Who Will Build the LAMP Cloud?

Zend Technologies, whose founders created the programming language PHP and subsequently touts itself as “the PHP company,” said Monday that it raised an additional $9 million. But while the press release offered little information as to the money’s intended use, it did contain a somewhat cryptic quote from its lead investor and board member, Moshe Mor of Greylock Partners (italics mine):

Today’s enterprises are looking to agile Web and Cloud-based technologies such as PHP to deliver business value better and faster…We believe that Zend’s leadership position in the PHP space enables the company to drive its solution to deeper adoption across a broad commercial audience in the U.S. and around the globe.

Since when is PHP a “cloud-based technology” (whatever that means)? I know Mor to be a smart guy, so I can only assume there’s more to his statement than meets the eye — and I believe it has to do with the LAMP stack.

Salesforce.com and VMware recently unveiled a Java-focused platform-as-a-service offering, VMForce.com. Meanwhile, Microsoft has Azure, a PaaS offering focused on the .Net stack, and startups Heroku and Engine Yard both deliver Ruby-on-Rails cloud platforms. But who’s going to offer a PaaS for LAMP?

One candidate is, of course, Zend, the commercial company behind PHP, the biggest P in LAMP. Zend is also the driving force behind the Simple Cloud API, which is intended to simplify integration between PHP applications and cloud services. But for Zend, which has operated under a typical open-source commercialization model by offering services, support and premium commercial licenses for on-premise installations, operating a cloud service is a whole new area of competency that requires an entirely new business model.

Google is another candidate. The search giant already has a PaaS offering, Google App Engine, that supports both Java and Python, another one of the Ps in LAMP. But until recently it’s been accused of being a lightweight offering that creates lock-in by forcing developers to use Google-specific programming models, such as with threading and data structure. In fact, because of this, Google’s platform lacked MySQL support, the M in LAMP. And although Google recently rolled out a version of its App Engine tweaked for the enterprise, including support for MySQL, the focus seems to be on Java, not on LAMP.

Heroku is another possibility, perhaps surprisingly given how much the startup is identified with the Ruby community. As Stacey noted in a post about its recent $10 million investment announcement:

“We don’t think the market is going to end up with a Ruby platform and a Java platform and a PHP platform,” Byron Sebastian, Heroku’s CEO, said to me in an interview. “People want to build enterprise apps, Twitter apps and to do what they want regardless of the language.” Sebastian said he sees the round as a huge validation for the Ruby language as a way to build cloud-based applications, but doesn’t want to tie Heroku too closely to Ruby. “The solution is going to be a cloud app platform, rather than as a specific language as a service,” Sebastian said.

I like Sebastian and the Heroku guys a lot, but my head’s still spinning from that ambivalent statement.

Even Microsoft has committed to supporting PHP and MySQL on its Azure platform, behind which there’s already an open-source project called PHPAzure. But the operating system is still Windows, so the Microsoft initiative does not qualify as a LAMP stack cloud.

Finally, Amazon can never be discarded as a significant player whenever it comes to cloud computing. As Derrick Harris has postulated, there’s a strong possibility that Amazon will come out with a PaaS offering. And if it does, a LAMP stack-focused platform makes a lot of sense, given that it already offers a MySQL database-as-a-service offering with its Amazon RDS service.

Then again, there could always be a startup hard at work building the LAMP Cloud. Do you know of anyone else? Would you want a PHP or LAMP platform as a service? Let us know in the comments.

Geva Perry writes the Thinking Out Cloud blog and advises startups and enterprises on cloud computing strategy and marketing. He’s @gevaperry on Twitter.

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