No matter the industry, product designers are struggling with the implications for their products as connectivity, mobility and cloud computing become the mainstay. Healthcare manufacturers want to enable doctors to diagnose patients' ailments from hundreds of miles away. Factory automation vendors are automating the process of proactively predicting failures in critical equipment. Media companies are collecting feeds constantly from around the globe and creating backend systems that can dynamically adjust capacity to accommodate surges in demand throughout the day.
A successful architect needs to quickly assess impacts of these trends and select technologies that will meet their customers' needs. It would be a mistake to base decisions on an initial impression or an aging gap analysis of today's large scale products, as new vendors are coming to market each month to capitalize on the needs of specific industries that could not cope with the compromises inherent in a one-size-fits-all approach. Platform as a Service (PaaS) cloud products demonstrate this point precisely.
How PaaS offerings will change over the next year
At the recent IDC Directions 2011 conference, Steve Hendrick (VP of Application Development & Deployment Research) compared cloud platform as a service (PaaS) vendors based on five criteria of their ecosystem:
- Presence of a public cloud strategy (with appropriate SLAs: security, sharing, provisioning)
- Presence of a private cloud strategy
- App marketplace that leverages shared infrastructure/components
- Level of business process controls provided
- Application lifecycle management capabilities
PaaS vendors are juggling many aspects of their customers'(software developers) concerns which will continue to segment the market in ways that are beneficial to product development teams. Developers' jobs will become easier as platforms come online that are made just for the developer and based onthe end customer's requirements - reducing the burden on the engineering, sustaining and support staff.
Developers have different needs
The idea of having hundreds of available PaaS offerings, each customized for a niche, seems counter intuitive at first. Why would anyone go through the effort of setting up datacenters, support staff, etc. just to compete with Amazon? Wouldn't hundreds of vendors make the competition extremely high and drive out profits for everyone? Do developers really want all of these options?
Developers must want the options, because the same phenomenon has happened at the operating system level over the past 30 years. With the dominance of Windows Professional as an end-user operating system, it seems counter intuitive that a developer would want to work with any other OS. Yet Windows Professional is not always the most appropriate choice for an application, because while it makes HMI easy and provides a comprehensive framework for building a feature rich application, the OS does not try to achieve deterministic performance. In this case, the same vendor had to address the embedded market with a different product - Windows CE.
This same dilemma appears in the PaaS space. A hobbyist developer wanting to use a Ruby on Rails based webapp can bootstrap his start-up with a free prototype usingHeroku. That same developer may go to work at his job at Ford and utilize Dell's public Azure cloud to collect and analyze product genealogy data from a global network of manufacturing plants. As PaaS offerings expand, they will make tradeoffs that differentiate one product from another.
End customers have different needs
PaaS vendors are not only responding to developers, they are responding to the end customer. If only one customer existed, then the barriers would be high. But as technology continues to permeate our lives, every customer will have multiple needs that must be met by specific stacks. Tax return and medical information is expected to be protected from different threats by different people than a music library. Personal email can be less responsive than a corporate phone system. Twitter traffic can move freely through the evolving channels of the internet, but some corporations and governments want to route important information through precise routes around the globe. When customers' expectations vary widely based on applications, and the applications continue to expand, the opportunity to differentiate and satisfy a specific set of those expectations grows.
PaaS vendors will begin helping developers who have been feeling left out until now
If these emerging PaaS technologies seem intimidating, there is a silver lining: There is no one-size-fits-all approach. IDC agrees that industry-specific solutions which are focused on the mid-market will bring opportunities to integrators. Practically, broad mass-market approaches will not continue to satisfy customers' needs as their needs and expectations become more complex. The time has come for vendors to segment customers, break apart monolithic applications and repackage intellectual property. Once functionality and services can be assembled into a set of packaged product offerings, those companies can decide how they want to deploy, deliver and support those offerings to best meet the customer's needs, all the while benefiting from a PaaS that does much of the heavy lifting on behalf of the developer.