The Perception Risks of Multi Language PaaS

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Ben Kepes

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Over the past year or so I’ve become more excited about PaaS and what it means for the future of technology. In my mind, it seems that teo things are going on in the cloud stack.

At the lower levels of the stack, IaaS is becoming commoditized and rapidly entering a race to the bottom where companies compete on price in a largely undifferentiated marketplace.

At the top of the stack is SaaS, an eminently useful sort of a beast but one which doesn’t have the degree of flexibility, scope and breadth to really be the uber play – sure SaaS vendors will make squillions of dollars selling apps – but salesforce and other enterprise SaaS vendors have shown that platforms are the way of the future.

Which got me thinking about PaaS and where it’ll go in the near future. I’ve already written about my view that PaaS will become bifurcated between iPas and aPaaS which I describe thusly;

  • Infrastructure PaaS (iPaaS maybe?) which is where Heroku, Amazon and Azure play, is all about giving developers raw infrastructure but with the addition of modular and tunable functions. This is where things like message queues, different workers, data stores and the like come in. As Keswani pointed out, in the early days of PaaS there was this perception that it provided a sort of panacea, a “throw your app at it and it works – magic” approach. The reality is different and for hands on developers building in an infrastructure – centric way, a desire to delve deep down into the different infrastructural aspects its important.
  • Application PaaS (aPaaS?) is a force.com approach where the platform is very data centric and is really tuned around allowing developers to build data-centric applications and then have all the underlying infrastructure fully managed. Keswani gave me an example of an application that Trineo is building that strongly leverages this data-centric approach. While salesforce.com is quick to say hat force.com is way more than CRM customization, it’s a fair comment to say that force.com is about data-centric design, as opposed to nuts and bolts infrastructure.

Which brings us to a growing trend wth PaaS providers – that of supporting more and more languages and frameworks.

First up Heroku, originally the uber PaaS for Ruby/Rails developers – in recent times they’ve rapidly broadened their offering, they now support Node.js and Clojure and Java.

Then the other day it was the turn of AppFog who, very indicatively changed their name form PHPFog at the same time as raising another $8M in funding. At the time of announcing the raising, CEO Lucas Carlson indicated that the money would be used to broaden language and framework support, and that they’d soon support “Node, Ruby, Python, Java, .NET, and more”.

It’s exciting times for PaaS players as they race to be the broadest, deepest player – but I wonder if this headlong rush to be everyone to everything isn’t going to impact on what their developers think of them.

Take for example Heroku – much of its success has been down to the fact that Ruby developers feel a kindred spirit with Heroku – that developers and platform creators together create the best offering for what they believe is the best/most agile/coolest language. It’s kind of another take on the coolest café in town situation, when that café decides to become a Starbucks franchise… things take a turn for the worse.

I wonder if this new breed of uber-platforms, trying to be all things to all people dilute their brand value and perception… time will tell I guess.

Cross-posted from Diversity

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