Platform as a Service ready to rock the middleware market: Gartner

Middleware is moving into the cloud in a big way.

Gartner says Platform as a service (PaaS) is poised to be one of the fastest-growing areas of cloud and service oriented architecture.

This observation makes a lot of sense, and here's why: Businesses receive more value from PaaS than they do its underlying sibling, Infrastructure as a Service which encompasses "raw" IT power through processing, storage, and messaging. PaaS is taking all the middleware products we've come to know and love -- application servers, database management systems (DBMSs), integration middleware and portal platforms — and putting them in the cloud.

Business users -- and even developers -- may prefer PaaS to IaaS, which still carries with it a lot of programming and integration work. Not everyone can afford to have a technical staff on board to manage the protocols and configurations that PaaS demands.

Gartner analysts say 2011 was a pivotal year for the PaaS market. Broad vendor adoption in 2011 "amounted to a sound industry endorsement of PaaS as an alternative to the traditional middleware deployment models."

My own research, part of my work with Unisphere Research/Information Today Inc., also validates surging interest in PaaS as a cloud platform. Our recent survey of 257 members of the International Oracle Users Group finds that 25% of respondents favor the use of public cloud-based PaaS services, versus 10% using public IaaS. In private cloud scenarios, the difference is even starker: 41% use PaaS, versus 22% using IaaS (mainly storage). The survey was underwritten by Oracle.

However, as Gartner puts it, PaaS solutions are still immature.  The "PaaS market is at its early stage of growth and does not yet have well-established leaders, best use or business practices or dedicated standards. The adoption of PaaS offerings is still associated with some degree of uncertainty and risk."

Still, Gartner analyst Yefim Natis advises organizations to plow ahead into PaaS: "While there are clear risks associated with the use of services in the new and largely immature PaaS market, the risk of avoiding the PaaS market is equally high. The right strategy for most mainstream IT organizations and software vendors is to begin building familiarity with the new cloud computing opportunities by adopting some PaaS services now, albeit with the understanding of their limitations and with the expectation of ongoing change in the market offerings and use patterns."

Watch for a free-for-all in this level of the cloud stack over the coming year -- with cloud and application software vendors all rolling out their own answers to PaaS. Plus, not only is PaaS deliverable from the public cloud, but enterprises will be focusing on building their own internal PaaS capabilities to serve business units.

Gartner predicts that some of the newly announced PaaS offerings will reach general availability late in 2012, and by the end of 2013, "all major software vendors will have competitive production offerings in the PaaS market." Look for new programming models, new standards and new software market leaders in the years after that.