A couple of weeks ago, Alex Williams asked on the ReadWriteCloud weekly poll what people thought were the "worst terms" in cloud computing. The results were inconclusive. Or rather, there are a number of terms we dislike.

"Cloud-in-a-box," "cloudstorming," and "cloudburst" led the pack with the most votes, the latter two suggesting that we may be tiring of weather metaphors in cloud marketing.

But one of the terms that has recently been on the receiving end of criticism didn't make it onto Alex's list: platform-as-a-service. Or even just "platform."

What is a Platform?

Investor Brad Feld penned a rant about the term, noting that "platform" is becoming a buzzword bandied about without much concern for meaning. Feld writes, "In my little corner of the world, the word "platform" is a lot more precious. There are very few platforms. You aren't a platform until you have a zillion users (well, at least 100 million). Until then, feel free to call yourself a "junior platform" or an "aspiring platform." Or, call yourself an "application", which is what you most likely are."

By extension, Gartner Research Fellow David Smith has also railed against the term platform-as-a-service, asking "Is PaaS passe yet?" "What really put me over the edge," he says, "was a conversation about another vendor's offering of "PaaS as a Product". To me this is as absurd as General Motors, who builds cars that can be used as taxis (and could be called 'car as a service' (or CaaS)) referring to their cars as "CaaS as a car" or "CaaS as a product". Pretty absurd isn't it? That's just the beginning of the absurdity that the PaaS term leads to."

Smith questions both the "service" and the "platform" portions of the term, arguing in the first case, that most often PaaS offerings are "cloud enabling products," not services.

Everything's a Platform?

In the case of platform, Smith writes, "Platform refers to an extensible entity, something that is built upon. It resides on top of infrastructure and below applications (also relative terms). At Gartner, we have referred to all of the levels (not just "PaaS") as types of web/cloud platforms. After all, don't many of us also refer to Amazon as an IaaS platform when we are talking about building on top of it? What if what we are building a "PaaS" on top of it? What would we call that? a PaaS Platform? Here we go getting absurd again." He suggests that for many of the products that are labeled as PaaS, a better description might be "middleware for the cloud."

Of course, at some point, we will probably wear out the anything-as-a-service (which makes a rather fitting acronym, I'd say) phrase. But in the meantime how do you define platform and platform-as-a-service? And does it matter that there's so much annoyance - and confusion - at the term?

Photo credits: KISS lead singer Paul Stanley's platform shoes, plus duct tape. Photograph by Gil Kaufman, via Boing Boing