When Platform-as-a-Service began to take shape, back in the days when Ruby on Rails was still new, the primary benefactors were startups. These small firms with no capital to spend on servers found PaaSes to be a great way to save money and still host quality applications reliably. Now that PaaS is for more than just Ruby, however, enterprises have been evaluating the value of both public and private offerings. And while both public and private PaaSes have their benefits, it seems as though only one side of this new conflict is really fighting at all.

Sinclair Schuller, CEO of PaaS provider Apprenda, said that the origins of public PaaS formed the views of what PaaS should be in the minds of enterprises. “You look at public PaaSes like Heroku and Engine Yard; their primary demographic was the independent developer and the Web 2.0 startups,” he said.

“For that class of developer and company, the outsourced value of PaaS is very high. They don’t want to build a server farm, so for them they reap the benefit of not outlaying the capital investments for these resources. That’s very different from the enterprise, where they have all these constraints they’re working with. What happened is, the Herokus and CloudBees [are talking] more to the enterprise, and they’re taking their model and pushing it to the enterprise. That’s why they have a chip on their shoulder.”

In other words, because public PaaS providers are having to now pivot their offerings into enterprise-style services, they’re getting frustrated and framing the public-versus-private discussion as a kind of religious war, said Schuller.

public or private PaaSApprenda and other private PaaS providers push the idea that enterprises cannot simply use public PaaSes due to data storage regulations, as well as the fact that enterprises can derive value from building their own clouds, expensive as they may be. For this reason, private PaaS providers typically pitch their products as a way to bridge the gap between public and private clouds.

Using Apprenda, for example, Schuller said developers can provision systems both internally and in Amazon EC2 from the same control panel. For this reason, Apprenda and other private PaaS providers tend not to view the public/private conflict as a conflict at all.

Abstracting difficulty
That’s not to say there are no benefits for enterprises in the public cloud. Indeed, Heroku was initially created to solve the major headaches of hosting a Ruby on Rails application.

Matthew Soldo, senior director of product management at Heroku, said that there are benefits in the public cloud that simply can’t be matched at any enterprise. One such example was the recent discovery of major security vulnerabilities in Ruby on Rails. Instead of telling its customers to patch their software, he said Heroku was able to automate its patching across all customers, before the vulnerability became too widespread.

“We run a lot of Rails code internally,” said Soldo. “One thing that’s powerful is that each time you push your code to Heroku, we are keeping track of the metadata in terms of what gems are installed on an application. We have that in a relational database, and we were able to look at our own applications that were affected, but also in our customers’ applications.”

Another major benefit of public PaaS is abstracting database concerns away from developers. While running and controlling the database is typically a very core skill for any enterprise, it can cause developers to have to slow down and wait for the DBAs to catch up during a development process.
Heroku long ago chose PostgreSQL as its public cloud database offering. Using Heroku PostgreSQL, developers can automate almost all typical database tasks, such as sharding, backup, schema modifications and automatic scaling—all non-trivial database tasks.

But Heroku is not the only company offering an enterprise-quality PaaS while still claiming that the private cloud eliminates the actual benefits of a cloud. CloudBees, a Java-focused PaaS company, also believes private clouds are missing the point.

Sacha Labourey, CEO and founder of CloudBees, has long kept his public PaaS company focused on developer needs. To that end, it ties in a life cycle for Java, featuring built-in build and deploy tools. He pointed to private PaaS companies, saying they are simply trying to bring an old software model to a new market.

“I think many of those companies and vendors took the decision to focus on their strengths and sell on-premise, rather than try a new model in the public cloud. That’s what we’ve seen with Red Hat and VMware and IBM and Oracle,” said Labourey.

He said that, while the idea behind private PaaS is to save enterprises money on hosted compute resources, “We have yet to see any return on investment on a private PaaS deployment. You’re telling customers they have to re-implement the cloud. You have to train new teams on how to manage that and expect some type of efficiency. I’m truly skeptical on the output of those strategies, but at the same time I understand terribly well how that happens.”

