We’ve just had a glimpse of the future of PaaS

A fascinating week in terms of the evolution of PaaS, cloud computing and SaaS has been upon us. I wonder if people noticed? The two big items that I saw were the collapse of Coghead and the hypothesis by Phil Wainewright as to why Gmail in Europe went down.

While most commentators are highlighting (and rightfully so) the impact and risk PaaS could provide on customers, I saw something very different.

Let me role this out as I saw it

Firstly it is increasingly obvious that PaaS and cloud computing is a very long way from being mature. I say this because of a number of factors. Just look at the market, everyone is racing to achieve scale. If that didn’t tell you it was a new market nothing will. There is also a general lack of standards (no two platforms are the same), evolving business models, a lack of channel maturity (who is wholesaling to get scale?) etc.   It seems to me that PaaS providers need to truly understand what the ‘P’ bit means. Get clear on the role of a Platform. Historical evidence would point to the fact that you can’t have a plethora of ‘platforms’ in the same space. There is only 1 ‘internet’ (the network guys will hate that), HTTP and its evolutions is a platform of, smpt another. This is true in other industries too, Telco (Bell, BT, Telstra), Rail (take your pick), Banking (two big credit card schemes globally) etc. In this regard I 100% agree with Jeff Kaplan, we are going to see a lot more consolidation. Economically this just has to happen for any of the PaaS providers to make any serious money, somebody has to get to true scale (60% market share).

Counter to this scale based play is regionalisation of data.  Geo-fencing isn’t new, ask content distributors, but how this works in a converged world is. This same phenomenon has been highlighted by the global economy. Up until now, I don’t think people truly realised how intertwined and boundrieless economies were, that’s changing fast. Similarly PaaS attacks this notion of nationhood. Google has no data centre in my home country, how then do they enforce our sovereign rules on SPAM, privacy and data protection? They simply can’t. People have commented on this effect before.

So then what is the future that I saw? I still believe you will see the emergence of one dominant PaaS player, but there will be one in every region or country. I think this will happen for a couple of reasons. Focus, big companies tend to focus on big markets first (elephant hunting or bang for buck). This gives the rest of the world breathing space to home develop a similar offering. Trademe is a great example of this. The second reason is regional legislation differences. While technology standards may eventually emerge, legal standards take even longer. 

If you believe this, then you will see one large player and one mid-to-small player emerge in every geography and be quite successful. For some services (maybe low end consumer stuff) you will see  some internationalisation impact (that horse may have bolted), but not so on the wealth creating business segment. I also think you will see a bunch of small niche players emerge who have specific domain expertise. I also think that all this is likely to occur in the next 2 – 3 years. 

Any other  views?

Is SaaS more than just the app?

I’ve been thinking a bit about the trends going in the SaaS world and I can’t help thinking that we are all missing a trick or two.

Firstly lets get the rough tends out of the way.1) SaaS is becoming more mainstream and is being adopted all along the company sire continuum. 2) platforms and PasS are increasingly important. 3) Big players in software and Telco are moving into this space. 4) SOA isn’t separate but intrinsic to SaaS 5) market consolidation


My problem is that all of this activity is focused on the application or platform. The picture above is from Force.com and is a great example, Apprenda another. This focus doesn’t actually take into account the end user experience. It also doesn’t give the user any service level guarantee’s.

In this second diagram I’ve painted a simple picture of all of the elements involved in the end user experience (and by proxy their satisfaction with SaaS). You will notice a whole lotta real-estate between the platform and the end user which is unmanaged. What is the point of a five 9’s datacentre and platform if the net is down, the router on the fritz or there’s an issue with the end device.


To my mind a good SaaS provider should be interested in this additional real-estate. It represents a space that If MANAGED could be a point of differentiation. A way to get the mass of the adoption curve past their current hurdles and a way to provide businesses (who are putting up mission critical information into the cloud) some sort of SLA (and by association reassurance). It also represents the next evolution of maturity in the SaaS model, SLA’s. Its because of this that I think the increasing involvement of ICT businesses (typically Telco’s who are playing in IT ) in SaaS is of massive importance. It seems to me that they alone can put all these bits together and hence provide the SLA’s that must eventuate.


