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The new opportunity for PaaS vendors: cloud services curation

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The many benefits Platform as a Service (PaaS) bring to the enterprise are well known and well publicized — chief among them the ability for developers to build applications faster than ever before. But as this space begins to mature, a new opportunity is emerging for PaaS players that could broaden their reach and amplify their strategic impact within the technology landscape: cloud services curation.

Since coming to NEA out of VMware about eight years ago, I have been intensely focused on early-stage enterprise technologies, and my partners and I saw the early promise in PaaS, investing in companies like Engine Yard and Apprenda. The space is getting even more interesting as it evolves, with the rapidly proliferating services-based approach to cloud applications creating a host of new challenges — many of which can best be addressed by PaaS vendors, both public and private.

Developers are increasingly assembling applications in the cloud by tying in APIs provided as a service, rather than coding the applications from scratch or linking in code packaged into libraries. Numerous startups have emerged to provide these APIs to developers, such as Twilio for messaging, SendGrid for email and Stormpath (which NEA invested in earlier this year) for user security management. All of these cloud service providers enable developers to focus on the core logic that makes their application unique, rather than developing functionality that is common across applications. Yet while the explosion of cloud services has clearly been a boon to developers, it presents a new set of challenges in terms of discovery, implementation and management.

If I’m developing a new application, how can I find the most reliable, secure services that are compatible with my run-time environment and data store? Once I’ve implemented these services, how I can be sure I’m using them appropriately and cost-effectively? Furthermore, if I decide to offer the core functionality of my application to the public as a service, how can I ensure this service is discoverable, trusted and usable by other developers?

PaaS vendors, public and private, are in a perfect position to solve these challenges by sifting through the numerous available cloud services, curating those that are the most beneficial and trustworthy, and promoting these services to developers. Thousands of developers are already paying these vendors to help them build, manage and deploy applications, so the “chicken and egg” problem of creating a new marketplace has already been solved. They are a trusted partner. A PaaS also happens to be one of the first decisions a developer makes when building a cloud application, so it’s a natural extension for these PaaS vendors to curate third-party services to increase the value proposition of their platform to developers. Leading public PaaS vendors such as Azure, Engine Yard and Heroku, as well as private PaaS such as Apprenda, have a tremendous opportunity to lead the industry in cloud services curation.

You may ask, what about Amazon? As an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, they are primarily motivated to appeal to as broad an audience as possible in order to drive more compute cycles. This has caused them to open up their marketplace for the entire ecosystem, rather than curating an offering suited to a specific category of developer. In addition, it is no secret that third-party software developers are starting to trust them less and less. Amazon has gradually expanded upwards from the IaaS layer, adding on PaaS-like capabilities which compete directly with partners in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem. As long as the fear persists that Amazon will take the best services in house, developers will be wary of relying on them as a channel to distribute their cloud services. The truly independent PaaS players who empower rather than compete with their developers will prevail.

The implications of cloud services curation for startups, PaaS vendors and enterprises are significant:

  • New companies that sell cloud services will increasingly go to market through PaaS vendors, greatly decreasing sales and marketing expense. As Apple’s App Store is to mobile independent software vendors (ISVs), marketplaces for PaaS vendors’ services will be to cloud service vendors.
  • PaaS vendors will offer new services to guarantee security and cleansing to ensure that everything on their platform is compatible, reliable and trustworthy. They will leverage their position as a trusted vendor for developers to make the most of this new way to develop applications.
  • Enterprises will win big. They only need to standardize on one trusted PaaS rather than individually certifying each cloud-based service. They can pay and manage numerous cloud services through one vendor. If anything does go wrong, they will have the support of an established partner to ensure the problem gets fixed quickly.

Ultimately, cloud services curation is likely to be provided as an additional offering by the handful of leading PaaS vendors, rather than stand-alone marketplaces or IaaS providers. In a world with an ever-expanding number of cloud services, curation will help developers discover the best services and help the best services achieve broader adoption — thus bringing innovative and secure applications to market faster than ever before. We expect cloud services curation to be one among several rich strategic opportunities on the horizon for PaaS vendors as the PaaS market transitions from nascent to mature.

