Platform as a Service (PaaS) has long been heralded as the next big wave for cloud computing (disclosure, I’m an adviser to ActiveState, a PaaS vendor). Distinct from the more readily understood (and more broadly adopted) Infrastructure as a Service, PaaS provides higher value to organizations by abstracting more non-core technological requirements away from the business. PaaS offerings further facilitate the deployment of applications when compared to IaaS since they not only take care of the infrastructure-level requirement but also offer further integrated services and the application development platform.
It’s fair to say though that PaaS brings with it some broader concerns than the more simple IaaS – concerns have long been raised about the amount of lock-in that PaaS vendors create for their customers – one of the earlier PaaS offerings, Force.com is often complemented in one breath for the way it democratizes development, but criticized in the other breath for the lock-in that it creates. Moving into a walled garden and relying on one particular vendor or class of vendors for your IT needs is a return to the situation of the last IT generation – something many are keen to avoid.
It is perhaps for this reason that PaaS adoption has lagged behind where many people believed it would be. At the same time the PaaS landscape has grown far more complex – undisputed cloud computing leader Amazon Web Services (AWS) has added PaaS-like services to its other offerings. Microsoft Azure has also added services at pace that take users up the technology stack. At the same time open-source initiatives like Cloud Foundry have built vibrant ecosystems of vendors delivering PaaS to end users.
Apprenda (more about them here) is one vendor who has always had a polarizing impact on the PaaS community – CEO Sinclair Schuller has been a staunch proponent of the “best of breed” approach to PaaS. While other vendors are racing at breakneck speed to support as many languages and runtimes as is humanely possible (“Fortran or BASIC support? You betcha, we’ll do anything!”), Apprenda, at least until very recently, was purely focused on Microsoft .NET Schuller often bore the brunt of criticism and ridicule from the community for this single-minded focus, and he had a difficult explaining job to do earlier this year when he announced that Apprenda would begin to support Java.
That explaining job was simplified somewhat by the fact that the Apprenda story, providing a highly tuned and focused private PaaS product to enterprises, seemed to have resonated with customers – Apprenda has sung from the rooftops about the adoption JP Morgan Chase is seeing with the platform – the company claims that JPMC has the largest private PaaS deployment in the world with more than 3,000 applications running on the platform. But JPMC isn’t simply an outlier – Apprenda has also seen customer success at other large enterprises such as AmerisourceBergen, Dell, Honeywell and Symantec.
That success seems to have resonated with investors and today Apprenda is announcing a new $16M Series C financing round led by Safeguard Scientifics, Inc along with previous partners. Of course some of that investor frothiness is helped along by the full page adds that Pivotal One took out recently in the Wall Street Journal pimping its own PaaS for enterprise customers – the joys of two cash-rich parent companies (EMC and VMware) and a high profile $100M investment from GE buys some media exposure I guess.
It’s a strange time for PaaS in general. Pivotal One’s flavor of Cloud Foundry seems to be sucking up the vast majority of the mindshare leaving other Cloud Foundry vendors scratching their heads over how to differentiate. At the same time RedHat is trying to achieve some kind of breakout velocity for its own version of PaaS, OpenShift. Stalwarts Heroku (now owned by Salesforce.com) and EngineYard keep turning the PaaS wheel also. Add to that the fact that some of the OpenStack players have decided to create their own PaaS initiative, Solum, and you have for a confused and confusing market. Throw the monsters from Seattle, AWS and Microsoft, on top of that and seemingly there is one vendor for every one of the half dozen companies in the world that have actually made a decision to buy PaaS.
Now’s the time for PaaS to really prove itself in the marketplace as more than a really fantastic concept. Whether this $16M for Apprenda will make an appreciable difference to their ability to be one of the players of note going forwards is anyone’s guess. Undoubtedly Schuller will continue to be a loud proponent of the Apprenda approach towards PaaS, and will continue to argue with those who have alternate points of view.