Game-changer

AppFog’s acquisition of Nodester: polyglot PaaS the future?

Chris Mayer
AppFog-Node1

We talk to Appfog CEO Lucas Carlson about his company’s ascension to the PaaS top table, and their latest acquisition of Nodester

It’s fair to say that the platform-as-a-service market is
heating up. From huge open-source juggernauts like Red Hat to
younger startups on the up, it seems that all the hype might just
be amounting to something.

You also can’t fail to notice just how crowded the market has
become so quickly. To truly stand out, companies have had fine-tune
their pitches to developers and offer something unique. Not a day
goes by without someone announcing new to their conveyor belt of
products.

But one company truly striking out on their own (which we at
JAXenter have eagerly been following over the past few months) is
Portland’s infrastructure agnostic and polyglot-preaching AppFog, currently riding
the crest of the PaaS wave.

Originally starting life off as PHP Fog, founder Lucas Carlson led
the burgeoning PaaS down other avenues after initial success with a
pure PHP PaaS. Seeing an opportunity to expand into other languages
as part of the package, Carlson realised the potential and the
pitfalls of the polyglot approach.

“We ran some funding ($9.8m in two rounds),” he says, “and with
that funding we were able to expand our vision, to move from just
PHP to deal with multiple languages. The problem with that up front
was we didn’t want to give a bad experience on so many
languages.

“We don’t want polyglot PaaS to be the bare minimum PaaS for every
language. We want it to be the best Java, the best Node, the best
PHP Paas there is.”

When asked why they were heading down this route, when some vendors
opt for one language, Carlson said that whilst PaaS has been around
for while, the biggest problem is that it hasn’t yet tackled a
polyglot approach head on.

“The problem polyglot solves uniquely is one that enterprises have
a crisis today with. These enterprises are scaling and managing
sometimes 1,000 developers and you need something that supplies a
standard interface across the development platforms and
technologies,” he said.

The relationship with VMware’s in-beta platform Cloud Foundry
provides the key here, since it follows an interesting trend
in the PaaS market of co-opetition between competitors. The
decision to hook up to Cloud Foundry a year ago, enabled them to
utilise a universal API, with the hope of spanning across a
plethora of infrastructure environments such as Rackspace and
Microsoft Azure. AppFog effectively becomes the middle-man for
enterprises, simplifying what can often be an arduous task.

It’s a very savvy move, allowing AppFog’s distinctive platform to
permeate the community already invested with Cloud Foundry but also
reiterates their desire to offer the user as much choice as
possible, whilst reducing complexity at the same time. AppFog are
also keen committers to Cloud Foundry, being an active contributor
to the codebase.

Carlson told us that Cloud Foundry’s vision struck a chord with
their company “The thing with Cloud Foundry that was very, very
unique was that it approached it from the open source perspective
so that there would be support for multiple languages. But instead
of having to build up the support yourself every time and having
expertise and the operational knowledge to run that, the people in
the community would build it.

“For example, a day after they released Cloud Foundry, there was a
pull request for Erlang, and now they had Erlang supported. Nobody
had done Erlang-as-a-Service until Cloud Foundry and it helped me
decide that this was the right tool worth moving forward
with.”

Community building is certainly a big deal with AppFog as they try
and create as many bridges as possible. Just this week,
the company announced they had purchased Nodester
,
the most recognised PaaS for the Node.js community.

Carlson said that AppFog and Nodester had developed “an instant
bond”:

“Nodester also spent two years forming a deep relationship with
the Node community and has been adding depth and breadth to our
support at AppFog,” he said. “On the depth side, it adds more
technology, getting some of the missing components like Websocket
support and on the breadth side, it adds a large community into the
AppFog ecosystem and helps us push forward.”

Node.js seems to be the
darling of the wider industry at the moment. The hugely popular and
highly scalable server side language hasn’t taken long to become
one of the premier choices when writing a next-gen web
application.

Carlson believes the reason for this is simple: “Everyone knows
JavaScript. Even the people who know CSS and Flash know it. Even
the ones that know Java know JavaScript and so on. It’s lingua
franca. We go back to the problem of enterprises. Perhaps half of
them know Java and half know PHP. All know Node.”

For AppFog, it ticks another box in their continuing quest for
polyglot supremacy and strikes us as a no-brainer to purchase a
company on the rise. For Nodester users, it opens the door to Ruby
and Java within one platform. The acquisition also brings Websocket
and Node 0.8 support to AppFog – an absolute must for any developer
looking to create mobile and modern web apps. It’s just another
string to AppFog’s bow, but one of the biggest additions yet.

But Carlson understands the challenges that lie ahead for AppFog
and PaaS in general, namely vendor lock-in:

“Developers loves PaaS – that’s been the drive, the adoption factor
and the only way it’s been maturing. CTOs and CIOs within
enterprises don’t care or want to know about it and there’s a good
reason for that. It’s not that they don’t want what AppFog has
built, it’s because PaaS has come to mean more vendor lock-in. The
problem for a CIO or CTO is that they’ve got 5 to 10 datacenters
where code runs. To them, what PaaS has meant so far, oh great
here’s another locked in datacenter.

“I think that’s the big open question – is PaaS is going to evolve
or is there going to be a next-generation technology?”

Carlson isn’t the only one asking that, and we’re liable to agree
with the latter. PaaS’s biggest problem is the definition often
cast onto it by some who don’t believe it’s worthy. Perhaps a
makeover is needed? Either way, AppFog seem to be leading the way
towards the next-generation of PaaS.

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