Platform-as-a-service provides a development environment in the cloud. Both Google and Microsoft supply PaaS, and as heavyweights, they dominate a lot of the discussion.
But there have been two surprises over the past year. One is that VMware, a company that makes only proprietary products, could field a platform-as-a-service, Cloud Foundry, declare it open source, and developers would flock to it. The other surprise is that Red Hat could supply its own OpenShift PaaS and make it competitive with Cloud Foundry.
Both Cloud Foundry and OpenShift.com are open source code; Red Hat made OpenShift Origin an open source project in April. Both OpenShift and Cloud Foundry can serve as a hosting service for resulting applications. They can also be duplicated on premises--a boon to companies that wish to develop for both their own data centers and the public cloud.
[ Want to learn how Red Hat built upon an acquisition, Makara, to produce OpenShift? See Red Hat Cloud Platform Challenges VMware, Microsoft. ]
But Red Hat OpenShift is distinguished from Cloud Foundry in its ability to support Java Enterprise Edition 6. Cloud Foundry has focused more on the lightweight Java users connected to its Spring Framework, and Spring isn't a development environment that supports the more complex Enterprise Edition of Java.
Consequently, OpenShift supports a feature of Java Enterprise Edition 6: context dependency injection (the selection of a component at runtime rather than in a pre-runtime, compile phase). Cloud Foundry does not. CDI allows developers to delay specifying which version of a plug-in runs with the program until the moment it's needed, then the program automatically solicits the latest version from a secure website, loads it, and uses it.
CDI is one of those complicated features for which Enterprise Edition is famous. It's also a feature that developers like.
"We were the first to put Java Enterprise Edition into the cloud, and people want EE," said Issac Roth, known as the PaaS master at Red Hat. During the Red Hat Summit going on this week in Boston, Red Hat announced Tuesday a business model where it will start charging for use of the advanced version, dubbed MegaShift, due out by the end of the year.
Building out a private cloud has become a key initiative among Red Hat customers, and some of them will want the increased capacity of MegaShift to run up to 16 "gears," or the combined server/disk/networking units that Red Hat uses as a measure of an OpenShift implementation. There are both small and medium-sized gears, which may be scaled out in clusters of up to 16 gear nodes. Red Hat will charge a $42 per month subscription fee for MegaShift, plus a still unstated charge per "gear hour."
In addition, there will continue to be a free version, FreeShift, able to use up to three small gears, limited to 1 GB of storage each. The version is not supported by Red Hat, but users frequently turn to community support to resolve issues. In effect, existing users of OpenShift will become FreeShift users, with the same access to languages, language frameworks, and autoscaling of applications, according to Roth.
Because a free version with three gears still exists, the first three gears of the upcoming MegaShift version are free. The pricing on MegaShift includes technical support from Red Hat, while FreeShift users will have to rely on forums and other forms of community support. FreeShift and MegaShift can be run on OpenShift.com, a Red Hat sponsored site running on Amazon Web Services EC2.
An enterprise version of MegaShift for on-premises IT operations is coming soon, according to Roth. It will give IT the ability to run VMware or Red Hat KVM virtual machines as part of the OpenShift environment. It will be followed late this year by a DevOps version that will allow developers to self-provision Megashift in those virtual environments as well. OpenShift was launched by Red Hat in May 2011 in a developer preview. The project that produces the code is OpenShift Origin. Origin code may be downloaded to run on-premises, but it is not supported by Red Hat.
Roth said Red Hat does not give out figures on the number of users of OpenShift, but claimed they numbered in "the tens of thousands." A chart accompanying one of his blogs about OpenShift climbs above four units of measure that are not delineated. By interpreting his comments in connection with the chart, it might indicate about 43,000 adopters.
Roth allowed himself a parting shot at VMware and Cloud Foundry: "A company whose business model relies on higher price points, proprietary code, closed APIs, and expensive sales engagements may have trouble adapting to an open cloud strategy."
But VMware has stated it will keep its Cloud Foundry approach open as well. The fact that two competitors for developer loyalties are taking the open PaaS route should be encouraging to the growing body of developers who are turning to the cloud to produce software.
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