Microsoft, Platforms, Opensource and SaaS

Ok, I'm playing the meta information game, apologies its kind of busy here at the moment.

Following on from my prediction about Microsoft opensourcing its code base and the implications on SaaS. I read with interest these two blogs.

The first, the war in the clouds, discusses how Force.com and Microsoft are going head to head on their platform plays. The second by Mary Jo Foley  goes into much more detail about opensource, platforms and the different plays. They are both in general agreement with my post. MS is doing what its always done, getting a bunch of software developers to use its code and build customer centric services onto the core code, and in this instance into the Live platform.

An interesting time ahead


Platforms, the multipurpose marketing vehicle?

Platform. This has to be the most confusing word used in the whole SaaS ecosystem at the moment. I don’t think I am alone in being a little confused by this, here’s why.

Force.com is a platform (apex and previously appexchange). There's a fair bit of noise about this one currently

Marc Andreesen did this piece on platforms, with the definitionA "platform" is a system that can be programmed and therefore customized by outside developers — users — and in that way, adapted to countless needs and niches that the platform's original developers could not have possibly contemplated, much less had time to accommodate.” And a more simple version

“If you can program it, then it's a platform. If you can't, then it's not.”

Richard MacManus alludes to the entire web being a platform, especially for web 2.0.

Bob at smoothspan has had at least three goes at platform plays (here, here, and one I quite like here). Bob suggests thinking about platforms like this.

A platform provides a framework on which applications written by others can be run.”

Sinclair Schuller at Saasblogs  even does a taxonomy and does a great job of describing the salesforce.com evolution with this statement “Initially, the platform was a robust API that allowed other vendors to tap into Salesforce.com’s powerful application model and build added functionality into it. Later, Salesforce.com moved away from this and created something known as the AppExchange, which became an ecosystem for CRM-aligned SaaS applications built on their platform. Recently, Salesforce announced a new, more powerful platform named Apex that supersedes all previous notions. Notice anything? They called each one of these a platform,
and to some level, rightfully so.”

The problem is, there's not a bunch of consistency in any of these definitions.

So, in the interests of firing up some debate I’ll have a go.

A platform to me is more than a a thing for programming so I don’t really like Marc’s definition, to me, that would be a programming language.

I think platforms do break down, but I think the break down into usage types

I think there are service delivery platforms. The little I know about Apprenda, would indicate that this is an example.

The next type are platforms that provide facilitation. A billing platform would be a good example, especially if this is plugged into another platform. Maestro or paypal are examples.

I think there are development platforms, Facebook and Force.com are these. They provide a ready made ecosystem for app developers. Recent moves by Microsoft would suggest they are heading this way too. Given they’re history with the SDK this is a very real platform

I think Force.com is a special case because it transcends my next category, integration platforms. By creating a platform that makes application integration easy you break down a major headache for customers and hopefully (in Salesforce.com's case) your core product.

I also think that there are single service or core product platforms. One of the most developed of these is voice (POTS). When you think of SaaS and success you really should factor in analogue voice into that. Other examples are the Galileo system.

Finally, I think platforms can be aggregators. Could you call Google a platform? Well kinda, maybe soon.  

The thing is, even this taxonomy don’t really work. What about communications, routing, hardware, storage, mobile device, operating systems….

Perhaps we should try to be a bit more granular, maybe we should step away from the cliché? I don’t know. I do however agree with Sinclair. I think ‘creative marketing’ has meant the term is overused, and that creates confusion.  I’d argue that confusion shouldn’t be the aim if you got something solid to say….


My punt, platforms are the really exciting part of the SaaS revolution going on. There has been a number of recent articals regarding this and it is to me just another sign of the shift in focus.

Why? My guess is that many would be SaaS application providers have a lot on their plate as it is and have only just realised that SaaS is soooo much more than just a app in the cloud.

I really enjoyed the links off Sinclair Schullers    last post on Saasblogs.  Quite a lot of harmony with some of the challenges we are currently going through, have been through or are deciding to go through.

This i guess is one of the best part of the blogsphere, the coalesence of similar thoughts and collectively crystalising them.   Nice work