Summary:

Heroku has been at the platform-as-a-service game for a long time now, and it’s still trying to bridge the gap between its web-application-centric roots and the enterprise developers it desires. CEO Tod Nielsen explains how it’s going about that and why he thinks it will succeed.

Heroku CEO Tod Nielsen

In 2010, the platform-as-a-service space looked poised to take over the world. There were so many startups, not to mention high-profile offerings by Google and Microsoft, that it was hard to deny the momentum. Four years later, well, PaaS offerings have certainly taken off for some consumer-facing web and mobile applications, but those sought-after enterprise developers still aren’t coming aboard en masse.

Tod Nielsen, CEO of Heroku (pictured above) — one of the first PaaS offerings to hit the scene back in 2007 — came on the Structure Show this week to discuss the state of PaaS and Heroku, and why he’s still confident those enterprise developers will make the switch. Here are some highlights, but it’s a good interview to listen to in its entirety if you’re interested in Heroku’s vision and how its technologies are fusing with those of its parent company (as of 2010) Salesforce.com.

And if you’re really interested in how enterprises are adopting cloud computing, and how the architectures of the world’s most-innovative companies and cloud providers are evolving, come to our Structure conference June 18 and 19 in San Francisco. We’ll have vice presidents and C-level executives from Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, Illumina and Dropcam to name a few.

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Wait, what? Force.com and Heroku?

“Developers … they’re going to use the right tool for the job, and they’re going to have a different affinity based on if they want to do something in a highly productive, curated type framework, or do they want a lower-level, right-to-the-metal kind of offering,” Nielsen said about the various platform options Salesforce.com now offers its customers.

That being said, he added, “The line distinctions between ‘Am I on Force?’ or ‘Am I on Heroku’ will get mitigated over time.”

The company’s new Heroku Connect service, which syncs Salesforce.com data with Heroku apps, might help. “What I think this Heroku Connect offering is going to do, is it’s going to appeal broadly to the Salesforce enterprise customer, which these are customers that have been doing interesting things, building employee-facing applications with Force, and now they’re wanting to build customer-facing applications,” Nielsen explained. “Sort of a B-to-B-to-C scenario where they want to build customer-facing applications with something like Heroku.”

Enterprises matter outside the Salesforce customer base, too

“If there was one thing in hindsight that I probably would have done, [that] I would have invested more in earlier on, is the enterprise,” Nielsen said in response to a question about whether he would have built Heroku differently after seeing the relative success of projects such as Docker and Cloud Foundry.

Yes, Heroku hosts more than 3 million (mostly) consumer-facing applications and, yes, Nielsen is one of several early Cloud Foundry team members that has cast his lot with Heroku, “But,” he added, “what I’m discovering is we have some work to do in [building] awareness in the enterprise.”

Structure 2010: Yousef Khalidi – Distinguished Engineer, Windows Azure, Microsoft; Lew Moorman – President, Cloud and CSO, Rackspace Hosting; Mike Piech – Senior Director, Product Marketing, Oracle; Byron Sebastian – CEO, Heroku; Tien Tzuo – CEO, Zuora

Heroku, and PaaS, have been around for a while. Former Heroku CEO Byron Sebastian (center, speaking) at Structure 2010 along with executives from Zuora, Oracle, Rackspace and Microsoft. (c) Pinar Ozger

They’ll come around eventually

“I’m a huge believer in PaaS,” Nielsen said. “When you look at just the evolution of our industry, complexity gets abstracted and things move up the stack. Right now, just the state of the enterprise with where cloud is, they’re still kind of more comfortable in the infrastructure-as-a-service space, but when they start to do more with platform-as-a-service and start to realize that ‘Hey, this is a lot easier,’ we’re going to see more and more adoption and success there.”

He continued: “Because my experience with the enterprise — and Force is a great example of this — is businesses like to focus on their business. They don’t like to build infrastructure, non-customer-facing stuff or non-constituent-facing stuff. They like to build value, and things like PaaS and things like higher-level programming languages provide that capability for customers to get out the weeds and focus on build what they want to do.”

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