The term “platform-as-a-service” has officially graduated to buzzword. With dozens of new companies, and hundreds of old ones now looking into or offering PaaSes, that 2011 was the start of the PaaS boom is undeniable.

New PaaS offerings have grown out of the ISV landscape at a rapid pace this past year. Coupled with the US$250 million purchase of PaaS originator Heroku by this past spring, the PaaS world is an environment primed for cutthroat competition over the next year.

But just how will all of these PaaS companies and services compete? While battles over features are the traditional way software companies compete, the PaaS market includes a number of other factors that contribute to the success and appeal of a platform.

Some of those hot features and capabilities are around management and administration. Another big trend is the addition of multiple languages to a platform.

For a time, the conventional wisdom was to serve one language and serve it well. Many emerging PaaS leaders got their start this way. Engine Yard and Heroku, for example, were entirely Ruby-on-Rails shops before both companies added Java support to their platforms this fall. PHPFog, on the other hand, expanded its own offerings beyond simply PHP, and as a result the company was renamed AppFog.

Lucas Carlson, CEO of AppFog, said that all these platform expansions indicate that the future of PaaS may not be about feature wars. “There are a lot of features that differentiate different platforms-as-a-service,” he said.

“Each one of these features—language support, infrastructure choices—no matter what feature you’re talking about, we’re headed in a direction where all the PaaS vendors are going to have similar technologies, so it’s going to be very hard to differentiate on features.”

In fact, Carlson predicted that a major factor in the success of a PaaS will be its community and ecosystem. “I think what is going to make the difference is going to be something harder to measure externally than features,” he said. “What I feel is going to make the difference is a vibrant and healthy ecosystem.

About Alex Handy

Alex Handy is the Senior Editor of Software Development Times.