Amazon cuts off stack at the PaaS

Amazon won't directly compete with the likes of Azure, Google App Engine and Heroku, says its CTO; instead, the company hopes Amazon Web Services can be the enabling layer for '1,000 platforms to bloom'

Amazon is committed to renting the infrastructure for cloud applications, but has no plans to be a leader in platform-as-a-service (PaaS), according to its chief technology officer.

Werner Vogels

Werner Vogels, Amazon's chief technology officer, speaking at Cloud Expo Europe. Credit: Jack Clark

The company doesn't plan to offer a major platform-as-a-service product, Amazon's chief technology officer Werner Vogels told ZDNet UK on Thursday. PaaS is a distributed technology for deploying, managing and automating applications, and Amazon hopes to build the infrastructure that will host PaaS products like Heroku.

"We want 1,000 platforms to bloom," said Vogels, echoing comments he made at Cloud Connect in March, before explaining Amazon has "no desire to go and really build a [PaaS]."

He explained that lots of technical work is involved in creating a PaaS, specifically around application management and code control. The technology is "so much more than the [application] container," he said.

PaaS providers like Heroku — which sits on top of AWS — and Engine Yard have spent years developing language-specific platforms that deal with some of the technical issues, so it's better to leave it to them, Vogels suggested. "There's room for many different platforms," he added.

Vogels' comments follow a significant year for Amazon. Over the past 12 months the company released a partial PaaS, Elastic Beanstalk, which automates the upload of applications into the cloud.

Amazon also launched DynamoDB, a NoSQL-hosted database that sees the company take on more of the management duties associated with PaaS incumbents like Google, Microsoft and Heroku. Just yesterday the company made its first foray into on-premise IT equipment, via the Storage Gateway beta.

Nonetheless, the company is committed to the infrastructure layer, said Vogels. One of the main reasons for this is that it commits Amazon to avoiding lock-in, he said in a keynote speech at Cloud Expo Europe on Thursday morning.

"Amazon is playing the role in the cloud that IBM played with the PC and the x86 architecture — and that spawned a massive industry," Marten Mickos, chief executive of Eucalyptus and former head of MySQL, told ZDNet UK. "IBM did well and so did others."

However, Mickos disputed Vogels' claim that Amazon is going to let a thousand platforms bloom.

"He will always say that, and Amazon will slowly take a step higher and higher," he said, before pointing to Beanstalk as an example. "[But] in my view PaaS has middleware components... and I could agree that it is okay to add [those] to an IaaS."

When asked why the PaaS products funded by Microsoft and Google — Windows Azure and Google App Engine, respectively — don't try to go down the stack and introduce an IaaS component, Mickos ventured that it was because of Amazon's dominance.

"I think [Microsoft and Google] are afraid they can never compete with Amazon," he said. "Amazon knows how to operate with low margins — Google doesn't, Google cannot live in a low margin environment."

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