Publication Date: 1 June 2009 ID Number: G00168152
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APaaS: A Step to a 'Killer App' for Cloud Computing?Yefim V. Natis, Eric Knipp
"Easy to learn and use application development environment, with runtime deployment of virtually unlimited scalability and reliability, at small or midsize business (SMB) technology prices" sounds too good to be true. However, it is one of the promises of the state-of-the-art cloud-computing environment. To most people, cloud computing is a hardware notion of computing off-premises or of improving operations in a data center; but the hard-to-combine business characteristics of application productivity, power, agility and low cost, offered by a state-of-the-art cloud application platform, may be a "killer app" for cloud computing, while the hardware arrangements may, in the long term, end up being only the means to a bigger goal.
• Successful cloud application platforms must support thousands of users to attain the cloud economy of scale, justify provider costs and reduce costs to users.
• To enable thousands of user organizations (tenants) to share a multitenant platform, while each organization uses customized application images, the leading providers typically encode and execute the application in model-driven metadata.
• The scale of investment and the scale of use that are attainable in a cloud-computing context can unite three otherwise conflicting characteristics of a software development environment: ease-of-use (productivity), power (high-end qualities of service) and SMB-affordable prices.
• SMBs should anticipate a growing use of cloud computing tools and solutions.
• Large organizations looking for fast return of software development investment should consider application-platform-as-a-service (APaaS) offerings as an emerging alternative.
• Independent software vendors (ISVs) and system integrators should become familiar with APaaS options in anticipation of growing demand for cloud-computing-style characteristics in RFPs.
• Software vendors investing in virtualization as a cloud-computing strategy should re-examine and extend their strategies to pursue a shared-everything, multitenant APaaS.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
Analysis ... 3
1.0 The Unique Constellation of Values ... 3
1.1 Highly Productive, Easy-to-Learn Development Environment That Delivers Easy-to-Change and Customize Applications... 3
1.2 Massive Scalability, Massive Amounts of Data, Enterprise-Class (and Beyond) Performance and Reliability ... 4
1.3 SMB-Level Pricing ... 5
2.0 Challenges... 6
2.1 Proprietary Programming Models and Lack of Standards ... 6
2.2 The Perceived Risks of Newness of the Cloud Computing Model... 6
2.3 Data Security Concerns... 6
2.4 Lack of Commitment From the Leading Software Vendors ... 6
2.5 The Limited Viability of Most Current Offerings... 6
2.6 Even the Best APaaS Applications Are Not Ready for Enterprise Computing . 7 2.7 Overcoming the Challenges ... 7
3.0 Market Implications... 7
4.0 Conclusions ... 8
Recommended Reading... 8
LIST OF FIGURES Figure 1. Gartner Reference Architecture for Multitenancy... 4
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1.0 The Unique Constellation of Values
"Highly productive, easy to learn and use development environment that delivers business applications that are customizable, changeable, capable of implementing serious business functionality and, when deployed, offered with massive scalability, high-end enterprise-class (and beyond) performance and reliability, supporting massive amounts of data, all at SMB prices." This describes a state-of-the-art cloud application platform, an APaaS (see "Cloud, SaaS, Hosting and Other Off-Premises Computing Models"). No single characteristic of such state-of-the-art APaaS is unique on its own, but the combination of all of them available in one package is
unprecedented and is only possible in the cloud.
1.1 Highly Productive, Easy-to-Learn Development Environment That
Delivers Easy-to-Change and Customize Applications
Cloud computing is based on the elasticity of resources (and costs) that is derived from the shared use of common pools of computing resources. To be viable, a cloud provider must have a large number of independent users of its pooled resources. To enable the many users (tenants) to coexist in this shared environment without interference, the platform must implement
multitenant isolation (see "Introducing SaaS-Enabled Application Platforms: Features, Roles and Futures"). The shared-everything model of elasticity and multitenancy is the most advanced cloud application architecture, enabling pooling of most underlying computing resources and fine-grained elasticity (see Figure 1, Note 1 and "Reference Architecture for Multitenancy: Enterprise Computing "in the Cloud"").
