Analysts Weigh in on the Roles of IaaS, PaaS
Having a true IaaS solution is crucial, Brust said. I think the PaaS model is more elegant, but there are just too many projects where it wont work, or where a hybrid approach is required. Azure had disenfranchised itself from all of those projects, essentially creating a self-imposed boycott. Soon that boycott will lifted, and Microsoft will have better chances of competing with a bookseller for ITs next mainstream platform.
James Staten, a Forrester analyst spells out the significance of Microsofts PaaS versus IaaS play in a blog post on the Azure news:
Its unique PaaS capabilities continue, of course, which makes Windows Azure one of the most empowering cloud platforms for enterprise organizations on the market today, Staten added. He also cites the impending competition with AWS and others in the IaaS space, noting that AWS has been continually beefing up its capabilities.
AWS has been rapidly adding services that preconfigure and manage common stacks and applications, Staten said. Its Simple Queuing Service was one of its first moves. It now has a whole series of plug-and-play development services for notification, mail, caching, databases, content delivery, MapReduce and many more. It also offers Elastic Beanstalk and CloudFormation for simple deployment of complex workloads. None of these rise to the level of PaaS, which provides abstraction of a full middleware layer but to fill this role, AWS has its ecosystem of partners such as Tibco, Engine Yard, Heroku and others who deliver their PaaS atop AWS' base IaaS service.
But in the end, Microsoft has to play to its strengths, one of which has always been its ability to connect with developers. Though it has wavered at times, Microsoft maintains a commitment to its developer base. That is evident here. Microsoft continues to develop Windows Azures PaaS features. The media services look very strong, and SQL Azure is also maturing as a database option, Forresters Rymer said. Microsoft also has begun to bring its full range of properties to Azure, including the Office services, SharePoint and CRM. The result: quite a rich range of relatively mature services for developers, he said.
Yet, theres still much to be done, Rymer noted. Microsofts new release sets the stage for easier setup of hybrid cloud architectures, but the on-premise .NET environment and Azure environment are still not exactly the same. They will be. Also, support for multiple languages and frameworks is still pretty basic. Devs can bring their own Java stacks to Azures virtual machine role, for example, but Microsoft isnt yet providing a Java PaaS. That also is coming. Why Microsoft is making these moves and opening up? As I said, if they dont open up, a lot of developers wont give Azure the time of day. Microsofts hope is that once developers land on Azure, theyll stay andmost importantlyconsider using Microsofts developer services.
Meanwhile, in a blog post on the issue, Raphael Simon, a senior system architect at RightScale said:
The adoption of IaaS vs. PaaS across the cloud industry has shown that large-scale cloud usage requires IaaS. This fits with what we are seeing in that workloads being ported to the cloud by our services team are consistently increasing in complexity. Nowadays, very few deployments are satisfied with prebuilt configurations. That does not mean that PaaS is irrelevantfar from itbut rather that PaaS by itself is rarely sufficient. For both technical and nontechnical reasons, key parts of large-scale deployments require more control, which is currently only available at the IaaS level. Being able to move these key application components into an infrastructure cloud is oftentimes a prerequisite for moving anything to the cloud. One interesting outcome is that adding IaaS should actually help increase the usage of PaaS as it lets users pick and choose the right tool for the right component.
Microsoft is now in a unique position offering both PaaS and IaaS services through a consistent set of tools and APIs. Its not just about the tools, though; its also and foremost about the platform itself: Windows Azure makes it possible to run PaaS applications and IaaS servers on shared infrastructure.
Overall, observers see Microsoft's news as a positive move for the company. This is an all-round upgrade with something for everyone, but the most significant functionality to my mind is the VM functionality, said Al Hilwa, an IDC analyst. Cloud platform applications so far have been written for the cloud from scratch. Allowing apps originally written to an on-premise model to move to Azure and leverage its infrastructure is the right approach to bring more usage and utilization for Azure. This capability and the Virtual Network capability will allow enterprises to begin to dip their toes with cloud platforms and ultimately make more use of clouds for increasing portions of their portfolios.
And Lucas Carlson, CEO of AppFog, which has partnered with Microsoft in delivering some of the new functionality in Windows Azure, warns folks not to count Microsoft out in the cloud space. I think Microsoft has been thought of as an underdog in cloud with Azure, but what Microsoft is doing Im very bullish on. Theyve been an underdog, and now they have the opportunity to reestablish what Azure is and broaden the appeal.