Practically no developers in their right mind want to write an application from scratch and run it on single server anymore. Instead, they want to tap existing services, keep the original coding to a minimum, and test/deploy the finished application in as automated a fashion as possible on scalable infrastructure.
At the start of the cloud era, PaaS was intended to handle that process, much as the application server handled it in the client/server era. But a funny thing happened: PaaS never really took off. People opted for home-built solutions, with their own scripts and sets of services, and when Docker came along they began figuring ways to dev and test using Linux containers and various container management solutions.
But all that is pretty complicated to set up yourself, which may be one reason why PaaS seems to be making a comeback. From the start the two big PaaS plays have been Cloud Foundry and OpenShift -- and they still are (though you can now add Microsoft Azure Service Fabric to the mix). All three now support Docker containers and adhere to the standardized container format developed by the Open Container Initiative.
An open source project with its own foundation, Cloud Foundry is arguably the leading PaaS -- though as I discovered in an InfoWorld interview last week, Cloud Foundry Foundation CEO Sam Ramji dislikes the PaaS moniker. "I'm not going to use the PaaS word because it has a historical and failed market," he says. "[It was] slapped on by analysts who didn't have anything better to call it and it came out of the NIST definition of cloud computing. It's not a very good definition. It's very foggy and it's constraining."
Instead, Ramji describes Cloud Foundry as a multicloud, multilanguage application platform that supports continuous delivery. Rather than parse terms, though, Ramji prefers to focus on Cloud Foundry's growth, with 2,100 contributors and 25 releases in the past year along with a growing list of big customers, including Allstate, BNY Mellon, Citigroup, Daimler, Ford, GE Digital, JPMorgan Chase, Kaiser Permanente, and Volkswagen. Cloud Foundry's commercial partners include HPE, IBM, Pivotal, and SAP (the Foundation was spun out of Pivotal in 2014).
What accounts for the uptake? In part it's industry-driven. As with OpenStack, vendors have coalesced around a shared open source code base and are differentiating with their own implementations. In theory, a standardized platform across vendors and clouds reduces fear of lock-in and fosters a bigger talent pool. Ramji also maintains that the ability to set up Cloud Foundry on all the major public clouds as well as on premises helps support customers' multicloud hedges.
But Ramji thinks the main reason behind the rise in Cloud Foundry adoption stems from a familiar chicken-and-egg cycle:
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