A Pivotal Point in PaaS Development

    If the evolution of technology is a constant battle between what vendors are pushing vs. what customers are pulling for, what are we to make of the latest developments in the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) arena?

    At the moment, there is clearly an effort to push this technology into the marketplace. The question remains: Does the enterprise want it, and if not, can the vendor community make the enterprise want to want it?

    This is the crux of the matter surrounding the recent launch of Pivotal, a somewhat risky venture for EMC/VMware in that it has the potential to disrupt the lucrative business of selling both the virtualization platform to make server infrastructure more efficient and then the additional storage hardware to support it. And now with GE on board, it seems the company is well on the way to establishing a leading PaaS service capable of supporting all manner of underlying hardware, regardless of whose name is on the label.

    On paper, at least, the prospects for PaaS look good. Research and Markets predicts a very aggressive growth curve over the next few years – from about 3 percent of the enterprise market in 2012 to 43 percent in 2015. The technology provides both a computing platform and a full solutions stack that allows for the creation of a wide range of application tools and libraries. All that is needed is a standardized platform on which to build PaaS architectures and the enterprise will gain a level of flexibility and customization to drive productivity to new heights. Enter companies like Pivotal.

    On the surface, it would seem Pivotal has all the tools at the ready to devise a robust PaaS environment. So far, the solution stack encompasses everything from Vfabric application development tools like DataDirector and Gemfire to analytics from Greenplum and Cetas and service lifecycle management from Bosh. At the same time, it supports leading Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) formats like OpenStack, AWS and, of course, vSphere and vCloud. And all of this is wrapped up in the CloudFoundry PaaS architecture built to support the Ruby on Rails development framework.

    Is this, then, the future of IT? For those who are interested in large-scale web and mobile applications, it very well may be, according to InfoWorld’s Eric Knorr. Pivotal Labs, the foundation of the new Pivotal venture, already provides application development for these two crucial areas, not to mention Big Data analytics and other functions. The idea is to provide enterprises with a means to capitalize on these opportunities without incurring the time and expense of building the necessary tools from scratch. But the new Pivotal upends that business model, essentially fostering an in-house application development environment using the tools and expertise the enterprise already possess. If the company, which is led by former VMware CEO Paul Moritz, by the way, can gain an edge while cloud computing and Big Data are still at the starting gate, it could become the driving force in enterprise infrastructure as the new data paradigm unfolds.

    That’s a big if – about as big as it gets in the IT industry. And without doubt, there are others in the hunt for PaaS dominance as well. Everyone from Google and Amazon to Oracle and Microsoft are working out their own platforms.

    But Pivotal is more interesting than most, considering that its success will depend largely on the demise of both EMC and VMware as top movers and shakers in the enterprise industry. EMC’s Joseph Tucci deserves a lot of credit, in fact, for first building a comfortable business in storage hardware and then backing the venture that could undermine it.

    He probably knows more than anyone that history is riddled with defunct companies that tried and failed to halt the steady march of technology innovation.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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