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Vendors are lining up to offer services to enterprise developers who are showing more interest in increasing their inhouse software development capabilities. Many of them are promoting the idea that traditional enterprises should adopt the same model of development used by internet giants, such as Google, Facebook or Yahoo.

This roughly means rapidly building and deploying new features, collecting as much data as possible while the software is running, analyzing that data then building and deploying new features or products based on that analysis. The cycle never stops.

Help for developers
This is what all the hype around DevOps is about, and why there is now a lot of activity in the enterprise Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) space. Vendors old and new are promising to make the enterprise developer’s life easier, and are claiming that PaaS is one of the most important ways to get there.

The trend has major implications for enterprise data center operators. PaaS solutions are deployed in public clouds, in corporate data centers or in both. Most enterprises prefer the on-premise option but things are moving toward hybrid deployments. Either way, if enterprise developers are going to continuously deploy new software the corporate data center IT load will fluctuate like it never has in the past. And if PaaS vendors are going to succeed in convincing enterprises that this is the way they have to produce software, data center operators may be looking at a very different set of job requirements a few years from now.

Taking a 180-degree turn with its PaaS strategy in February, IBM introduced BlueMix to the market. It is an open source based cloud-agnostic, multi-language, native-mobility-feature-providing next-gen step after IBM SmartCloud Application Services (SCAS), which have been the company’s PaaS play since early last year.

IBM announced a beta BlueMix release at its Pulse conference in February in Las Vegas. This development platform was its main focus along with its new Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) business SoftLayer.

The service’s open-source underlining is Cloud Foundry, an open PaaS development project that originated in VMware but folded under Pivotal, the software company EMC –which owns a controlling stake in VMware –spun out in 2013. Pivotal handed the project’s reins to an independent foundation the same week IBM dropped the BlueMix news. IBM was named a founding member of the foundation, along with HP, SAP, VMware, Pivotal, EMC and Rackspace.

Ambitious features
The feature set in BlueMix is ambitious, including support for a variety of cloud infrastructure types (one of the plans for the future), numerous programming languages, DevOps services and native mobility features. The software provides ways to build big data and analytics features into applications, including support for in-memory data store and Apache Hadoop.

Angel Diaz, VP of Open Technology and Cloud Performance at IBM, said you cannot move BlueMix to a different data center just yet. At the moment it runs on SoftLayer infrastructure. “That will happen once we get to the [non-beta] release,” he said.

Other near-term investment in the service will be focused on exposing IBM middleware as services and DevOps features. IBM will also continue to invest in Cloud Foundry and enable partners to put their runtimes and services in the PaaS. Gartner analyst Yefim Natis said BlueMix is a promising second attempt following SCAS, which he said failed to attract a lot of customers.

“The new architecture is much better so it’s a step ahead,” he said. The choice to build on top of Cloud Foundry is another big plus. “It’s a shared open source resource that can become a de facto standard if implemented correctly,” Natis said.

Capitalizing on interest
Red Hat will be one of the most direct competitors to IBM in the PaaS space. Its OpenShift PaaS comes in on-premise and public cloud hosted options and the software has already gained a leading position in the market. Red Hat has first-class open source credentials and is favored by developers because of the role it plays in Linux OS and Java. The company also has a robust portfolio of open source-based middleware products, which are available as services through its PaaS offerings.

Ashesh Badani, general manager of Red Hat’s cloud business unit, said the OpenShift project started about three years ago. At that time the company had been involved in the Linux community for two decades and had bought JBoss, a Java-centric middleware company, four years earlier.

As the market advanced into the Cloud and new languages and developer tools popped up, the company’s leadership started thinking of ways to make sure it retains a connection with developers and that their work loads run on its technology. It’s answer became OpenShift, first a public cloud service and later an on-premise enterprise software product.

The public option runs on EC2, Amazon’s IaaS cloud. The service went live in June 2013 and has since been used to create about 1.6 million applications. But before the work to commercialize the public service was complete, there was enough interest from enterprises for Red Hat to start working on an on-premise version of OpenShift.

The company saw that enterprises increasingly cared about making their developers happy. “Folks want to give their teams a much greater developer experience,” Badani said. The latest and greatest developer tools mean higher productivity for developers on staff. They can also help attract new talent.

Sacha Labourey built the European business of JBoss before the Red Hat acquisition and was the company’s CTO before and after Red Hat absorbed it. In 2009, he left Red Hat and a year later founded CloudBees, his own PaaS firm. CloudBees is now considered one of the leaders in the space.

Labourey said he founded the company based on the idea that PaaS could offer a great way to change how developers code and provide value by making them more productive. The way to increase productivity would be to reduce their reliance on the IT organization.

This was at a time when most PaaS vendors were focused on helping developers deploy applications they had already built. The friction developers faced, however, happened at more stages than production, so Labourey decided to make their lives easier throughout the entire cycle. The company’s offerings include a platform for development, integration, test and lifecycle management, a deployment infrastructure service, as well as a separate integration service.

Individual approach
CloudBees still makes a lot of open source contributions but, unlike Red Hat, it does not use a 100% open source model. “We’re not like Red Hat, where everything has to be open source,” Labourey said. “It’s a more à la carte approach.”

Gartner included CloudBees in its ‘magic quadrant’ for application PaaS vendors in a report published in January. The company is in the ‘visionaries’ portion of the quadrant, which also includes IBM, Red Hat and SAP, among others. In CloudBees’ ‘cautions’ section of the report, Gartner included its reliance on partners for native mobile application design and event stream features, as well as on big data processing, parallelization, in-memory computing and business analytics.

Labourey said using other vendors for these features was a deliberate choice. The company does not want to pretend it is best at everything, so it is focused on being a ‘hub’ for many different technologies. “We won’t be able to satisfy each and every use case and provide best-of-breed solutions.”

Mendix is another company that made it into Gartner’s magic quadrant for PaaS. This is already a well-established firm in its space that also offers an application development environment and a deployment platform. A user can access the development environment as a service or install it on their own machine. Similar flexibility is available for the deployment platform, which comes as a private hosted offering or as a public PaaS. Mendix outsources its public cloud infrastructure requirements to Rackspace.

Analysts generally split the application PaaS world into two categories: high-productivity and high-control. Services in the former category feature a high degree of infrastructure abstraction and automation to remove the burden of infrastructure management from the developer’s shoulders completely. High-control PaaS offerings allow the developer to manage all aspects of the infrastructure stack.

Gottfried Sehringer, VP of marketing at Mendix, said the company is in the high-productivity group, “focused on how easily you build applications”. The pursuit of making the development process as quick and easy as possible drives architectural decisions, such as use of shared-OS multitenancy, as used in IBM’s BlueMix and many other competing services.

A Mendix user can build an application and deploy it in the public cloud with one click, Sehringer said. A user can also take the entire stack and deploy it on a private cloud infrastructure in house. A developer can also use a hybrid model, which is an important feature for all application PaaS providers. A test and acceptance environment, for example, can be in the public cloud, while the production environment is on-premise. An application may run in house while using file storage in the Amazon Web Services cloud.

Operator’s role
So what are the most likely effects of proliferation of enterprise PaaS on the enterprise data center operator?

Red Hat’s Badani said they will become much more than data center operators because not all, and in some cases not most, data center capacity will be in house. It will be a mix of on-prem and off-prem private clouds and public cloud capacity. Operators may soon find themselves buying and managing cloud capacity and ensuring there is interoperability between the different types of infrastructure the developers’ applications require.

This article first appeared in FOCUS issue 35. To read the full digital edition, click here. Or download a copy for the iPad from DCDFocus.