Summary:

Startups are still throwing themselves into the enterprise platform as a service market as big businesses finally accept that building out private clouds –or trusting public ones– are essential for agility.

The fate of companies billing themselves as Platform as a Service has generally been to get snapped up by a larger company, mostly on the chance that the PaaS may indeed prove to be a sound business. In the early days, platforms were snapped up based on their focus on a specific language or actual users, but as polyglot PaaS became common a few, such as AppFog, were left hoping for a savior in the form of a large partnership with a big player or for an exit that might break even for their backers.

It’s not just startups focusing on enterprise PaaS. Red Hat has an open source PaaS aimed at enterprise users and VMware’s former Cloud Foundry plays that role at Pivotal. We discuss this trend in a GigaOM Pro report on private PaaSes.

But as enterprises finally get around to working in the cloud, a new breed of platform startup is gaining ground, such as the newly launched Qubell or Apcera (see disclosure). These PaaS offerings aren’t targeting mobile developers or random startups, they want to be deployed by enterprises that are trying to add agility to their business units. This is a trend that became apparent at our Structure conference this year with Warner Music CTO discussing the company’s efforts to build out an internal PaaS, Revlon’s SVP and CIO discussing the cosmetic brand’s deployment of a private cloud with a PaaS overlay, as well as Kohl’s SVP of Digital Innovation Ratnakar Lavu explaining how siloed IT was now acting as a barrier to being able to deliver what the customer wanted.

The gist for all of these executives was that today’s competitive environment demands quick changes in products, applications and services on the customer-facing side and even internally. But IT has historically been separated by function and department. This is the cloud vision that HP touted about five years ago, but never really delivered. That’s because for most of the people who will use these private clouds, it’s not the infrastructure that matters but the platform.

Qubell, for example, was created in response to founder Victoria Livschitz’s experience building out PaaS-like platforms for clients. She realized that she could instead take that experience and build one PaaS-like platform and adapt it for individual verticals. So last year she launched Qubell with some seed funding from a customer. Now she count’s Kohl’s as a client as well as another large unnamed retailer.

This isn’t hosted software, but software that can be deployed on a private cloud inside a business. The pricing model is on a per seat basis, as opposed to charging for the infrastructure used as popular public-cloud based platforms do. The question for Qubell and Apcera will be whether or not their products can compete against enterprise-class platforms offered by larger companies.

Disclosure: True Ventures is an investor Apcera and an investor in the parent company of this blog, Giga Omni Media. Om Malik, founder of Giga Omni Media, is also a venture partner at True.

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