These days, it seems like every company is laying claim to being a cloud computing company. The typical way of making sense of the mess is to categorize companies as either SaaS (software-as-a-service), PaaS (platform-as-a-service) and IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service). However, going forward these lines of separation may be blurring and with good reason.
Last week, Salesforce & VMWare announced a bold collaboration that will result in a cloud play called VMForce. It's a mutually beneficial initiative. VMForce allows VMWare to get beyond the virtualization/private cloud play and venture into the realm of being a PaaS player. VMWare may have needed Salesforce's help to launch this but in return, Salesforce gets the benefit leveraging the technology of SpringSource, VMWare's recent bold acquisition as well as of tapping into the huge community of Java developers worldwide. SpringSource has cool technology like tcServer and RabbitMQ. By making the SpringSource technology accessible through a PaaS model, you've enabled the ability to build true, Java-based enterprise scale applications in the cloud without having to reinvent the wheel in many aspects of building and deploying enterprise Java applications in the cloud. It's a win-win.
Does this collaboration signal something bigger at play in the cloud computing world? Perhaps. You may see a trend of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS players collaborating together in order to drive greater value and broader adoption across the board.
IaaS vendors will be driven to move "up the stack" because selling processing cycles and capacity is commodity and there is little to differentiate one player from another. There will be a driving need for IaaS vendors to add value through supporting toolsets for managing the infratructure or by partnering with PaaS vendors. Some of this will be by acquisition, some by collaborative partnerships, some by innovation - in any case, you can count on it happening.
PaaS vendors will be driven by a motivation to create an ecosystem of applications that run on the platform. This is both as a means to legitimize the platform and to create the kind of stickiness that comes from interoperability, integration and security. Could Microsoft's introduction of CampaignReady TownHall accomplish that very purpose for Microsoft? CampaignReady is a suite of applications running on top of Azure that enables political and social activist groups manage effective campaigns.
The three legitimate PaaS players who effectively have a suite of SaaS offerings are Microsoft, Salesforce and Google. The fact that they play across the PaaS/SaaS boundary provides an advantage to them Going forward, the key drivers for their success revolve around tackling the concerns of security, integration and data lock-in. To the degree they successfully address these issues will signal their prospects for long term success/dominance.
Finally, SaaS vendors are driven to blur the lines for a couple of reasons. First, many smaller SaaS vendors have trouble scaling and growing with demand. Leveraging a PaaS or IaaS is a natural step. Unless this is done from "ground up", it's probably easier said than done but for smaller SaaS vendors that haven't cracked the code on scalability or reliability, it's a must. The second reason is more opportunistic. Since most SaaS applications begin as point products, it doesn't take long before integration with other applications becomes an issue. That means opening up an API to do minimally enable data level integration. The next evolution of this is to provide a "narrow-band" PaaS, essentially specific to their solution. If it's architected right, these SaaS vendors will find the opportunity to stimulate an ecosystem of add-on widgets and applications that will create value and stickiness for their solution. The company that wrote the blueprint on this? None other than the pioneer of SaaS - Salesforce.
Stay tuned - the blurring of the IaaS, PaaS, SaaS distinctions are just beginning.