Fundamental uses
One thing all PaaS players can agree on is that PaaS benefits developers. The entire point of a PaaS is to ease the deployment process, and to create a standardized environment into which to place applications before virtualization. In this regard, it’s also a boon to IT administrators.

Red Hat is aiming to enhance the productivity and velocity of both IT administrators and developers with OpenShift, its Enterprise Linux-based PaaS offering. Ashesh Badani, global leader for cloud at Red Hat, said that basing OpenShift on Red Hat allows IT administrators to use existing skillsets to manage their new PaaS.

“What was valuable was that every Linux administrator can become a cloud administrator,” he said. “On the flip side, the developers and DevOps, from their perspective, this is fantastic because I can go to a public cloud environment, and then when I bring it into my shop, I can leverage the same technology, right? It’s the same in the public cloud, and in-house.”

Badani said that hybrid public/private clouds are extremely desirable to enterprises, and being able to provision internally and externally is useful for businesses that need unexpected bursts of IT capacity.
New kid on the block
This April, VMware’s former CEO finally unveiled his new project to the public. Pivotal is a pseudo-startup formed from the combined staffs of VMware and EMC, spun off as a separate, autonomous company with Paul Maritz as CEO. The goal of Pivotal, it was revealed, is to build the next generation of platform needed for enterprise software development and deployment.

“The short reason for Pivotal’s existence is that we believe there’s a need for a new platform for a new era,” said Maritz at the launch of Pivotal. “We’re going to set out on a journey to build that platform and enable new and exciting things to be done.”

Maritz detailed a future he envisioned which will be created by “applications that cant be done on existing substructures. They will require new data fabrics and a cloud-enabled data center.”

He cited, as examples of this new wave in technology, “The Googles, Facebooks and Amazons. If you look at the way they do IT, it’s significantly different from how enterprises do IT today. These Internet giants have been able to store very large amounts of data, reason over it, and store it with a low cost. We’re seeing the emergence of a new generation of data fabrics. History teaches us that when the data fabrics change, just about everything else changes as well.”

Finally, Maritz cited the enablement of consumer-grade technologies, not enterprise-grade software, as the end goal of Pivotal. “We need to bring consumer-grade capabilities back to the enterprise. The gold standard today is to be found in the consumer world, and we need to bring that back to the enterprise world,” he said.

Pivotal is still working to create its next-generation platform from software included in VMware’s portfolio, such as Cloud Foundry, GemFire and Spring.

Entrenched players
Public PaaS advocates aren’t worrying however, said ActiveState’s CEO Bart Copeland. ActiveState’s private PaaS, Stackato, can bridge the gap into public clouds. “The Herokus and CloudBees of the world say, ‘We’ll take care of it all for you,’ but enterprises want control. Sometimes you want to limit what the service can or cannot do, for example. We’re giving them the ‘P’ in Platform-as-a-Service so they can run the servers themselves,” he said.

Copeland said enterprises have an innate need to twiddle all the knobs and dials on their software and IT infrastructure. Without that control, complex enterprise applications may not work with a one-size-fits-all PaaS.

“Heroku is giving you the whole thing in a box to make it really easy to deploy an application. We’re doing the same thing, but we don’t provide the IaaS layer. If you think about it, what Heroku does appeals very much to the developer: They want to get stuff out really quickly. The problem is if a developer gets something really quickly done on Heroku and deploys it, the enterprise says ‘You can’t do that, it needs to be under our firewall.’ So the developers say ‘Give me Heroku,’ ” said Copeland.

That’s something Apprenda’s Schuller has seen as well. He said that Heroku and other public PaaS providers have taught the marketplace just what a PaaS should feel like. Unfortunately for them, he said, developers are all saying, “ ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if I had Heroku at work?’ That created this demand internally.”

Said Copeland, “One thing we’re seeing is that the developers just want things to go quickly. So they’re working on AWS because they like it, but then they’re not allowed to put that into production. How do you create a common platform so they can play on AWS and they can do it quickly, but when they’re ready to go to production, we redeploy and retarget the application? That’s something we’re definitely seeing.”