Will Gartner Sink PaaS?

Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) has hit a bit of a rough spot lately. Unlike its big brothers SaaS and IaaS, PaaS providers are looking for traction in this diverse, even fragmented market. In fact, there?s even a question as to whether PaaS is really a market at all. Perhaps it?s just a part of IaaS? After all, Amazon Web Services offers PaaS. Or maybe it?s a part of SaaS?

Even if PaaS remains a true market segment, the players in this market are surprisingly diverse. Application development, test, and deployment as a Service is at the core of PaaS, but PaaS could easily include Database-as-a-Service, Integration-as-a-Service, Identity-Management-as-a-Service, and many other subcategories.

Who, then, is the final arbiter as to what constitutes the PaaS market? Fundamentally, customers do, when they vote with their dollars. But in advance of established customer purchasing patterns, it falls to the industry analysts to provide market definitions in order to inform customer purchasing (as well as investor) decisions as markets emerge. And the 800-pound gorilla in the IT industry is indisputably Gartner.

Gartner, therefore, is in the enviable position of clarifying what PaaS really means. Here, then, is Gartner?s definition of PaaS:

??PaaS? is the term generally accepted by the industry to indicate application infrastructure (middleware) functionality, enriched with cloud characteristics and offered as a cloud service (encapsulating and hiding the underlying system infrastructure). Gartner refers to it more precisely as ?cloud application infrastructure services? and has identified 15 classes of PaaS, each roughly mirroring a corresponding class of on-premises middleware products.

Unfortunately, this definition shows a surprising lack of understanding of the transformative potential of PaaS. By stating that PaaS is middleware ?enriched? with Cloud characteristics, Gartner is stating that such Cloud characteristics are superficial. In other words, scratch PaaS and you?ll find traditional middleware underneath.

Today?s established middleware vendors are no doubt ecstatic with this definition. After all, they can take their existing ?application infrastructure services? and enrich them with some added Cloudy bells and whistles, as though they were enriching their Frosted Flakes with vitamins and minerals.

But vitamins and minerals don?t change those flakes into health food, folks. And no ?enrichment? will take existing middleware and make it PaaS.

Fundamentally, PaaS represents a new paradigm for creating and delivering software functionality, and the players who in the end will succeed with their PaaS offerings will be the service providers who understand and can capitalize on this paradigm shift.

If you?re a Gartner customer and actually listen to their advice, however, you may miss the entire PaaS differentiation, which will limit your success with the Cloud. But even worse, Gartner?s influence on the marketplace may actually limit the ability for some transformative PaaS players to get the investor and customer traction they need to be successful.

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