Platform as a Service: Expert advice for selecting a PaaS vendor
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Today's Platform as a Service (PaaS) market is a competitive landscape: Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. reports that there are more than 150 PaaS offerings to choose from. Older, more established PaaS vendors like IBM and Microsoft are vying against newer players such as Google and CloudBees. And as PaaS revenue fixes to reach $2.9 billion dollars in 2016, companies looking to invest in PaaS are faced with more choices than ever before. Choosing the right one requires a focus on cloud objectives and development team needs, experts say.
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Unfortunately, many organizations shop the growing PaaS market with the wrong criteria in mind.
Nearly half of respondents (49.6%) to the 2013 TechTarget Cloud Pulse Survey said they chose the PaaS they did because it was part of a cloud ecosystem they were already using. Similarly, 43% of respondents said they based their decision on how well the PaaS would integrate with existing architecture.
But these criteria are both short-sighted, according to Yefim Natis, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
"Once you have application integration capability, you can integrate anything into anything," he said. "There is a whole market of integration offerings in cloud services, called iPaaS [integration Platform as a Service]."
Yefim Natisvice president and distinguished analyst, Gartner
Examples of iPaaS include Informatica Cloud, which offers a cloud connector toolkit and cloud integration templates, and IBM WebSphere Cast Iron, which provides a graphical configuration interface approach to cloud and on-premises application integration.
"People should not feel they have to choose a PaaS on the same platform they are currently using," Natis explained. "They should just do integration strategically, and then they can focus on getting the platform needed for a particular objective."
The most common objective with cloud is to get faster results with fewer skills at a lower cost, Natis said, adding that the best option for that is Salesforce.com Inc.'s Force.com. That's because Force.com has high productivity rates, he said. It's also the largest platform on the market today -- in terms of revenue, number of users and the sizes of applications it runs. Still, Natis cautions that Force.com doesn't fit for every cloud scenario.
"If the objective is preservation of existing skills and existing code, then Force.com is not the best option -- it's the worst, because it is proprietary," he said. "Instead, the best choice is IBM SmartCloud Application Workload Service." SmartCloud offers standard Java EE programming that allows federation of code and skills.
"If you want to build a very high-performance cloud app -- with millions of users and transactions -- that's a different objective altogether," Natis continued. "You cannot find a public PaaS to do that, but you can find software to buy and deploy in the data center of your choice that will give you a cloud-style platform." By way of example is GigaSpaces' XAP, which combines an in-memory data grid with a full elastic application platform to achieve high scalability.
John Rymer, vice president and principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., adds that the right PaaS will correlate to the needs and skills of the development team. "If you're making a long-term [PaaS] choice, then you have to look at how well the environment supports the developers that you have, the types of developers that you have."
Rymer sorts developers into three categories: coders, who want the ability to code everything themselves; DevOps developers, who want some level of abstraction while maintaining the ability to code and do configuration if they want to; and rapid devs, who don't want the ability to code at all.
"If you look at the PaaS market through that lens, companies really do pick their targets," Rymer said. For example, the CloudBees Java PaaS aims at coders by reducing the need for infrastructure skills so that Java developers can focus on coding and deploying apps. Amazon Web Services, on the other hand, targets the DevOps crowd. "Amazon is just a collection of services, so DevOps people can get under the hood if they need to do some configuration," said Rymer.
When it comes to serving the needs of rapid devs, Rymer points to Force.com as the leading PaaS. "Developers can't do configuration with Salesforce like they can with Amazon. Force.com doesn't even allow it," he explained.
Fima Katz, CEO of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Exadel Inc., a global software engineering company, emphasizes that developers themselves should have a say in what PaaS they will use. "You need to make sure your developers feel comfortable with the languages, the skills needed, what's covered and what's not covered with the PaaS," he said.
Even after developer needs and cloud goals have been addressed, there's still one more final piece to the PaaS puzzle, according to Katz: the reliability of the vendor. Katz advises asking pressing questions about a vendor's staying power before investing in its PaaS.
"How reliable is the vendor? What if you put a lot of stake in [a vendor], and then tomorrow it's gone?" he said. "Your project is on the line."
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