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Will PaaS Finally Bring Open Source Love to the Enterprise?

Open source PaaS platforms represent one of the fastest-growing cloud computing models

Open source platform as a service (PaaS) platforms are one of the most exciting topics in the software industry nowadays. Following the $212M acquisition of Heroku by Salesforce.com, we've seen how, in a matter of months, platforms like dotCloud, VMWare's Cloud Foundry or Red Hat's OpenShift have emerged with complete PaaS suites based on popular open source technologies.

The value proposition behind this type of PaaS offering is very simple: these platforms will enable the foundation to host, manage, provision and scale solutions based on some of the most renowned open source technologies such as Ruby on Rails, Hadoop, and MySQL.

When we start exploring these technologies in detail, we will quickly realize that they could have a profound impact on the enterprise software industry, changing the economics and cultural aspects of the open source model.

For the last 20 something years, open source technologies have been fighting an uphill battle to gain a wide adoption within traditional business that favors commercial software alternatives. Lack of support options, poor documentation, or vendor commitment are some of the reasons (or prejudices J ) that are often seen as limitations of open source technology stacks. Those years of anti-open source religion have had a deep influence on the software markets. If you think about it, other than JBoss, MySQL or SpringSource, we can't cite many other big exits of open source technology vendors. While it is true that the number of exits or acquisitions is not in direct correlation to the viability of a business model, it's a pretty good indicator of the health and stability of a specific market segment.

Can open source PaaS platforms change this? I definitely think so. Let me try to explain.

Cloud Open Source != Traditional Open Source
At its core, open source PaaS platforms provide an elastically scalable, self-manageable environment to host applications built on open source technologies. By definition, the dynamic of this model removes a lot of the friction that companies experience when adopting open source technology stacks. Think about it, would you still be concerned about using Ruby or MySQL if Heroku, VMware, Red Hat or dotCloud provisioned, hosted, managed and scaled the technology for you in a very elastic, self-healing infrastructure?

We have to think about open source PaaS beyond the technology landscape and see it as a phenomenon that can change the economic dynamics of the open source model. To put it in very simple terms, open source PaaS platforms have the opportunity to erase a lot of the non-technical advantages that, sometimes, were attributed to commercial software compared to open source alternatives.

What Does This Mean for Commercial Software Vendors?
The emergence of open source cloud platforms will force commercial software vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle or IBM to focus more on innovations with their cloud stacks and less on the advantages of their delivery model. At the same time, commercial software vendors will now have to compete with complete technology stacks that group a large variety of open source technologies. Similarly, we are already seeing various open source technologies such as Hadoop or Node.JS being adopted in commercial software vendor's cloud premises.

What Does This Mean for Enterprises?
I think open source PaaS should be a primary option for companies when considering embracing cloud computing. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that it will take some time for organizations to get rid of the same anti-open source prejudices that were common when evaluating on-premise open source technologies. In any case, we have to trust the influence that software communities can have in the industry.

As explained in previous sections, the open source PaaS model will offer enterprises a unique opportunity to embrace the level of unique innovation provided by open source technologies without incurring the management, maintenance and upgrade challenges of open source solutions. In addition, enterprise will be able to leverage new versions of open source technologies without having to incur the costs of upgrading the application infrastructure.

Do Open Source Communities Need to Change?
I don't think open source communities will change drastically in this cloud computing era but I do believe we need to start considering open source PaaS platforms on the roadmap of the different open source technologies. For instance, I believe open source communities should be very influential regarding which features should be enabled on the different open source cloud platforms and, at the same time, guide the path of the technology in a way that won't harm the platforms that are enabling those technologies in a cloud environment.

All for One, One for All
Relying on a small set of companies has traditionally been seen as one of the "advantages" that enterprises attribute to commercial software vendors compared to open source technologies. Basically, it seemed simpler to rely on an Oracle or IBM application server instead of on a variety of open source technologies from different companies. With open source PaaS platforms, now developers have access to a plethora of open source technologies in areas such as databases, messaging technologies, web development frameworks or even programming languages using a common underlying infrastructure.

Who Will Win the PaaS Wars?
I believe we will have multiple winners. Microsoft has a head start and a fantastic platform with Windows Azure. I believe VMware's Cloud Foundry and Salesforce.com's Heroku can leverage their strong presence in the virtualization and business software aspects to grow its adoption. In addition, Red Hat is in a unique position given its strong presence in the data center market.

Summary
Open source PaaS platforms represent one of the fastest-growing cloud computing models. With vendors like VMware, Salesforce.com and Red Hat leading the way, open source cloud platforms enable the benefits of cloud computing on some of the most popular open source technologies in the market. By providing a model to host, deploy, scale and manage open source solutions, this model overcomes some of the major challenges that have prevented big enterprises from widely adopting open source technologies. While it is too soon to predict who will prevail in the PaaS wars, open source will definitely play a strong role in the future of PaaS and cloud computing adoption in the enterprise.

More Stories By Jesus Rodriguez

Jesus Rodriguez is a co-founder and CEO of KidoZen, an enterprise mobile-first platform as a service redefining the future of enterprise mobile solutions. He is also the co-founder to Tellago, an award-winning professional services firm focused on big enterprise software trends. Under his leadership, KidoZen and Tellago have been recognized as an innovator in the areas of enterprise software and solutions achieving important awards like the Inc 500, Stevie Awards’ American and International Business Awards.

A software scientist by background, Jesus is an internationally recognized speaker and author with contributions that include hundreds of articles and sessions at industry conferences. He serves as an advisor to several software companies such as Microsoft and Oracle, sits at the board of different technology companies. Jesus is a prolific blogger on all subjects related to software technology and entrepreneurship. You can gain valuable insight on business and software technology through his blogs at http://jrodthoughts.com and http://weblogs.asp.net/gsusx .

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