all down an analysis rat hole. There is no easy answer, but there are some general things that apply these days.

What seems to drive enterprises to PaaS is the ability for the provider to offer development capabilities, as well as operational and infrastructure capabilities.

First, put the private PaaS providers aside for now. A battle is emerging around the top public cloud providers -- Amazon Web Services, Google and Microsoft. Elastic Beanstalk, Google App Engine and Windows Azure, respectively, top enterprises' lists for general-purpose public PaaS. However, don't count out Salesforce.com or Red Hat just yet, and there are a bunch of other smaller PaaS providers, such as Engine Yard and Caspio, that could make waves.

What seems to drive enterprises to PaaS is the ability for the provider to offer development capabilities, as well as operational and infrastructure capabilities. Of course, major providers like AWS, Google and Microsoft all include a dose of IaaS with their PaaS.

If you're gambling on a PaaS provider, the aforementioned big three are the safest bet. Public PaaS providers offer the most value and they avoid hardware and software ownership. Combined with the new wish lists for a solid and scalable IaaS product, as well as a solid brand name, it's clear that AWS, Google, and Microsoft will offer the best bets.

However, you need to consider your own requirements and how those translate into a list of desired PaaS features. In many cases, your own unique requirements lead to unique directions. Private PaaS providers or PaaS from smaller players may be best for your needs. But for the most part, the big PaaS dollars go to the big three providers.

About the author:
David "Dave" S. Linthicum is senior vice president of Cloud Technology Partners and an internationally recognized cloud industry expert and thought leader. He is the author or co-author of 13 books on computing, including the best-selling Enterprise Application Integration. Linthicum keynotes at many leading technology conferences on cloud computing, SOA, enterprise application integration and enterprise architecture.

His latest book is Cloud Computing and SOA Convergence in Your Enterprise: A Step-by-Step Guide. His industry experience includes tenures as chief technology officer and CEO of several successful software companies and upper-level management positions in Fortune 100 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including the University of Virginia, Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin.

Next Steps

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This was last published in September 2014

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Which PaaS provider do you use?
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By far the safest bet - with no gambling necessary - for those on a Java and/or Oracle roadmap, is the Oracle Cloud platform, with PaaS (and SaaS) tightly integrated with IaaS - with many straightforward options for integration and transfer between dev, test, production and mobile environments. Nothing else comes close, for pure enterprise ROI, security and risk mitigation. This is also, obviously, an Enterprise Architecture win.
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We've used IBM Bluemix, Pivotal Web Services and Heroku. We were somewhat surprised that Bluemix and PWS didn't behave the same way, although both are based on Cloud Foundry. We were satisfied with all of them, although most were for fairly basic projects without complex data requirements (basic NoSQL DB and Object Storage)
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No mention of the Cloud Foundry ecosystem that is quickly evolving? 
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