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Is the PaaS market as we know it dying?

Brandon Butler | Jan. 14, 2014
Cloud's platform as a service (PaaS) market hasn't even grown up yet, but already some people are saying it's doomed.

PaaS has played an important role in the cloud, and enthusiasts say that it could be a key model for enterprises to build custom applications in the future. Some of the biggest IaaS vendors in the market began their cloud go-to market strategies with PaaS before rolling out IaaS. Azure PaaS was the first Microsoft cloud service, while Google launched Google Application Engine (GAE) before Google Compute Engine (GCE), its IaaS.

But since then the PaaS market settled down as the IaaS and SaaS markets exploded. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has raced toward billions of dollars in annual revenue to lead the IaaS market and drew more than a 100,000 people to its SaaS-focused Dreamforce conference. PaaS vendors have been sitting somewhat in the shadows. Research firm Gartner estimates that of the $131 billion cloud computing market, PaaS represents about 1% of that, whereas SaaS sits at 14.7% of the market and IaaS at 5.5% (cloud-based business process services is the largest part of the market at 28%).

Perhaps the strongest indication of consolidation in the PaaS industry can be found in the merger, acquisition and partnership strategies of cloud vendors. bought PaaS vendor Heroku for $249 million in 2010, CenturyLink bought pure-play public PaaS vendor AppFog in June of last year. IaaS vendors Rackspace, VMware and Verizon each added PaaS-like elements to their IaaS clouds in 2013. VMware uses the open source Cloud Foundry PaaS, which Verizon has latched onto as well. Rackspace started a new project within the OpenStack community named Solum to build PaaS services in OpenStack IaaS clouds. This absorption by IaaS vendors of PaaS features is a threat to pure-play PaaS vendors, Lyman says.   

"A lot of people want to say PaaS is DOA dead on arrival," says Tim Crawford, a CIO strategic adviser at his independent firm AVOA. PaaS, as a standalone hosted platform, he agrees has a "challenging" road to enterprise adoption given moves by much bigger IaaS and SaaS vendors. What Crawford sees as a promising service is private PaaS, or an application development environment hosted by companies behind their own firewall for building new applications that can one day be hosted in a cloud. "Today, if I'm a CIO, I'm looking at how to make these new apps cloudy,'" he says. "Private PaaS provides an opportunity for enterprises to start to move to the cloud, without taking on all of the risk of a hosted solution." Vendors like Apprenda and CloudBees offer services in these areas.

PaaS enthusiasts say the talk of a PaaS demise is unwarranted. The industry is still young. "Any talk of PaaS being consumed into IaaS or SaaS is premature," says Krishnan Subramanian, an industry watcher and a director of Red Hat's strategy for its OpenShift PaaS project. "It is like writing an obituary about something before even seeing the value. If automation is cloud nirvana, PaaS offers the best automation with least complexity." Customer adoption of PaaS products is just beginning. Give it time, he says.  


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