Two years ago I left Gartner to join Apprenda, a vendor in a space I thought had the potential to disrupt the large middleware, server operating system, and virtualization markets the same way public IaaS did to infrastructure. In retrospect, this was the right call. The market for cloud platforms mirrors the critical momentum I saw in the first few years of IaaS and will follow the same trajectory with the help (and acceptance) of Docker and container orchestration tools.
By all accounts, platforms to support distributed cloud applications have gone gangbusters in 2015. Whatever you call them—cloud-native platforms, enterprise PaaS, private PaaS, etc.—the past few years have shown growing market maturity as businesses implement strategies around Docker, container orchestration, and new paths to consolidation.
Cloud platforms are essentially the next generation of middleware that are built to deliver all the functionality needed to implement distributed applications in an enterprise setting. Building on the foundations of containers and container orchestration, cloud platforms add the logging, auditing, security, policies, compliance, standard container image repo, onboarding, role-based access, infrastructure tool abstraction, and other features needed by the Global 2000.
As for growth, the three top enterprise PaaS players–Apprenda, Pivotal CF, and Red Hat OpenShift–all showed impressive gains. Apprenda doubled its headcount and bookings grew almost 400 percent in 2015. Pivotal says its PaaS product had a $100 million bookings run rate. With the v3 release, OpenShift re-platformed its solution to a Kubernetes distribution. That is a smart move for Red Hat given Docker and orchestration tools purposely built for that container, like Kubernetes and Swarm, are the strongest contenders to be the de facto standards for new cloud-native application components like IoT as they mature.
Request for proposals (RFPs), pilots, and the number of organizations actively looking at cloud platforms increased exponentially, which means 2016 is stacking up to be an even bigger year for growth. At this point, financial institutions, large manufacturers, governments, insurance, and healthcare companies that do not have a strategy for this market are behind the curve. Some are looking to build new next-generation Web tiers, multi-tenant SaaS, or IoT components but it is the consolidation of middleware, operating systems, and the possibility to trade virtualization for bare metal with containers where they are seeing the potential savings. Almost all these customers want more workflow and infrastructure abstraction to make developers more agile.
What follows are some of my other observations on where the industry is now:
Progress: In 2016, you no longer need to explain container-level application isolation. Most organizations in the Fortune 500 and large governments now have a high-level understanding of the technology.
Still Lacking: There is still some initial mistrust in using containers for secure isolation. That hesitation does not last long after companies dig into the technology, and it will wither away quickly during the next few years. Containers should help the industry move towards less virtualization reliance and help consolidate the remaining virtualization. The technology should also help consolidate the number of server operating systems similar to what virtualization did for servers. With that, you almost have to hand hold people through the consolidation calculations and set up. Sprawl is ingrained in our thinking, but it shouldn’t be. Some have taken advantage of the confusion. A vendor’s price per instance of an application component can be insanely high and customers do not realize yet that they’re getting fleeced because the market is young.
Public PaaS and Enterprise PaaS
Progress: Very few customers or those serious about buying enterprise PaaS are confused about the difference between this technology and public PaaS. Sometimes enterprise PaaS is used as a framework to build applications with specific features–like SaaS multitenancy–and the self-service cloud aspects are secondary. However, most of the time, large enterprise organizations set up the cloud platforms so that developers get a PaaS-like experience that is managed by central IT. (Hence the private PaaS moniker.) Organizations understand the difference and the use cases of enterprise PaaS vs. public PaaS. They already have infrastructure and they are going to keep buying infrastructure, whether it’s public or on-premises. In those cases, they want a middleware layer for their distributed applications. Public PaaS mostly competes against traditional managed services.
Still Lacking: There are still misconceptions among some analysts, journalists and pundits on use cases and competition. They often take their past knowledge about private and public IaaS and wrongly apply it to platforms. When I hear “Well, the improved security of public PaaS….” from an analyst, I want to shoot myself in the face. They are taking the FUD arguments that some used against AWS, Azure, and Google Compute Engine and applying it to a market that never made such claims.
Analyst Research and Pundits
Progress: There are a bunch of great analysts covering this market. Richard Watson at Gartner is one of the most knowledgeable about both the technology and the use cases. His research spans Docker, container orchestration, microservices, and cloud-native platforms/private PaaS. Even better, when he is unsure he will utter a phrase rarely heard from an analyst – “I don’t know.” The New Stack (which you’re reading now!) provides some of the most expansive coverage of news and commentary on this market. Relatively new Wikibon analyst Brian Gracely wrote a good introduction to the space as one of his first pieces of research. Other analysts doing great work here include Donnie Berkholz at 451 Research, the analysts at RedMonk, and Eric Knipp at Gartner. There certainly might be others who are producing outstanding research that I am unaware of and the fact that I cannot track all of them is yet another indicator of explosive growth. (Get in touch with me on Twitter if I forgot you.)
Still Lacking: Analysts sometimes confuse rapid application development tools with cloud platforms even though they don’t compete at all. I’m not sure why. And sometimes they confuse cloud platforms with public PaaS. Again, I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is because they have similar names sometimes or vendors misrepresent their competitors? I really don’t know.
Analysts are often siloed (I know from my time as one) and each makes recommendations based on their coverage area. In practice, this can lead to a significant increase in the number of solutions and tools that an end-user thinks they need to implement their cloud strategy. One RFP I saw in 2015 included so many different tools that I can only guess that they were trying to get one tool for each term in the dictionaries analysts produce and were not evaluating their own use cases for the project.
A lot of pundits analyze containers through the lens of virtual machines. They also keep bringing up persistent storage as a fault of containers even though every cloud solution I know of in our market solved this need long ago.
Roles of Operations and Roles of Developers
Progress: In 2015, all enterprise PaaS vendors agreed that operations and developers, for the most part, need different portals and separate user experiences that reflect their job functions.
Still Lacking: During the same time, container orchestration led to disagreement about the role of operations and developers. We still haven’t learned that the IT world isn’t binary (pun intended), and we will probably need to have this conversation all over again. We will also come to the same conclusion.
The writings above are not all my thoughts on the space. If you’ve ever met me, you know I’ve got plenty (sometimes too much!) to say. If you hit me up on Twitter or LinkedIn, I will gladly meet up and talk at length on this topic. However, my tl;dr on the market is that the cloud middleware market is looking more and more like it is going to mirror the success of public IaaS space. Keep a close eye on it.
This post, “Why Cloud Native Platforms Will Take Off in 2016” was a sponsored post from Apprenda.
Apprenda, Docker, Pivotal and Red Hat are sponsors of The New Stack.
Feature image via Pixabay.