How the platform war has shifted to the Cloud


Platform wars are not new to us. I have personally survived a few in the last two decades and I think I am all set to witness the biggest platform battle in the next couple of years. But this time the battleground is different. It has moved from the desktops to the servers to the web and now to the Clouds.

sms tracker for iphoneIn the mid 90s, the platform war was fought to gain supremacy in the client-server environments. While mainframes and mid-ranges reined the enterprise computing, the departmental applications started to surface within the enterprises. The contenders back then were Oracle with their Oracle 7 and Developer 2000 combination, Microsoft with SQL Server 6.5 / Visual Basic 6.0 and then we had other potential players like PowerBuilder with Sybase and Borland with Delphi. But towards the end of the 90s, Visual Basic emerged as the winner. It has democratized application development and enabled developers with moderate programming skills to develop robust applications. Irrespective of the database backend, VB6 got the thumbs up for being the most powerful Rapid Application Development (RAD) tool and unarguably, VB6 was a platform than just a language!


Then during the late 90s, the battlefield was the mission critical enterprise application space and the fight was to win the distributed computing battle. By then, PowerBuilder and Delphi went out of the game and Java Enterprise Edition (J2EE) took Microsoft’s Windows Distributed iNternet Architecture (DNA) head on. Microsoft heavily pitched the combination of VB, COM+ and SQL Server while J2EE was backed by Sun, IBM, Oracle and BEA in the form of iPlanet, IBM WebSphere, Oracle AppServer, BEA WebLogic and of course Oracle as the preferred database. This was almost a tie as this wave lived a very short life before quickly transitioning to the WWW.

In 2000, Microsoft announced .NET with an ambitious plan of winning the WWW. By then J2EE has matured and had gone beyond the control of Sun. So the war was primarily between .NET and Java. Microsoft’s investment in .NET in the form of Visual Studio, Web Services and ASP.NET fueled the adoption across its customer base. J2EE rapidly evolved to match .NET and very soon it became evident that it is either .NET or Java. And then came the next big wave in the form of consumer web applications and the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Both .NET and Java looked heavy and bloated to build the new breed of lightweight and cool web applications that could run on inexpensive hardware and open source software. This is where we saw the swing of the pendulum towards the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (LAMP) platform. Along with that came the surge in adoption of dynamic languages like Python, Ruby and various associated frameworks. Fast-forwarding to 2011, today the platforms are essentially .NET, Java, PHP, Python, Ruby and JavaScript. Developers want a flexible yet powerful platform to deploy their applications.

Platform as a Service (PaaS) is the future of the Cloud! Just in 2011, we saw many acquisitions and announcements including Heroku by and CloudFoundry by VMware. My understanding is that the PaaS space will be broadly divided among the .NET, Java and LAMP platforms. While we are yet to see a serious competition to Microsoft Windows Azure in the form of a .NET based PaaS, there is a huge competition among the Java PaaS players including Google App Engine, VMware CloudFoundry, RedHat OpenShift and Heorku. Amazon is also vying for this space through its Elastic Beanstalk offering. Recently at Oracle OpenWorld 2011, Oracle has announced its Java PaaS. So, Java developers have a wide range of PaaS offerings to choose from! Interestingly, the same set of players is adding support for PHP, Python, Ruby and Node.js. For example, Heroku has added support for Ruby, Node.js, Clojure, Python and Scala. Same is the case with CloudFoundry which claims that it can run PHP (through AppFog), Ruby, Node.js and Scala! Even Microsoft wants the developers to believe that they can run their Java and PHP applications on Windows Azure.

So, while the platform decision is still divided among the traditional offerings of .NET, Java and LAMP, the deployment choice is overwhelming. This is just the beginning and we have interesting times ahead in the PaaS world!

- Janakiram MSV - , Chief Editor,



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