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Figure 1. Gartner Reference Architecture for Multitenancy
IV Shared Everything Tenant Tenant SEAP DP App. Infrastructure OS Enterprise Application Application Platform (AP) Inf. Op. System (OS) Data Platform (DP) II Shared Hardware (Elastic Virtualization) Tenant Tenant AP AP DP DP App. App. Infrastructure OS III Shared Process Tenant Tenant Service-Enabled AP (SEAP) DP DP App. Infrastructure OS V Custom Multitenancy Tenant Tenant AP DP App. Infrastructure OS I Isolated Tenancy Shared Nothing Tenant AP AP DP DP App. App. Inf./ OS Inf./ OS Tenant Multitenancy elasticity IV Shared Everything Tenant Tenant SEAP DP App. Infrastructure OS Enterprise Application Application Platform (AP) Inf. Op. System (OS) Data Platform (DP) II Shared Hardware (Elastic Virtualization) Tenant Tenant AP AP DP DP App. App. Infrastructure OS III Shared Process Tenant Tenant Service-Enabled AP (SEAP) DP DP App. Infrastructure OS V Custom Multitenancy Tenant Tenant AP DP App. Infrastructure OS I Isolated Tenancy Shared Nothing Tenant AP AP DP DP App. App. Inf./ OS Inf./ OS Tenant Multitenancy elasticity
Source: Gartner (June 2009)
Each independently operating tenant requires the ability to customize the application to its requirements. To support tenant-specific customization of applications, while retaining the shared underlying computing environment, the leading APaaS platforms encode the applications'
business logic as metadata. Tenants typically obtain the metadata encoding of the application business logic by using a model-driven design tooling. In this scenario, the execution of an application is a process of interpretation of metadata, not execution of precompiled binaries. Customizations (or design changes) in this environment are easy and unintrusive, because they require changes only to metadata encoding of business logic, not recompilation or reassembly of applications. Although the model-driven design and the metadata-driven execution typically force a new and proprietary programming model (until there emerges a standard), they produce an easy-to-learn, easy-to-use and easily customized/changed platform for application design, development, extension and maintenance.
The essential requirement for a cloud-based application is "only" the ability to customize the shared cloud-based application for each of the potential thousands of tenants. The preferred method for delivering that capability in APaaS is via metadata encoding of the application business logic, best achieved by using model-driven design tools — ultimately delivering a side effect of exceptional development and maintenance productivity and agility to the designed cloud-based business applications.
1.2 Massive Scalability, Massive Amounts of Data, Enterprise-Class (and
Beyond) Performance and Reliability
Although individual applications deployed in an APaaS environment may have small user bases, a successful APaaS environment must have thousands of tenants operating at the same time. A
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small number of tenants will not provide the sufficient economy of scale and sufficient degree of elasticity that are essential to a viable cloud offering. To support thousands of tenants and thousands of registered users, the provider must invest in a data center capacity of a massive scale and deploy state-of-the-art platform technologies. Indeed, cloud-style data centers of Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others have cost vendors billions of dollars. At the hardware level, these platforms use grids of thousands of servers and storage devices; and at the software level, they use extreme transaction processing (XTP)-style and other advanced one-of-a kind technologies, which are unique and important enough to these vendors to be highly guarded industrial secrets in many cases. This operational power is massive, achieved at massive costs to the providers and can be justified only by a cloud computing scale of use.
To support thousands of small and other tenants, the cloud providers are forced to establish platform technology environments capable of handling processing loads that exceed the largest mainframe-based traditional enterprise scenarios. The small tenants are thus offered the use of a platform that only the industry giants could achieve in the past.
1.3 SMB-Level Pricing
Few IT organizations or ISVs can individually afford the kind of platform technology that is, at the core, a viable cloud environment. In-the-cloud technology is developed to benefit any one
organization (it could hardly be cost-justified if there were only one organization using it), but also to serve thousands and more paying tenants (a community) all sharing the cost of the common underlying platform. As the result, individual tenants get the state-of-the art, highly scalable and reliable execution environment at a fraction of the cost, amounting to SMB-level prices. For most small, midsize and large organizations, APaaS (or APaaS-based applications) is the only realistic way to reach such levels of quality of service for their customers at affordable prices.
Cloud platform providers make the massive investment on behalf of potentially thousands of customers (tenants). As a consequence, even the smallest users get access to a state-of-the-art advanced computing platform that they could never afford on their own.
