The Disintegration of PaaS

February 14 2012

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I just read a good post by Sam Charrington on RWW titled, The Disintegration of PaaS. He points out that early PaaS vendors had to build out the whole stack, including application server, database, file storage, etc. This locks applications into a specific stack. He goes on to say that we are now moving into a new evolution of PaaS, where some of the component pieces of the platform, e.g., databases, are available from other service vendors. However, the change we’re seeing is much broader than PaaS. This shift picks at the very fabric of software; we are witnessing the revolution of software development as we know it.

Year of the PaaS, Again

Gartner proclaimed that 2011 was the year of the PaaS. 2012 will be about PaaS innovation. For developers this means choice: choice of languages, choice of components and a rich eco-system of services that power a new breed of applications and compose a broad set of services. These services are accessed through Open APIs and provide a whole new level of functionality and rich data for things like image recognition, telephony, web-messaging, consumer information, email, product catalogs and purchasing, payment services, mobile ads, rating engines, data/storage and much more. The next wave of PaaS offerings allows developers to choose their language and runtime, but real innovation will happen around making these new Open APIs accessible. Developers need new tools and methods for dealing with lots of APIs, isolating complexity and simplifying working with different data from disparate sources.

History Repeating

The Open Source boom caused the disintegration of the monolithic application stacks as components of the stack were made available through liberal licensing. The most well-known example is the LAMP stack, where everything from the operating system to the application server was freely available and, more importantly, worked together. Open APIs are the new Open Source, only better. Open APIs not only offer the components that we use today, but also offer a new level of capabilities not previously available. These new Open APIs are raising the innovation bar, allowing developers to focus on re-using APIs rather than coding all the functionality into their app. The best apps are making sense of the new data and functionality available as well as focusing on usability and context.

The Open API Explosion

Should you care about Open APIs? Well, let’s look at the data. In the last 6 years, the number of Open APIs has roughly doubled year on year. That means we’re on track to see approximately 10,000 APIs by the end of the year.

Source: Programmable Web

These Open APIs offer a wealth of data and functionality that are being woven into the next killer apps. Think about Siri. It’s not just brilliant because it understands voice commands; it’s brilliant because it integrates with services in real-time to perform commands and get information across many applications. Siri will only get better as it draws from a wider range of sources. These sources will be integrated through APIs.

From Disintegration to Integration

The key to innovation for new applications is integration. The application model is rapidly shifting away from traditional stacks to composition and orchestration of data from many sources (I describe this as application slices). Mobile applications accelerate this change since they need to collect data from different sources to provide more value to the user. New applications don’t need a data store, they need an API to a data store. They don’t need an email server, just an API to one. New applications incorporate geolocation, your social graph, your company profile, video encoding, SharePoint and DropBox integration. The platform designed to help you build these new applications is integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS). While the PaaS market evolves in 2012, one thing is for sure, the application delivery model as we know it is disintegrating and integration is going to be the key enabler for the next killer apps.

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