As I push the themes of federated clouds and paas as the future of cloud services hard, people always question me about how these two seemingly disparate themes reconcile and how can I tie up different, seemingly, loose ends in my model. I will one day dust off my laziness and write about the big picture model I have in my mind but, for now, I want to point towards a trend that clearly ties down these two seemingly disparate themes I have been promoting these two themes in this blog for well over two years now. Federated Clouds is about the proliferation of cloud service providers in the market, aided by the availability of cloud infrastructure platforms like vCloud, OpenStack, CloudStack, etc.. If PaaS is going to be where the action is in the future, how are they going to survive another market disruption as they are trying to slowly get a piece of pie in the market after cloud computing disrupted their traditional hosting model?
One of the trends started by a startup in the cloud infrastructure space, Tier 3 (previous CloudAve coverage), is to take a two pronged approach offering both Infrastructure Services and Platform Services. They understood that even though PaaS is going to be the future where most of the IT action will be, infrastructure services are still going to be needed for enterprises for a long time to come. By offering both, it will be easy for them to offer customers a chance to migrate easily to the platform layer down the lane. They built their PaaS tier using CloudFoundry (previous CloudAve coverage) which, by the way, is a great framework for not only enabling service providers build their own PaaS but also large enterprises building their own vertical PaaS. The latter part was highlighted by Jonathan Murray, CTO of Warner Music group, in his keynote at DeployCon 2012. Expect to see more and more service providers take advantage of CloudFoundry for their PaaS offering in the coming years.
However, it is not just the startups with cloud in their DNA who are part of this trend. I have been talking to many service providers off the record and they are seriously considering this two pronged strategy going forward. They realize that infrastructure services business is an absolute must for their short term strategy. But, if they don’t get their act straight on the PaaS front, they will be forced to play a catch up game again when the market gets disrupted by PaaS. Cumulogic (previous CloudAve coverage), a private PaaS provider who started off with a Java focus, is moving in that direction with full force. Contegix, the St. Louis based cloud service provider, is using Cumulogic’s platform for their PaaS offering. Recently, Cumulogic went GA adding some critical features needed to compete hard in the market like High Availability, Polyglot, etc.. They are positioning themselves as an alternative to CloudFoundry. Even though their offering is a proprietary offering compared to CloudFoundry, they are confident that people worried about VMware’s intentions will select their PaaS over CloudFoundry. More interestingly, I am impressed with their business models for service providers which I think will go a long way in luring smaller and regional providers. I am expecting to see more and more service providers embrace Cumulogic platform to compete in the PaaS market.
Does a federated ecosystem of cloud providers (both infrastructure and platforms) help organizations in any way other than adding chaos?
At the outset, especially for those used to the economics of scarcity, it will appear insane as they expect a market consolidation towards handful of providers. But for others who understand the economics of abundance and how innovation happens at higher layers while commoditization is happening at lower levels, this is no brainer. If you want to understand this concept of innovation happening at higher levels as the forces of commoditization permeate at the lower levels, I strongly urge you to follow the work of LEF researcher, and all round brilliant man, Simon Wardley. Even though I disagree with some of his interpretations of the market, his conceptual ideas are on strong footing and will help any organization understand market disruption and stay ahead of competition. Having said that I expect a federated ecosystem of cloud providers to emerge in spite of the waves of commoditization at the infrastructure and platform levels. I believe in this because, unlike in other utility market, the computing needs of the organizations cannot be standardized anytime soon with a more global market place with diverse needs and regulatory regimes coming into picture. One of the many trends I expect to happen on top of this commoditized federated ecosystem is innovations helping organizations search and discover the right compute resources for their needs. Klint Finley of TechCrunch calls this App Store for platforms. However, this trend to innovate at higher levels has been there in the infrastructure space for quite some time with offerings like Zimory (previous CloudAve coverage), SpotCloud (previous CloudAve coverage), Equinix (previous CloudAve coverage), ComputeNext (previous CloudAve coverage), etc.. On the PaaS side, we have companies like AppFog (previous CloudAve coverage), CollabNet (previous CloudAve coverage) and AppSecute (previous CloudAve coverage) attempting to do the same. I also expect ServiceMesh to fit into the same category but their focus right now is a bit different. I don’t see why they cannot pivot into this direction eventually. There are few others companies which will eventually come into this competition and I cannot talk about them now for NDA reasons.
These innovative companies are going to add layers on top of a federated ecosystem of infrastructure and platform services, offering a seamless experience to end users (which in most of the cases will be developers). The innovation that is going to happen on top of these commoditized but federated infrastructure and platform services is going to define the market in the coming years. We are going to see startups (and in some cases established companies disrupting themselves) emerge in this space offering a more unified and seamless user experience to developers and changing the face of IT once and for all. While we get ecstatic about these potential innovations, we need to keep in mind that today’s enterprises are still not fully convinced about cloud infrastructure. The next decade will see pundits (including myself) breaking their heads over how to bridge the gap between main street IT and Silicon Valley IT.
PS: Some of the companies I have listed above may not exist in the market or may have screwed up their execution. I have listed them to show how people innovate at higher layers while commoditization happens underneath.
Disclosure: Tier 3 is a client of Rishidot Research and a sponsor of DeployCon 2012. CloudFoundry and Cumulogic were sponsors of DeployCon 2012. Equinix is a client of GigaOm Pro Analyst Network (which I am part of for the time being).