For most organizations of any size, a shared-everything, multitenant APaaS platform (and APaaS-based applications) is the only realistic way to achieve in one platform (or application) the unique combination of state-of-the-art in productivity, agility, power and performance at
manageable prices. To understand this, consider:
• The massive potential user base of an APaaS and its applications, and, consequently, an assured state-of-the-art, ultra-high-end execution environment
• The potential base of paying customers (tenants) shouldering the shared costs of such a platform
• The essential demand for application customization that, in a multitenant context, leads to metadata encoding and interpretation of the application business logic, which, in turn, leads to highly productive, model-driven development tooling
• The unique confluence of these characteristics when offering a shared-everything, multitenant APaaS platform
A shared-everything, multitenant APaaS platform available only in the cloud may thus become an irresistible offering for ISVs and IT organizations, compelling a large number of application ISVs and, consequently, large numbers of IT organizations, to move to the cloud, thus rendering such an APaaS a "killer app" for mainstream enterprise adoption of cloud computing.
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The APaaS platforms available today are not quite the state of the art described in this research, although the leaders are progressing in the right direction. There are many obstacles to
mainstream adoption of APaaS.
2.1 Proprietary Programming Models and Lack of Standards
The model-based programming environments of most APaaS are nonstandard (and no standard for such programming presently exists). Other APaaS offerings that are attempting to use established programming languages and programming models for customizable multitenant computing are forced to reduce and alter the standard environments, losing the standard in the process. Thus, the current APaaS offerings lead to exclusive vendor lock-in, a serious barrier for mainstream adoption. A transition from the now-established programming models to the next generation of model-driven style of programming will require a strategic endorsement and backing from the leading software vendors.
2.2 The Perceived Risks of Newness of the Cloud Computing Model
While some kinds of software-as-a-service (SaaS)-style applications are well-established in mainstream use, use of APaaS is new. Therefore, most users are cautious, evaluating the viability of APaaS, especially considering that the leading software vendors have not yet endorsed this model of cloud computing.
2.3 Data Security Concerns
Use of public cloud computing, whatever model is considered, for mainstream business applications is being delayed. This is because many organizations are concerned about the safety and security of their data. Thus, only the least-sensitive business applications are
considered for cloud deployment. CRM is the most popular SaaS application category, and is less data-sensitive than other categories, because it does not address financial transactions. Some ERP and banking cloud applications are emerging, but have not yet reached the mainstream levels of adoption.
2.4 Lack of Commitment From the Leading Software Vendors
The software industry giants have stayed away from the shared-everything, cloud multitenancy model. Instead, they are investing in the shared-hardware model, where elasticity occurs at the level of dynamically allocated virtual machines, while the platform stack above the virtual machine is the standard application server environment. Established software vendors and their users favor this approach, because it preserves their established business applications, tools and skills. Microsoft and other vendors likely will optimize the elasticity of the shared-hardware model to be competitive and, thus, will delay the emergence of a mainstream genuine shared-everything APaaS. However, pressured by the requirements of the SaaS market, the giants will be invested in delivering a genuine multitenant metadata-driven APaaS environment by 2012.
2.5 The Limited Viability of Most Current Offerings
As already discussed, the effect of cloud computing emerges in large-scale use scenarios. This makes it difficult for small startup companies to emerge and deliver a competitive APaaS environment.
Characteristically, the smaller APaaS innovators find their businesses are evolving to:
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• Offer their development platforms as products for on-premises use (rather than as a service)
• Engage in software development projects for customers (rather than just concentrate on software market)
• Offer SaaS style applications that utilize their platform technology (rather than just concentrate on the platform market)
None of these options ensures long-term viability for these vendors as platform providers, especially when a nonstandard programming model is taken into consideration. The APaaS market will not grow to its potential until there are several large vendors with sufficient funding, market presence and strategic commitments to cloud computing. This does not mean that only the large vendors can participate in the APaaS market. Many small application and technology providers will emerge as partners with the leading platform providers, and will build vertical and other specialized solutions for smaller markets, backed by the underlying horizontal platform of the core provider. However, a strategic commitment by industry leaders is essential to validate the market.
2.6 Even the Best APaaS Applications Are Not Ready for Enterprise
To be considered for enterprise-class systems, cloud application platforms must deliver reliable advanced levels of availability, manageability, security, data integrity, service-level agreement guarantees and functional completeness, including application integration, business process management, multichannel user experience, event processing, business intelligence, service-oriented architecture governance and other enterprise-required functionality.
