Weekly Update

Are the Stars Aligning for an Amazon PaaS Offering?

It was a very busy week in the cloud-computing world. Internal clouds got a lot of play thanks to EMC, which followed up its VPLEX announcement with a rash of blogs and tweets singing their praises, and thanks to IDC, which made a relatively safe prediction that server-spending for internal clouds will reach $11.8 billion in 2014. However, it’s the public-cloud space that piqued my interest. Specifically, I’m left wondering what will happen to the market if Amazon Web Services, as some have suggested, decides to roll out its own PaaS offering.

Right now, PaaS is hot and getting hotter, with the consensus being that it eventually will replace IaaS as the preferred cloud model for many developers. As evidence of how hot PaaS is, just look at the ado VMware and Salesforce.com created with their VMforce announcement a couple weeks ago. Or, look at the attention Heroku is attracting with its Ruby-centric service – 60,000 applications and $15 million in VC investment are nothing to scoff at.

In fact, VMforce and Heroku are public versions of what, up until now, has been a largely internal phenomenon – “adaptive PaaS.” These types of platforms allow users to launch applications without writing to the cloud platform; rather, they develop as they’re used to doing and the platform adapts the code to take advantage of the platform’s capabilities. Both VMforce and Heroku currently are limited in scope – VMforce within the Salesforce.com environment and Heroku to Ruby developers – but VMware is planning an expanded PaaS presence, and Heroku intends to open its service to new languages.

This approach could become even more popular among public PaaS offerings when Yahoo open sources its internal cloud-platform software next year. Described as a mix of Google’s App Engine and Amazon EC2, Yahoo’s platform lets users write applications how they choose, and pre-configured containers take care of the heavy lifting of management, security, etc. It doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility that cloud providers (some of which might not yet exist) will want to use Yahoo’s software as the foundation of their own PaaS offerings. Cloud-foundation software exists for IaaS, but it’s less common for PaaS. And, better yet, Yahoo’s software is free, open and proven at web scale.

AWS, for its part, hasn’t really cooled off since catching fire in 2006. This week, Netflix expanded its EC2 usage to include some of the video service’s most-important features and the White House migrated the Recovery.gov web site entirely to EC2. It’s not the first federal site housed in the cloud – Data.gov currently resides within Terremark’s Enterprise Cloud infrastructure – but it is the first hosted with AWS. Investment-firm research shows AWS crushing competitors’ offerings in terms of adoption, as do analysts looking solely at web-site hosting. AWS certainly doesn’t have a market share problem at present, but as IaaS resources become commoditized, value-added, “adaptive” PaaS offerings – and even value-added IaaS offerings – could start eating into its lead.

So, my question is this: If AWS really will be simplifying management within the coming weeks, what are the chances it does so via a PaaS offering of sorts? It would be wise for AWS to leverage its current leads in market and mind share and preempt any serious momentum by PaaS providers. Technically, they’re not competitors yet (to the degree that IaaS and PaaS can vary differently in terms of target audience), but the next generation of PaaS offerings will blur those lines. AWS has the tools to build a holistic PaaS offering, the economies of scale to make it profitable, and the SDKs to cater to specific set of developers. If it does so, the cloud-computing discussion will take on an entirely different tenor as PaaS providers scramble to differentiate themselves from AWS in this area, too.

Question of the week

Should Amazon Web Services expand into the PaaS market? Should it?