The following guest post is by Andi Gutmans.
Hold on to your seat, because the battle for cloud computing is just getting interesting. Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) leadership is going to determine the winner of the battle for dominance in the cloud. Amazon, Google and Microsoft are all offering cloud platforms and vying for ownership in this space. Someone will become today’s cloud equivalent of what Windows was to desktops in the 1990s. However, it is as yet unclear who that leader will be.
What is clear is that whoever can win over the most developers for their cloud platforms will take home the trophy. More and more, developers are influencing how and where apps are built. They helped Microsoft win the desktop wars, and that developer-centric pattern is set to repeat in the cloud.
Back in the day, Microsoft’s developer community helped propel them to leadership with Windows. As developers placed the first generation of their apps (and data) on Windows, and as the amount of Microsoft OS based data grew, so did the value of the Windows ecosystem and of each successive generation of apps.
In order to dominate the cloud, Google, Amazon or Microsoft must propagate a similar kind of bandwagon effect. The race is on to win this generation of cloud apps.
At this moment, MicrosoftGoogle and Amazon are all trying to lure developers with the same two carrots, namely IaaS and PaaS. Two years ago, the three companies weren’t playing in the same space; today, they’re fighting neck-on-neck.
The Infrastructure-as-a-service with the best price, functionality, reliability, compliance and security will win. So far, Amazon has first-mover advantage. Amazon first introduced the public at large to the concept of IaaS in 2006, when the company launched its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). By renting out cloud-based computers by the hour, companies could run any OS, software or programming language on a powerful virtual machine. They only paid for the computing power they used, avoiding the cost and resource burden of building infrastructure in-house.
Once the idea caught on, it spread like wildfire. An independent Zend survey found that today, 68 percent of PHP apps are deployed to public clouds—within that a full 51% of developers say Amazon Web Services is their cloud of choice. Clearly, the company’s first-mover advantage continues to pay off.
Yet other players are catching up. The same survey found that 14 percent of developers choose to deploy on Google Compute Engine, which was announced at Google I/O 2012. That’s a lot of traction for an IaaS that is barely one year old. Plus, other large IT leaders are investing in IaaS leadership plays, such as IBM focusing on Enterprise Cloud support with their IBM SmartCloud offering.
Microsoft has a goal to take a bite out of Amazon’s IaaS dominance. This April, the desktop computing giant jumped into the game with its own Windows Azure-based IaaS. Microsoft announced that it would price-match Amazon EC2 for storage, compute power and network bandwidth. Surprisingly, Microsoft’s IaaS supports both Windows Linux, signaling just how aggressively Microsoft wants to go after Amazon.
No Winners Yet in PaaS
For the time being, Amazon is eating Google and Microsoft’s lunch in the Infrastructure-as-a Service space. But that advantage may not last. And IaaS alone isn’t enough to win the cloud wars.
PaaS is becoming an increasingly popular choice for developers, because it offers a full managed software infrastructure for applications. This is a big time saver for developers, although it comes with greater constraints. For a developer, PaaS is a user-friendly, simplified experience.
In order to dominate the PaaS space, providers must win the hearts and minds of the development community. A good developer experience, ease of use, solid functionalities and supporting a range of languages are key to developer acquisition.
Microsoft made the first PaaS move three years ago, with Microsoft Azure, which supports ASP.NET, PHP and Node.js. Amazon AWS Elastic Beanstalk launched in 2011. Like Microsoft, Amazon immediately gravitated towards PHP, the most widely used language for mobile and web apps today. PHP runs 39 percent of all web sites (over 224 million apps and web sites) and is the number-one dynamic language chosen to develop mobile applications. In addition to PHP, Beanstalk supports Java, Python, Node.js and .NET.
Google’s App Engine also launched in 2011, but in its first iteration supported Java and Python. Strong demand for PHP led to the announcement just recently at this year’s Google I/O Conference, that Google intends to offer PHP as a core language on the Google App Engine.
Google really understands how to build technology at scale and making it perform remarkably well. The company was also born creating shared services online, so the developer cloud may be a natural progression.
As the online giants vie for control of the cloud, what can development and IT leaders do in order to hedge their bets while a leader emerges?
The trick is to choose languages, frameworks and services that can easily run within any of these players’ clouds, and enable your apps to stay portable. Weigh all of your options with lock-in in mind. If you get locked in early on, you may have great difficulty extracting yourself. Regardless of which direction your peers are pressuring you into, prioritize developing apps on an open framework and take advantage of application platforms that are supported on, and enable portability across multiple clouds.
If you’re an investor, developer acquisition is the leading indicator to watch. Look for development milestones in both the IaaS and PaaS space. Good indicators are how many millions of developers and apps exist in a provider’s cloud.
Andi Gutmans is CEO and cofounder of Zend Technologies. Founded in 1999, Zend was instrumental in establishing PHP. Today, Zend helps companies develop and deliver mobile and web apps rapidly and with high–quality results. Zend Server and Zend Studio are deployed at more than 40,000 companies worldwide.