Often I hear that the enterprise is “starting to warm up to PaaS” spoken as though adoption in the enterprise is purely a function of the customer’s readiness. Obviously an enterprise must adjust its IT world view in order to truly embrace PaaS. PaaS is at least as much a cultural change as it is technical. Having said that, fostering radical change in the enterprise IT landscape requires an incremental approach and vendors must often sacrifice their technological or ideological “purity” goals in favor of adoption. The best PaaS is one that is being used.
Where the Wild Things Are
Let’s be clear about this, enterprises are technology swamps. However, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t a result of a series of missteps or bad decisions over the past 20 years which PaaS will magically resolve. Shifting business requirements, mergers/acquisitions, specialized skillsets and organizational silos established to improve agility are just a few of the most common reasons for so much variety and inconsistency in enterprise datacenters.
PaaS should embrace this reality instead of re-litigating the original decisions. As a vendor, this means doing somewhat unnatural things like integrating with an archaic authentication system which is three releases behind the most current version but can’t be upgraded in less than 12 months. Does your PaaS solution have a dev portal? The enterprise customer already has a least five of their own so get ready to integrate with those because the last thing they need is a sixth (regardless of how magical your UX is).
Counterbalance to Enterprise Baggage
Of course, enterprises don’t want to bring all of their existing baggage to its shiny new PaaS infrastructure because that would defeat part of the goal. With that said, organizations cannot start with a completely clean slate if the goal is broad adoption. I recently spoke with a large bank who said “I don’t even want you to integrate with all of our stuff. I’d be better off building the solution myself if that were a requirement but I do need to leverage my core assets.”
I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a couple of major datacenter IT shifts over the past ten years. The first was storage and the massive shift from tape to disk for backup/recovery. This was initially on-ramped into the enterprise by integrating and complimenting tape rather than trying to ‘rip and replace’. A similar story played out in virtualization where the initial use cases involved simple server consolidation and didn’t require new management tools or mindsets.
A good counterexample is Windows Azure vs. Amazon Web Services. I would argue that Microsoft built a state of the art public PaaS that could truly revolutionize enterprise applications and datacenters but it required too much upfront technical and organizational change to achieve broad based adoption. AWS provided lower barriers to entry with IaaS (and arguably lower benefits) but it was much more easily consumed and the result speaks for itself.
In summary, I believe strongly that a rising tide will lift all boats in the enterprise PaaS space. The more educated customers are with respect to PaaS, its benefits and the players, the better for all of us in the PaaS ecosystem…including the customers. If we want broad PaaS adoption in the enterprise, we mustn’t wait for the enterprise to come to us. We must go to the enterprise.