In the last few years, companies that have started using Platform as a Service (PaaS) have enjoyed unbeatable time-to-market and flexibility. Never has it been so easy to get a business idea, start implementing it, deploy it into production, evaluate its business impact and fast-iterate onto the next release (or kill the idea if it wasn’t a good one). Yet as development teams have started expanding their usage of PaaS, their requirements have matured as well. They increasingly feel too constrained with PaaS offerings that sometimes feels too much like monolithic black boxes into which they have little visibility into.
PaaS developers want more control over their environment, they want to be able to customize it to their specific way of doing things, they want to be able to efficiently leverage more 3rd party services and want to integrate PaaS as part of their overall value creation flow, not as a central piece of it.
If You Can’t Extend it, it is Not a Platform
At the risk of stating the obvious, the “P” in PaaS stands for “Platform.” And if you look at all of the successful platforms on the market over the last 10 years, they all exhibit a very similar architecture: a relatively small yet highly pluggable core with public APIs, surrounded by a large amount of “extensions” (or plugins, modules, services, etc.) provided by the platform vendor, by customers, by communities and by third party indpendent vendors (ISVs). On such platforms, there is no “you vs. us” when it comes to those extensions: all are equal, as they all leverage the same core API extension points. This is true of Linux, Java, Jenkins, Eclipse, Spring, JBoss and many others. It is not by accident that these platforms have been able to on-board ecosystems at a very rapid pace: they weren’t suffering from any “central” bottleneck.
Yet, to date, PaaS providers have focused on delivering the best integrated experience to their users in what ends up looking like an opaque monolithic box: “follow the PaaS or take another path.” There must be a better way.
What’s the New Open?
In order for the PaaS market to scale to its fullest potential, an evolution towards a similar architecture – but adapted to the cloud era - has to take place.
At first sight, one might think that Open Source could be the silver bullet and that FOSS platforms as a service would bring us the type of benefits referred to above. Since their APIs and implementations are available in open source, everything should be fine: developers can take the source code, modify it and deploy their customized PaaS into production. Yet, in many ways, the cloud is redefining what “Open” means. The pre-cloud era is a software-centric world where Open Source is a natural fit to reach that goal. Yet, in the cloud era, developers don’t consume software or source code, they actually don’t want to see software anymore (open source or not): developers want to consume a service. Consequently, the cloud requires us to re-define what “an open platform” means in a service-centric world.
To that end, CloudBees will iteratively release new features that will make the CloudBees’ PaaS a true service-based extensible and customizable platform.
Sacha Labourey is the former CTO of JBoss, Inc. He was also co-general manager of middleware after the acquisition of JBoss by Red Hat. He ultimately left Red Hat in April 2009 and founded CloudBees in April 2010. Follow Sacha on Twitter.