Depending on the user or entity, there are likely to be any number of reasons for them to choose a particular PaaS platform. They will make their choices based on things like programming language support, quality of service offerings, and pricing to name but a few. While all of those have certain appeal, they are mostly narrow as to whom in the organization they attract.
In most cases, developers would show the most interest in the kinds of programming languages supported, ops folks (and perhaps some developers) would perk up at the mention of QoS offerings, and executive level IT staff would by and large be drawn to pricing comparisons. Of course, this generalization does not apply in all cases, but it likely does in a majority.
However, when you start to look at different cloud-based application platforms, there is one particular facet of these solutions that will appeal to each of the groups mentioned above. This facet is the application service ecosystem offered by a platform.
The application service ecosystem is a combination of all of the different services and functionality that your applications running on a particular cloud-based platform can access. The platform provides and governs this set of services, thereby ensuring they are highly available, responsive, scoped correctly (dedicated vs. shared services), etc. The beauty of these services on the cloud-based platform is that deployed applications can simply count on them being there and access them through a defined interface. These services can range from the standard, such as data grids and databases to the more interesting, such as payment processing and user authorization services.
Now, if you think about these services in the context of the three groups above, the universal appeal is clear:
– Developers: Application developers will certainly have interest in the kinds of services available to their applications. Platforms with a larger set of useful, quality services will obviously stand out here. Developers can focus on the core logic of their applications, and they can rely on platform-provided services for supporting functionality. To the developer, a good cloud-based platform will seem like a legacy application container on steroids.
– Operations: More services provided by the platform mean fewer services provided by the enterprise. For the ops team, this means fewer things to deploy, manage, and monitor over time. It means they focus more of their energy and effort on the thing that matters: the enterprise’s application.
– Executives: The increased efficiency that comes from a cloud-based platform with a rich set of application services is likely to be a strong draw. Just by looking at it from a development/ops angle, you can see that a strong cloud application platform allows various teams to concentrate more on the assets that matter to an organization and less on supporting players. This can be a foundation for transforming IT from an organization largely focused on just keeping the ship running, to a highly agile, flexible, and forward-looking group.
While many probably do not view application services as a distinguishing trait among PaaS providers today, that is just a point in time statement that is a reflection of a rather immature market. Sooner, rather than later, platform-provided services will draw a keen interest from all within the IT organization.
Providers need to invest in a strong ecosystem of application services from the beginning. Easy to write, much harder to do. It is hard because it dictates that providers build a services framework that allows for third-party service contributions. As the cloud-based application platform market continues to grow and evolve, there is simply no way one provider can deliver and maintain enough application services to be relevant. It looks like we are about to witness some interesting solutions, even more interesting partnerships, and of course, intense competition.