PaaS primer: What is platform as a service and why does it matter?

A sit-down interview with Sacha Labourey, founder and president of PaaS company CloudBees

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How would you handicap the PaaS market at this point, particularly some of the bigger players?

The four big Java middleware companies are IBM, Oracle, VMware, and Red Hat, and it's very interesting to watch their PaaS strategies. They understand the market is going toward cloud, but that's not where their strength is -- it's in private data centers. These large legacy vendors are conflicted on how to protect their legacy business while also embracing the cloud.

The one that has made a bold move in the cloud is VMware with Cloud Foundry. The company has a history of being proprietary and private, but when they did a PaaS, they open sourced it. Now they've rolled that into their Pivotal Initiative, along with big data research. They still have a conflict between service and software, though. Red Hat is as conflicted as VMware, deciding in November that its OpenShift would be fully private. They're clearly focusing on their strength in the data center.

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What about Salesforce.com and Microsoft? They seem like big PaaS players, too.

Salesforce made the acquisition of Heroku more than a year ago, which was really interesting. It's a great team and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain the momentum while being part of a large, publicly traded company. As for Salesforce's other platform, Force.com, that is a proprietary language designed specifically to build apps to run on Salesforce's CRM platform. We haven't seen much in terms of integration between Heroku and Salesforce.com yet, though.

Microsoft is having a tough time in PaaS. The initial versions of Azure were really more of an IaaS than a PaaS, and last year they extended it to include Linux. It still has some holes, though -- if you try to scale from three nodes to five, you have to shut the process down. They've done the right thing by recognizing enterprises are not Windows-only shops, which is the first step toward realizing a next-generation PaaS.

How does CloudBees fit in?

CloudBees is a public PaaS that is Java specific and hosted in Amazon's cloud. We cover the entire lifecycle of an application, from code to build, test and continuous deployment. Many other players just focus on the launch stage. Even though we're Java focused, we can run any language and manage the continuous deployment and re-deployment of your app.

Some people say that PaaS has the potential to be bigger than IaaS. Gartner reported last year that the PaaS market is just one-tenth the size of the SaaS market, though, so is it realistic to think PaaS can be as big as IaaS and SaaS?

By 2020, I believe 80 percent of workloads will be in the public cloud. Every time you face a problem you will have two choices: Is there an app out there to solve my problem? If so, you will use a SaaS. If there is not already an app, then I will build a custom app using a PaaS. At no point will I care about the infrastructure or where the app is hosted. SaaS and PaaS, that's it. PaaS is an extremely strategic play, all focused on customized apps.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

Read more about cloud computing in Network World's Cloud Computing section.

This story, "PaaS primer: What is platform as a service and why does it matter?" was originally published by Network World.

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