Is multi-language PaaS really better? Not necessarily

Apprenda CEO Sinclair Schuller

Among platform as a service vendors, the race is on to embrace as many programming languages as possible. Microsoft(s msft) Azure, VMware’s(s vmw) Cloud Foundry and’s(s crm) Heroku all proudly claim language (and framework) agnosticism.
But that isn’t necessarily a good thing, argues Sinclair Schuller, CEO of Apprenda, a PaaS vendor that has taken a distinctly different approach. Clifton Park, N.Y.-based Apprenda has chosen to fully embrace — and exploit — the Microsoft-centric .NET world, not the rest of the programming universe. Boiled down, his view is that any PaaS that professes to be a jack of all trades is truly a master of none. He said:

“On the surface, it sounds utopian to say one platform covers everything. But we find it doesn’t work. If you’re trying to bridge lots of stacks with CloudFoundry or whatever, you have to focus on the common value across all of them and let’s face it, Java, .NET, Ruby, PHP, are all very different from each other.”

Apprenda has some big-name customers, including Diebold(s DBD) and Honeywell(s HON), building private PaaSes with its tool. “What typically happens is when a customer goes to implement a PaaS, as soon as their different [in-house] stacks deviate, there’s a problem. If 50 percent of their apps are .NET, a specialized .NET PaaS can exploit those apps fully while a multi-language PaaS cannot,” said Schuller.
While Apprenda is fighting the crowd, it’s not totally alone. Cloudbees proudly declares its focus on Java/JVM-based applications.
A Java-focused PaaS will better suit a customer’s native Java applications and features, said Cloudbee’s CEO Sacha Labourey via email.  And then there’s the service component of the PaaS. Labourey wrote:

“By using a PaaS, you are not just outsourcing the entire management and monitoring of your stack to a third-party provider, this vendor also becomes your place to go whenever you need help in understanding what’s going wrong with your application, why your transactions are failing, why some strange exceptions are showing-up, etc.”

To be credible, the PaaS vendor needs deep expertise in that customer’s preferred language and framework — a PHP or .NET expert won’t be much help troubleshooting a Java issue.  “Today, I know of very few companies that have the depth to help customers understand very hard problems, on all possible languages. The bottom line is that a number of polyglot PaaS solutions out there are more akin to dignified generic hosting solution than a real ally through the ups and downs of your application lifecycle, ” Labourey added.
Apprenda’s Schuller probably couldn’t agree more. He said his customers — like most businesses — run a ton of Windows applications. Apprenda’s appeal to them is that it can put those on-premises applications into the SaaS realm because of its Windows DNA.
If you forced him to choose a second language to support, it would probably be Java, he acknowledged. “But our goal is to focus on Microsoft and Azure and just be really great at that.”
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user Jian Awe