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IBM Touts PaaS as Enterprise Cloud Computing's Next Frontier

IBM spent much of last week's Cloud Innovation Forum talking up Platform as a Service (PaaS) to the roughly 100 customers and 200 other stakeholders, including business partners, in attendance.

Big Blue's PaaS offering, called SmartCloud Application Services (SCAS), is available in pre-release form for customers of IBM's existing infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering, SmartCloud Enterprise (SCE), and it will be generally available later this quarter.

Only a small but incrementally growing percentage of enterprises have started using PaaS for production-oriented applications, according to industry analysts. Moreover, there are a number of companies with various PaaS offerings and shops are evenly split between the various services they envision using, according to IDC senior VP and chief analyst Frank Gens, who gave a presentation at the IBM event. Among the widely preferred PaaS services are Microsoft's Windows Azure, Google App Engine, IBM's SmartCloud PaaS, VMware Cloud Foundry,'s, NetSuite SuiteCloud, the Intuit Partner Platform and Red Hat OpenShift, according to an IDC study.

IBM used its event to release the results of a study it conducted based on its own survey of 1,500 IT decision makers in 18 countries (both mature and growth markets), which found that the need to manage proliferating big data is a key driver of organizations that are either looking at or going all-in on PaaS.

Driving big data is social media, mobile device usage and data analytics and integration. Customers "are starting to think about how they move big data activity onto the cloud and the applications needed to manage that," said Kevin Thompson, manager of IBM's Center for Applied Insights, who presented the results of the survey to a group of journalists.

IBM concluded there are four types of PaaS users:

  1. Pioneers (16 percent): those who are creating apps that enable new business capabilities using PaaS
  2. Experimenters (12 percent): shops that are dipping their toe into PaaS by attempting to take an existing app or business process and move it to the cloud
  3. Preparers (12 percent): those who plan to start using PaaS
  4. Observers (39 percent): those sitting on the sidelines for now

I asked Jim Comfort, VP of IBM's SmartCloud Strategy, what percentage of IBM shops he believes are using PaaS.

"This is a multi-year journey," Comfort responded. "I think almost every client has one or two teams or projects that they experimenting within this new category. Everyone is trying to find ways to play. As far as the mainstream, I would expect 25 percent over the next several years will shift their development [toward PaaS] once they find a set of tools that do what they really want to do. That's just my guess."

IBM's new PaaS services consist of application patterns, layers that run on top of its IaaS cloud, and existing customers can use those accounts to develop and deploy apps on SCAS via the SCE portal. IBM describes these patters as predefined software components designed to expedite the development and deployment of cloud-based apps based on multiple predefined architectures incorporated from decades of customer and partner engagements.

"It provides the tools to greatly simplify the development of Web applications using the infrastructure to hide all the complexity," Comfort said. The initial offering is targeted at Web application services. In the pipeline are others including database services, mobile and analytic services, he said.

The first services made available on the new offering are the Collaborative LifeCycle Management and Workload Service. The Collaborative Lifecycle Management services lets development managers add users and roles through the portal, which allows for monitoring and ensuring data availability. It uses IBM's Rational developer tool suite, enabling the application development lifecycle of tracking, designing, implementing, building, testing and deploying apps. The service allows team-based application development lifecycle via Rational Team Concert, Rational Requirements Composer and Rational Quality Manager. Pricing will be announced at GA but IBM will bill customers on a per-user, per-month basis.

Workload Service is aimed at replacing premises-based middleware, notably WebSphere in IBM shops. It provides policy-based automated scaling and app management via the Workload Deployer, which IBM calls the "brains" of the service. Developers can deploy virtual systems, the traditional model for deploying and connecting VMs or the newer virtual applications, which the developer deploys the actual apps.

Like IBM's core applications, it is designed for Java-based apps, though IBM's Comfort said the company plans to support other popular languages including Ruby, PHP and Microsoft's .NET. The new PaaS offering also offers Web Applications Services (WAS), virtual databases, virtual system patters and Java app platforms. Customers will pay a usage-based hourly or monthly rate.

Comfort emphasized with IBM's approach to PaaS, compute and app infrastructure run in the cloud while data remains on premises. That matters, he said, "because applications and data prove to be some of the most strategic assets a company has."

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on October 22, 2012


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