Peter Sonsini, general partner at NEA, invests in early-stage enterprise software and consumer companies. In addition to the PaaS companies mentioned above — Apprenda, Engine Yard and Stormpath — his current investments include BeachMint, Conviva, Embrane, Eucalytpus Systems, Lithium Technologies, MapR, Splashtop, Tintri and Viddy. Peter’s previous investments include Xensource (acquired by Citrix) and Teracent (acquired by Google).

For more on the evolution of PaaS, attend GigaOM’s Structure:Europe conference in Amsterdam on October 16 – 17.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Materials Aart.



10 Responses to “The new opportunity for PaaS vendors: cloud services curation”

  1. Ben Kepes

    Great post Peter but while I agree with some of what you say, I disagree with big parts of it.

    In the infrastructure space we’ve reached a fairly common acceptance (well at least those not wedded to a “single vendor for everything” strategy) that the future will be homogeneous with organizations leveraging the services of different cloud stacks, different hypervisors and different fundamental approaches depending on the needs of the particular business unit or workload in question. This is summarized by my contention that if we know anything, it is that the future is heterogeneous.

    So let’s look at that for a second. Core infrastructure, delivered by seasoned IT practitioners who have the time and skills to wrangle solutions to fit a particular type of plumbing, will be heterogeneous in nature. Well if we accept that fact, how on earth do we expect one PaaS solution to meet the needs of every different use case and business unit within the organization? The fact is, the further one goes up the tack, the less likely it is that one solution will meet all the organizational needs. By extension, and logically following that thesis, clearly PaaS, like IaaS will be heterogeneous in nature.

    If that is in fact the case, is it really either appropriate or effective for the PaaS vendor to be the gatekeeper to the services the applications on the PaaS uses? Or the management of the Paas workloads? It seems to me not. In the same way that an organization’s infrastructural management is ideally managed by a third party service such as enStratus, so to are an organization’s PaaS assets, the services that plug into those PaaS’ and the different instances of all the different PaaS’ that the origination uses most ideally delivered by a third party provider.

    More on this to come…

    • Nati Shalom

      @peter “it’s a natural extension for these PaaS vendors to curate third-party services to increase the value proposition of their platform to developers”..

      I actually tend to agree with @Ben that while were going to see third party services available through PaaS it wouldn’t make sense to have the PaaS the gatekeeper for those services and those services and marketplace need be served independently from the PaaS provider to allow better choice between PaaS provider and Cloud provider

      I also tend to agree with Ben that tools like enStratus, Chef or Puppet is a good example for enabling those services.

      Cloudify takes a different approach on that regard in which it integrates with Chef to offer third party services into any cloud. In this way you can still have the benefit of PaaS but your not locked into specific cloud platform and you have a choice to pick your third party services of choice.

      More on this here : Putting DevOps & PaaS together ( )

  2. Diane Mueller

    Good article – Peter captures the curation aspect of PaaS nicely. At ActiveState – we’ve vetted & incorporated a wide range of 3rd party offerings from sendgrid, newrelic, appsecute, jaspersoft, owncloud and more. We also added the ability for organizations to self-curate with our customizable App Stores now available with Stackato 2.0 – for use with Private Clouds.

    Read more here:

  3. I consider AWS to be significantly ahead of other cloud providers because although they started with just storage (S3) and compute (EC2), they now offer a full range of services from load balancing to monitoring and from VPNs to e-mail delivery. This means you are more likely to use the full suite of Amazon products when building your service. Developers want to focus on their core product and don’t want to deal with e-mail deliverability or scaling a queuing system (at least initially) so cloud providers have to offer these services alongside the core compute/storage offerings.

    The only other provider I think really comes close to offering the range of features Amazon does is Softlayer, and they don’t have significant mindshare, especially not in the cloud services arena even though they have some excellent and in many cases, better products.

    So it makes sense for other PaaS/IaaS providers to set up marketplaces because this is an easy way to show their users where they can go to get these kind of services if they don’t provide them themselves. But I’d argue this would only be a stopgap because they do ultimately have to provide something…and then the risk for these services of the big provider taking their product remains. That’s the risk of building on someone else’s platform.

  4. Steve Ardire

    Good piece !

    > We expect cloud services curation to be one among several rich strategic opportunities on the horizon for PaaS vendors as the PaaS market transitions from nascent to mature.

    Now think of the advantage of using semantic technology in cloud services curation ;)