The 4 Java PaaS Trends Enterprise Devs Must Watch in 2012

Many industry observers agree that 2012 will be the year that the competition among Java platform as a service (PaaS) offerings begins to get fierce. For enterprises, the challenge will be choosing the right vendor for their needs in a volatile and rapidly changing market.

In 2011, a slew of companies both large and small made announcements about new Java PaaS offerings. “At the beginning of 2011, the only major player that was in the platform as a service market was Microsoft, and by the end, they were all in.” stated Yefim V. Natis, VP distinguished analyst for Gartner.

While some of those new offerings have entered production, many will not become enterprise-ready until sometime later this year. “All of the announcements that occurred in 2011 will lead to compelling new products from powerhouse middleware vendors like IBM, Oracle, TIBCO, Red Hat, VMware, and Progress in 2012,” predicted IDC’s Stephen D. Hendrick, group vice president for application development and deployment research.

How will this competition affect enterprise application developers? Experts point to four trends in the Java PaaS space that enterprises should watch in the coming year.

Trend One: Big Tech Vendors Enter the Market

Most experts don’t expect a lot of new vendors to announce Java PaaS offerings this year. After all, most of the large tech vendors have already announced their plans. “Is there anyone left that hasn’t announced yet?” laughed Jesper Joergensen, senior director product management for platform at Salesforce.com.

Instead, Steve Harris, senior vice president of products for CloudBees, predicted, “What you will see is much more platform as a service in general, and you’ll see some of the ones that were announced go into production.”

That leaves enterprises facing a big choice: should they wait for the newly announced Java PaaS offerings from the tech giants or should they jump in with one of the Java PaaS offerings that are available now, mostly through smaller vendors.

“Some users, if they’re not in a hurry, might just wait for them to mature,” said Gartner’s Natis. “Many users feel safer working with the proven, large providers.” On the other hand, he added, “Some buyers will prefer a smaller provider that’s more responsive to them, that’s more agile, that is innovating faster.” He added that enterprises concerned about portability and vendor lock-in may also want to consider one of the smaller Java PaaS vendors.

Trend Two: PaaS Goes Mainstream

While many enterprises have experimented with software as a service (SaaS) or infrastructure as a service (IaaS), they have been slow to jump on board with PaaS. However, analysts believe that will soon change. Forrester vice president and principal analyst John Rymer has predicted PaaS will “cross the chasm” into mainstream status between 2012 and 2014. And analysts at Gartner have forecasted that by 2015, a majority of enterprises will rely on PaaS either directly or indirectly to run business-critical software in the cloud.

PaaS vendors have reported an uptick in interest as well. Joergensen said that on Salesforce.com’s Heroku, “We’ve had explosive growth in the number of applications that are hosted on our platform. We went from less than 100,000 at the beginning of last year, and we have more than 800,000 applications now hosted on our platform.”

For enterprises, the takeaway is that their competitors are going to be investigating and investing in PaaS. If they want to keep up, they’ll need to do the same.

Trend Three: Greater Agility

CloudBees’ Harris pointed out that PaaS also complements another trend that’s been sweeping through enterprise development shops for some time: Agile development.

“I think you will see it become much more obvious that platform as a service is the yin to Agile’s yang,” he predicted. One of the key tenets of Agile development philosophy is continuous deployment, something the cloud makes much easier. With PaaS, “Agile development become Agile delivery also,” Harris explained.

“This in the end empowers developers to drive business value for companies,” added Harris.

Trend Four: Looking Beyond Java

All this explosive growth in Java cloud development may have another result — highlighting Java’s inadequacies for cloud computing. Many developers say that Java, particularly Java EE, is not well adapted for use in the cloud. “It’s almost like Java needs to be pulled back into the present from the past,” said Joergensen. “We believe that [Java EE] won’t translate to the cloud. Either people are just slowly going to stop writing Web applications in Java and move on to other languages, or Java needs to change.”

While he says that Java PaaS offerings serve an important role for moving existing applications to the cloud, Gartner’s Natis encourages developers to look to other programming languages for new projects. “If you want to create cloud-native applications, I believe they should look beyond Java,” he said.

On the other hand, Joergensen believes that Java has a place in the cloud, but only if Java developers change the way they do things. “It’s not very hard to write a self-contained or containerless Web application in Java and get all of the productivity benefits out of it that you see from Ruby on Rails or other development styles. It’s not very hard, and we think there is an opportunity for a switch in the Java community,” he said.

For enterprise developers, the choice of whether to stick with Java or transition to other languages is just one decision of many they’ll need to make as they hone their cloud computing strategy. The coming year will be critical both for Java PaaS vendors, which will compete to see who will dominate the market, and for enterprises, which will face the challenge of making difficult choices in a rapidly evolving landscape.

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