The amorphous term "cloud computing" includes lots of different service-delivery models -- everything from managed services, to utility computing, to software-as-a-service (SaaS), as Infoworld outlined in a useful cloud-computing primer this week. And within these cloud subcategories, definitions are vague, too.
Consider platform-as-a-service (PaaS). Some are defining Google's just-unveiled Google App Engine as a prime example of PaaS. But they also are lumping Salesforce.com's Force.com platform into this category, as well.
Microsoft is readying a hosted application platform, according to my sources, that sounds a lot like Google's App Engine. BizTalk Services and SQL Server Data Services are allegedly among the components of this still-to-be-announced Microsoft-hosted service, which will be aimed at developers who want to use Microsoft's development/deployment/hosting platform as a launch pad.
But Microsoft also is working on another PaaS offering (which its officials are loath to call "PaaS") that is more akin to Force.com. Microsoft officials first discussed Microsoft's "Titan as a platform" strategy over a year ago. This year, Microsoft officials began referring to Titan the platform as "xRM" (though it sounds like this isn't the final name or brand).
xRM is "about letting people build more customized applications, and not necessarily just CRM," on top of Microsoft's multitenant- and workflow-based underpinnings, said Brad Wilson, Microsoft's General Manager of CRM. "The business-application-modeling layer is what we are providing ... for anything that is relationship-oriented and workflow-driven."
What kinds of developers are interested in building on top of this Microsoft stack/platform? Wilson said it's primarily folks building applications that "are not customer-facing," such as human-resources management, recruiting, vendor-management and the like.
Currently, the 250 developers who Microsoft claims are building on top of Microsoft's xRM are deploying their applications primarily via partners.
"Today, it's a partner-hosted model," Wilson said. "We haven't done a ton to promote folks building applications that can run in Microsoft datacenters."
Once Microsoft comes up with a set of rules and policies (how much customization/configuration will developers be allowed to do once their code is hosted on a Microsoft server, for example), it will likely add to its list of delivery options for xRM applications the "hosted by Microsoft" checkbox. (When that happens, I guess Microsoft will just have to tell its hosting partners, yet again, that they need to move further up the stack to stay out of Redmond's way.)
I'm curious what developers who are considering a PaaS-type solution really want. Are all PaaS platforms created equal? Do Amazon's Elastic Cloud or Google's App Engine services best fit your needs? Or are you more interested in a Salesforce Force.com or Microsoft xRM kind of offering?