2.7 Overcoming the Challenges
It will take three to five years for the industry to overcome these obstacles. Salesforce.com is the current enterprise leader in this market with its Force.com platform, but it cannot succeed alone. Competitors such as LongJump, Rollbase, Archer or Vertical Solutions are too small to deliver all the potential functionality of an APaaS-based application environment (see "Application
Infrastructure for Cloud Computing: An Emerging Market").
One or more giant technology vendors will have to join the APaaS market to make it a safe mainstream option and to give momentum to missing standards. Meanwhile, the more visionary users (ISVs and IT organizations) have an opportunity to differentiate and advance their
businesses through early use of this emerging category of platform technology with its unique new characteristics.
3.0 Market Implications
Even the most successful scenario of APaaS does not imply that all, or even most, enterprise computing will move to a cloud base in the planning horizon. However, the scenario indicates that for most IT organizations, the "new normal" will include a combination of on-premises and cloud-based software services. Integration of heterogeneous information and processing resources will remain a fundamental capability of viable business IT organizations.
IT market segments will adopt APaaS at different time frames and for different reasons. For example:
• Small businesses and ISVs targeting all-Web prospect bases (consumers or other potential massive audiences) are primary beneficiaries of the synergistic powers of an
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APaaS. Modest entry costs, high productivity and a short learning curve of an APaaS enable undercapitalized startup businesses to experiment and look for their market segment, while the high-end enterprise-class computing power and scale of such platforms ensure that they are prepared for success.
• Some traditional small businesses or ISVs, which target small employee and customer bases, will grow to enterprise-scale using an APaaS or APaaS-based cloud application with the technical scale-barrier no longer there.
• Most SMBs will not look to increase scale because the business nature of their offerings will not demand it. However, many of them will be attracted to the productivity of the APaaS design tools, as well as to the advanced levels of performance, availability and manageability typical of APaaS-based applications. Many SMBs will also like the ease of customizing the APaaS-based applications, and the business arrangement that is free of capital costs.
• The large IT organizations that have invested in established IT expertise and application platform capacity likely will be the last to adapt APaaS technology, because their IT environments already address the required levels of productivity and scale. Their interest in cloud computing is focused on the potential of reduced costs using the cloud system's infrastructure services (the shared-hardware and virtualization model), rather than concentrating on a new software architecture. However, most of the unique applications that the ISVs develop on APaaS platforms will be available exclusively in the cloud environment, and will ultimately draw most of the large organizations to APaaS.
• The large ISVs will be under pressure to match the productivity and agility of their smaller competitors using third-party APaaS, but likely will choose to acquire APaaS-enabling technologies (SaaS/cloud-enabled application platforms) to build their exclusive APaaS stacks.
Organizations turn to cloud computing for two fundamental reason: to save costs or to achieve unique results. In the end, many IT departments will turn to the cloud, not because it offers a better-functioning data center (although they will use some cloud innovations in their data
centers), but because it offers unique opportunities and services unavailable anywhere else, such as the unique constellation of capabilities supported by a shared-everything, multitenant APaaS. Additional research was provided by Mike Blechar, Anthony Bradley, Massimo Pezzini, Brian Prentice, David Mitchell Smith, Jess Thompson and Ray Valdes.
"Reference Architecture for Multitenancy: Enterprise Computing "in the Cloud"" "Three Levels of Elasticity for Cloud Computing Expand Provider Options" "On Apples, Oranges, Amazon and Google"
"Key Issues for Web and Cloud Application Development, 2009" "Application Infrastructure for Cloud Computing: An Emerging Market" "LongJump Reality Check: Product vs. Service in the Early Cloud Age"
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"Key Issues for Cloud-Enabled Application Infrastructure, 2009"
"Predicts 2009: Platforms and Integration Middleware Move Into the Cloud" "Cloud, SaaS, Hosting and Other Off-Premises Computing Models"
"Introducing SaaS-Enabled Application Platforms: Features, Roles and Futures" Note 1
Gartner Reference Architecture for Multitenancy
The Gartner reference architecture of multitenancy identifies the shared-hardware model of multitenancy as the model where elasticity of the cloud is derived from a shared pool of hardware via elastic virtualization. The reference architecture also identifies the main competing model of multitenancy as a shared-everything model, where the elasticity of the cloud is derived from sharing all application platform and database resources, thus allowing for fine-grained allocation and charging of computing resources.
This research is part of a set of related research pieces. See "The What, Why and When of Cloud Computing" for an overview.
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