Structure 2010: Lowering Barriers for Platform-as-a-Service

The idea of renting servers by the hour is one of the simpler cloud computing concepts to grasp, according to Lew Moorman, president and chief strategy officer for Rackspace. But providers of what’s called platform-as-a-service, or PaaS, face a problem: How do you make it easy for users to grasp the idea of paying for “pieces and slivers” of a platform — the layers of technology underlying a software application?

Moorman and fellow panelists at the GigaOM Network’s Structure event in San Francisco discussed a few ideas for lowering barriers to adoption of PaaS. Moorman emphasized that PaaS requires customers to make a trade-off. You can reap flexibility and improved developer productivity, but will be “making a commitment to where your application can go,” tying your code “not just to technologies to a set location.” That makes people nervous, he said.

As these services evolve, said Mike Piech, senior director for product marketing at Oracle, we’ll see “standardization up the stack.” That will enable more portability, which Moorman sees as key for the PaaS market to grow. “Are the components in the stack standard enough that they can be deployed elsewhere?” Without those standards, PaaS may for many customers represent “just too big of a bet.”

While Zuora CEO Tien Tzuo argued that “the definition of platform is lock-in,” Byron Sebastian, CEO of Heroku, disagreed, stressing instead the importance of openness for PaaS providers. “Lock-in is bad. We feel we have the right to try and win your business. If we do a bad job, you should be able to port it over” to a different provider, he said, adding that the “inherent value” of PaaS “is operating things at a huge amount of scale,” gaining access to wider and more specialized services, as well as to new types of customers. “The value of PaaS is the network. When you start building walls around that, you’re cutting off the network.”

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