Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Structured or Unstructured PaaS??

Words, labels, tags, etc. in our industry mean something – at least for a while – and then marketing organizations tend to get involved and use words and labels and tags to best align to their specific agenda. For example, things like “webscale” or “cloud native apps” were strongly associated with the largest web companies (Google, Amazon, Twitter, Facebook, etc.). But over time, those terms got usurped by other groups in an effort to link their technologies to hot trends in the broader markets.

Another one that seems to be shifting is PaaS, or Platform as a Service. It’s sort of a funny acronym to say out loud, and people are starting to wonder about it’s future. But we’re not an industry that likes to stand still, so let’s move things around a little bit. Maybe PaaS is the wrong term, and it really should be “Platform”, since everything in IT should eventually be consumed as a service. I'm already hearing about XaaS (X as a Service) which pretty much means anything as a server, or perhaps everything as a service.

But not everyone believes that a Platform (or PaaS) should be an entirely structured model. There is lots of VC money being pumped into less structured models for delivering a platform, such as Mesosphere, CoreOS, Docker, Hashicorp, Kismatic, Cloud66, Apache Brooklyn (project) and Engine Yard acquiring OpDemand.

I’m not sure if “Structured PaaS” and “Unstructured PaaS” are really the right terms to use for this divergence of thinking about how to deliver a Platform, but they work for me. The Unstructured approach seems to appeal more to the DIY-focused start-ups, while Structured PaaS (eg. Cloud Foundry, OpenShift) seem to appeal more towards Enterprise markets that expect a lot more “structure” in terms of built-in governance, monitoring/logging, and infrastructure services (eg. load-balancing, higher-availability, etc.). The unstructured approach can be built in a variety of configurations, aka “batteries included but removable“, whereas the structured model will incorporate more out-of-the-box elements in a more closely configured model.

Given the inherent application portability that comes with either a container-centric model, or PaaS-centric, both of these are areas that IT professionals and developers should be taking a close look at, especially if they believe in a Hybrid Cloud model – whether that’s Private/Public or Public/Public. It’s also an area that will drive quite a bit of change around the associated operational tools, which are beginning to overlap with the native platform tools for deployment or config management (eg. CF BOSH or Dockerfiles or Vagrant).

It’s difficult to tell at this point which approach will likely gain greater market-share. The traditional money would tend to follow a more structured approach which aligns to Enterprise buying centers. But the unstructured IaaS approach by AWS has led it to a significant market-share lead for developers. Will unstructured history be any indication of the Platform market? Or will too many of those companies struggle to find viable financial models after taking all that VC capital and eventually just be a feature within a broader structured platform?  I want to hear what you think, all respectful comments are welcome.

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