The new opportunity for PaaS vendors: cloud services curation

by Pete SonsiniOct 02, 2012

Note: this post was originally published as a guest column on GigaOm on Sept. 15, 2012

The many benefits Platform as a Service (PaaS) bring to the enterprise are well known and well publicized — chief among them the ability for developers to build applications faster than ever before. But as this space begins to mature, a new opportunity is emerging for PaaS players that could broaden their reach and amplify their strategic impact within the technology landscape: cloud services curation.

Since coming to NEA out of VMware about eight years ago, I have been intensely focused on early-stage enterprise technologies, and my partners and I saw the early promise in PaaS, investing in companies like Engine Yard and Apprenda. The space is getting even more interesting as it evolves, with the rapidly proliferating services-based approach to cloud applications creating a host of new challenges — many of which can best be addressed by PaaS vendors, both public and private.

Developers are increasingly assembling applications in the cloud by tying in APIs provided as a service, rather than coding the applications from scratch or linking in code packaged into libraries. Numerous startups have emerged to provide these APIs to developers, such as Twilio for messaging, SendGrid for email and Stormpath (which NEA invested in earlier this year) for user security management. All of these cloud service providers enable developers to focus on the core logic that makes their application unique, rather than developing functionality that is common across applications. Yet while the explosion of cloud services has clearly been a boon to developers, it presents a new set of challenges in terms of discovery, implementation and management.

If I’m developing a new application, how can I find the most reliable, secure services that are compatible with my run-time environment and data store? Once I’ve implemented these services, how I can be sure I’m using them appropriately and cost-effectively? Furthermore, if I decide to offer the core functionality of my application to the public as a service, how can I ensure this service is discoverable, trusted and usable by other developers?

PaaS vendors, public and private, are in a perfect position to solve these challenges by sifting through the numerous available cloud services, curating those that are the most beneficial and trustworthy, and promoting these services to developers. Thousands of developers are already paying these vendors to help them build, manage and deploy applications, so the “chicken and egg” problem of creating a new marketplace has already been solved. They are a trusted partner. A PaaS also happens to be one of the first decisions a developer makes when building a cloud application, so it’s a natural extension for these PaaS vendors to curate third-party services to increase the value proposition of their platform to developers. Leading public PaaS vendors such as Azure, Engine Yard and Heroku, as well as private PaaS such as Apprenda, have a tremendous opportunity to lead the industry in cloud services curation.

You may ask, what about Amazon? As an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) provider, they are primarily motivated to appeal to as broad an audience as possible in order to drive more compute cycles. This has caused them to open up their marketplace for the entire ecosystem, rather than curating an offering suited to a specific category of developer. In addition, it is no secret that third-party software developers are starting to trust them less and less. Amazon has gradually expanded upwards from the IaaS layer, adding on PaaS-like capabilities which compete directly with partners in the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem. As long as the fear persists that Amazon will take the best services in house, developers will be wary of relying on them as a channel to distribute their cloud services. The truly independent PaaS players who empower rather than compete with their developers will prevail.

The implications of cloud services curation for startups, PaaS vendors and enterprises are significant:

  • New companies that sell cloud services will increasingly go to market through PaaS vendors, greatly decreasing sales and marketing expense. As Apple’s App Store is to mobile independent software vendors (ISVs), marketplaces for PaaS vendors’ services will be to cloud service vendors.

  • PaaS vendors will offer new services to guarantee security and cleansing to ensure that everything on their platform is compatible, reliable and trustworthy. They will leverage their position as a trusted vendor for developers to make the most of this new way to develop applications.

  • Enterprises will win big. They only need to standardize on one trusted PaaS rather than individually certifying each cloud-based service. They can pay and manage numerous cloud services through one vendor. If anything does go wrong, they will have the support of an established partner to ensure the problem gets fixed quickly.

Ultimately, cloud services curation is likely to be provided as an additional offering by the handful of leading PaaS vendors, rather than stand-alone marketplaces or IaaS providers. In a world with an ever-expanding number of cloud services, curation will help developers discover the best services and help the best services achieve broader adoption — thus bringing innovative and secure applications to market faster than ever before. We expect cloud services curation to be one among several rich strategic opportunities on the horizon for PaaS vendors as the PaaS market transitions from nascent to mature.