The War Over Open Platform Services Is Just Getting Started

The "platform as a service" market—or PaaS, in which cloud companies provide developers with hardware, OS and software tools and libraries—is starting to heat up. IDC predicts it will $14 billion by 2014, and competitors are angling for enterprise wallets.

They're also bickering constantly on Twitter—most recently last weekend, when a tweet-fight broke out between Pivotal's Cloud Foundry and Red Hat's OpenShift over which of the two open-source platforms had more traction. The argument itself wasn't conclusive, since neither outfit has yet shown major headway in PaaS in the only way that matters, with revenue and customers.

But it's a big sign of things to come, as open-platform PaaS vendors make their play against the proprietary platforms that currently dominate the fast-growing PaaS space.

War Of The Words

There's a lot of money at stake in cloud computing, and PaaS is the fastest-growing segment of the market, according to 451 Research. PaaS enables developers to easily build their applications without worrying about underlying infrastructure, Forrester analyst James Staten writes.

While today the leading PaaS services come from Salesforce, Microsoft and, of course, Amazon, none of these vendors offer an open platform, which developers have historically preferred when they have a real alternative. Hence the sometimes collegial, sometimes fierce competition between OpenShift and Cloud Foundry. This weekend, things tended to the fierce side.

With a seemingly innocuous observation of OpenShift's apparent momentum relative to Cloud Foundry in Google web searches, cloud pundit Ben Kepes kicked a hornet's nest of debate:

What Ben showed was that whereas Cloud Foundry got an early jump on the PaaS market, OpenShift has been attracting a lot of interest lately.

The question is whether that interest will turn into cash. 

Show Me The Money

For Cloud Foundry vice president James Watters, the search traffic is immaterial. As he puts it, "[W]e could juice our numbers if we gave away PHP hosting too; we won't, our traction is high end." Previously he posted that "many of our customers are 8 figure sized deals." While great, this sort of clumpiness in revenue is also a potential problem, as Host Analytics CEO Dave Kellogg highlights

Still, cash is cash, and ultimately it is the customer, not Twitter wars, that will determine the winner in the open source PaaS market.

Red Hat's Krishnan Subramanian, however, counters that OpenShift has "many [more] public customers than [Cloud Foundry]," and insists that things like Google Trends data are relevant because "money comes into [the] picture at market share." In other words, cash follows market share.

Unfortunately, neither Red Hat nor Pivotal break out revenue for OpenShift or Cloud Foundry, respectively. So we're left to guess at their traction with customers.

Jobs Point To Customers

One way at getting at their relative growth with real customers, however, may be to look at jobs data. While still not as good as the actual revenue numbers, jobs suggest real companies investing real dollars in a particular platform. By this metric, Cloud Foundry dominates OpenShift in terms of absolute jobs:

But if we look at relative growth, the picture is very different:

(Note: The two graphs show different time scales because that's the way Indeed.com displayed them. Apologies in advance for any ambiguity.)

But even with jobs, take it with a grain of salt. After all, the relative job growth could simply indicate an almost non-existent base for OpenShift. Any growth on top of a minuscule base would show serious growth relative to Cloud Foundry with its early lead in the market.

What is clear is that the open PaaS market is nowhere near being settled. Expect plenty of Twitter chatter for the year to come as OpenShift and Cloud Foundry jockey for the most important metric of all: customer traction.  

Lede image courtesy of Shutterstock