Meet Elastic Beanstalk, Amazon’s PaaS Play

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Amazon Web Services, which popularized cloud computing with its Elastic Compute Cloud and Simple Storage Service, has moved up the stack from infrastructure to providing Amazon Elastic Beanstalk, its Platform-as-a-Service play. However, Amazon is layering its PaaS offering on top of its other services in a way that’s easily reversed, which means developers can take the easy way out of developing on Beanstalk, or they can peel back the platform to manually provision and tweak their underlying VMs if they want.

Adam Selipsky, VP of Amazon Web Services, says the service was built to address the idea of vendor lock-in and inflexibility that commonly afflicts other platforms for application development. With the first efforts, Amazon is providing a framework for folks to build Java apps on AWS with other programming languages and partnerships to follow. It’s not surprising, given the attention that Platforms-as-a-Service have been getting in the last 12 months or so. At the beginning of last year, Microsoft finally opened up its Azure platform, while a few months later, VMware and Salesforce.com teamed up to offer VMforce, a Java cloud hosted on Salesforce’s infrastructure, and VMware eased into the PaaS market in other ways this year. Google amped up its App Engine offering, tying it to Salesforce and VMware, while smaller providers of Platforms-as-a-Service such as Makara and Heroku were snapped up (by Red Hat and Salesforce respectively).

For Amazon, long the leader in the cloud space, seeing competitors move up the stack and developers taking advantage of those platforms that weren’t necessarily built on AWS infrastructure was a warning. As my colleague Derrick Harris wrote back in May (GigaOM Pro sub req’d):

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.

Amazon’s Beanstalk offering has taken longer to launch than the few weeks Derrick had hoped for, but now it’s here. Amazon’s next move will be expanding beyond Java, something it could do via partnerships with other providers or on its own. Brian White, a developer with AWS, said PHP and Ruby are high on Amazon’s list, but declined to specify how partnerships with other providers might look. When asked about competing with other PaaS providers who host their platforms on AWS infrastructure, Selipsky suggested that perhaps those might become partners for supporting other languages.

Indeed, in its press release on Beanstalk, Amazon included a quote from John Dillon, CEO of Engine Yard, saying the company is working with Amazon to provide a Ruby on Rails offering on Beanstalk. So will Amazon be a giant lumbering down the beanstalk to crush the PaaS competition, and will it lift others up to its height?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Melody.

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