Infrastructure cloud services take a shift toward PaaS

LAS VEGAS -- Services providers that have traditionally offered infrastructure as a service (IaaS) clouds are beginning to move up the stack into the platform as a service (PaaS) market in an effort to diversify their portfolio and respond to increasing customer demand for cloud-based development services.

The latest example is Tier 3, which today at Interop announced the rollout of PaaS and database as a service (DBaaS) offerings.

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Moves by services providers are slow and steady, says Philbert Shih, an analyst at Structure Research, who says he doesn't expect a major shift away from IaaS to PaaS, rather a progression by certain providers. "All the major players are eventually going to get there," he says. "The technology is out there, it's just a matter of time, development work and refining of a platform that will be offered by the provider."

The biggest driver for PaaS offerings, he says, will be customer demand, which he does not yet see as overwhelming for PaaS services. Enterprises first have to be comfortable with using the cloud in general, then they may look to move up the stack and into a PaaS environment, he says. Doing so, however, allows customers to design, develop and deploy applications entirely in the cloud, reducing the need for on-premise IT resources and providing access to scalable compute instances to power the application through its launch and growth.

Various IaaS providers are taking different approaches into the PaaS market. Some, like Tier 3, are the PaaS offering in-house. Others are using mergers, acquisitions and partnerships to build out a PaaS offering. AT&T, for example, announced in November offerings that incorporate LongJump's platform service. VMware has Cloud Foundry, which is an open source PaaS model that has begun to gain traction with other open source cloud vendors. Piston Cloud Computing, one of the pioneers of the OpenStack movement, recently announced a partnership to leverage Cloud Foundry and eventually support the VMware-backed project in OpenStack. There are even moves by traditional software as a service (SaaS) players, such as Salesforce.com, moving into the PaaS space, with the company's Force.com offering. Meanwhile, Windows Azure is a pure-play PaaS.

"It's a trend we're seeing and it makes sense," says Rich Wolski, co-founder and CTO of Eucalyptus Systems, an open source IaaS provider and a cloud industry watcher. In technology innovation, he says, the natural progression is to start at the bottom of the stack and work up, which is what he sees happening in cloud computing. "It makes sense to go infrastructure first and PaaS second," he says. Eucalyptus is evaluating what moves, if any, it will make in the PaaS market, he says.

For Tier 3, moving into PaaS makes "perfect sense," says Agatha Poon, a cloud analyst at The 451 Research Group. The company has positioned itself as a pure cloud provider that has the technical expertise and underlying infrastructure to support a PaaS rollout, she says. The company, which runs most of its infrastructure in a VMware environment, is using Iron Foundry as the base for the PaaS offering, which is an open source project that enables the .NET programming language to be used on the Cloud Foundry platform. Iron Foundry, the company says, has more than 400 active users and more than 500 applications that have been built on the platform. Tier 3's Web Fabric PaaS offering, as the company has branded it, will support application development and deployment across a host of program languages including .NET, Java, Ruby, PHP and Python. 

One of the differentiating features of Tier 3's Web Fabric PaaS offering is the integration with the underlying IaaS, says Jared Wray, Tier 3 founder and CTO. "Inherently, we believe there is value when you're able to combine infrastructure and a platform layer," Wray says. "We know how to make those two work together to enhance performance and automation."

That common interface across the IaaS and PaaS layer, Poon says, is a selling point for the company that will help to maintain customer "stickiness." Tier 3's Web Fabric and Data Fabric, the newly announced DBaaS offering, will allow for migration of workloads between the PaaS, IaaS and DBaaS. "From an end user perspective, if you can reduce the shopping around they have to do and offer a service that they're looking for, then that can be attractive to the customer," she says. "Customers like working with providers they've had a good experience with since they're already familiar with them."

Overall, Poon says she expects to see more cloud providers attempting to diversify themselves across being just IaaS providers and expanding into other offerings as well, including on the PaaS side.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

This story, "Infrastructure cloud services take a shift toward PaaS" was originally published by Network World.

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