David Chappell


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Gartner's 2014 MQ for PaaS: Organizing the Chaos  
# Friday, January 31, 2014
I don't envy the Gartner analysts whose job it was to put together their new Magic Quadrant on PaaS. Even defining PaaS is challenging--different vendors provide quite different offerings--and so figuring out how to position this diverse bunch on an MQ couldn't have been easy.

Figure 1.Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Application Platform as a Service

The only easy part is choosing the leaders: Salesforce's Force.com and Microsoft's Windows Azure. Unlike Gartner's latest IaaS MQ, which put Amazon off by itself in the upper right corner, the PaaS MQ (correctly, I think) indicates that nobody's really that far ahead in the PaaS market.

What's most interesting to me, though, is Gartner's decision to put Salesforce well ahead of Windows Azure. This perhaps stems directly from the MQ's stated focus: It's for enterprise PaaS applications. An MQ focused on ISV PaaS apps might well have put Windows Azure ahead of Force.com, while one balanced across enterprise and ISVs would likely have shown them neck and neck in the leader's quadrant.

For enterprises, though, the MQ's authors put substantial weight on the easy-to-use graphical tools that Force.com provides for building applications. Windows Azure PaaS is oriented toward lower-level development using C# or JavaScript or some other programming language. None of this is outside today's enterprise development world, of course, but these technologies do require a higher level of developer skill than Force.com. In Gartner's terminology, Windows Azure provides a high-control developer experience, while Force.com provides a high-productivity environment. ISVs are more likely to opt for control, which can make Windows Azure a more attractive choice for them.

As Gartner points out in the report, however, Microsoft also offers a direct competitor to Force.com with xRM. Available both in the cloud and on-premises with Dynamics CRM, xRM offers the same kind of graphical tools that the MQ's authors admire in Force.com. Yet for reasons I've never understood, Microsoft doesn't push xRM as a cloud platform. One likely path to improving Microsoft's position in this MQ is to change this, making clear that Microsoft offers a high-productivity environment alongside Azure's high-control approach.

In giving Salesforce the lead, Gartner puts a lower priority on the risks of cloud lock-in, an area where Windows Azure outshines the cloud-only Force.com. And the report only briefly mentions a benefit of Force.com that I'd argue has been critically important to its success: the ability of Force apps to easily use data that's already stored in the cloud. Once an organization buys into Salesforce.com CRM, as so many have, they're obliged to keep lots of interesting information in the cloud. If the organization then wants to build new enterprise applications that use this data, the obvious home for that new code is Force.com. Unlike the other vendors in this MQ, Salesforce's SaaS success drags its PaaS platform along with it.

A few more thoughts:
  • Putting Google as a challenger just outside the leader's quadrant must have been a tough call. Still, I think this is exactly right. App Engine is still too narrowly focused, especially for an enterprise-oriented MQ, to qualify as a leader today.
  • Some inconsistency seems unavoidable in putting together an analysis covering such a diverse market. For example, the report says that "The combined selling of Google Apps (SaaS) and Google Cloud Platform (IaaS and PaaS) is a promising business opportunity", listing this under Strengths for Google. For Microsoft, however, Gartner observes that "Spreading its efforts across a wide range of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS offerings dilutes focus", listing this as a Caution. Which is it? Is offering all three varieties of cloud service good or bad? The answer, I suppose, is that it depends on how well a company does it.
  • And finally, where is Amazon's Elastic Beanstalk? Perhaps it doesn't qualify as PaaS from Gartner's perspective (a view that I would dispute), or perhaps Amazon chose not to participate in the MQ. Whatever the situation, Amazon has historically been the best in the cloud industry at figuring out and quickly filling customer needs. The company's apparent lack of emphasis on PaaS says something interesting about its view of the prospects for this market.

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