Engine Yard Goes Free(ish) and Talks Post Heroku Deal

Engine Yard is a Ruby PaaS offering that, ever since the Decemebr acquisition by salesforce.com of another PaaS Heroku, has been held up as the last-man-standing (at least when it comes to independent Ruby based PaaS providers). They recently introduced a free trial (as distinct from a freemium) strategy that allows users to get 500 hours of PaaS availability at no charge.

In light of the change, and having given a few months for the Heroku deal to settle in, I spent some time with Tom Mornini, CTO and co-founder and Mike Piech, vice president of product management and marketing from Engine Yard to get a general update and have a specific discussion about the free trial.

I started off by asking what the Heroku deal meant for Engine Yard – Mornini was very positive, saying that it really was a validation for the Ruby PaaS approach and has been net positive for EngineYard themselevs. I suggested that perhaps the free trial move was a way to lure some developers away from Heroku, in part due to the under-current of discontent at the acquisition. Mornini denied this – he was uick to differentiate Engine Yard’s free trial approach to the freemium approach of Heroku saying that they see Heroku as the “junk yard for applications” – that since it is free, developers just leave essentially dead applications in place because it is easier. in fact Mornini even quipped that Engine Yard previously referred to Heroku as their own trial account location, given that developers would try the Ruby PaaS concept for free on Heroku and then move to paid accounts with Engine Yard once the trial had been proven.

I then spent some time talking more about the developer ecosystem – Engine Yard are pretty damning of both Java and .NET, going so far as to say that they are both dead languages that will not survive the move to the cloud. I can’t say I agree with this contention – my friends at Expanz (among others) are doing some good work helping .NET applications (and developers) play in this brave new world.

Finally I asked what Engine Yard thought was the rationale behind the Heroku acquisition – if they were reluctant to criticize Heroku, they weren’t so reserved about force.com. Mornini suggested that the ApEx language specifically and force.com generally have been failures in the marketplace, used for little more than customization of salesforce itself. They also indicated some doubt as to how slaesforce would meaningfully integrate Heroku into what they’re currently doing – by way of proof they talked of some marketing messaging they had received as salesforce VCRM customers that was entirely ignorant of what Heroku really meant for salesforce.

In terms of the free trial – Engine Yard has done a good thing – I suspect this move will gain them significant customers and that will help build their credibility and mindshare going forwards.

7 Comments
  • Hey Ben,

    Tom is a smart guy & has built a great business with a widely-recognized name. Kudos for sure.

    That said, anyone who says that Java is dead is at best ill-informed & at worst… well, something less kind. I use Java, Rails, raw Ruby, Perl + PHP, so my biases are hopefully language-neutral.

    Java has been broadly adopted in thousands of enterprises over the past 15 years & has had billions poured into it in the form of both internal app development + infrastructure as well as in public-facing apps.

    These aren’t going away anytime soon, and in fact I’ve not seen a single move [yet] away from Java in any of the enterprises in which I’ve developed automation or infrastructure. And for the record, I’ve been inside lots. There are *some* moves, sure, but they’re neither large nor widespread.

    The opportunity for EY & Heroku+SFDC is in *new, greenfield* development, where there’s no legacy infra to charge-back, nor technical debt to pay down. Oh, and developer skills? Rails experience inside these shops is near-zero, adding talent recruitment or training costs to the leading edge of any of these projects. Switching is hugely costly.

    Summarizing, there’s a place for Heroku+SFDC & maybe even EngineYard staying indie, but to suggest either will grow in the near term as a result of shops switching from Java is fantasy.

    • John, thanks for the thoughts…

    • Hey John, thanks for the kudos, and also the feedback.

      I don’t believe I suggested that Java was going anywhere, but it’s certainly possible I used the term “dead,” which is clearly loaded.

      Old technology essentially never leaves the enterprise. Pretty much every company that ever owned a mainframe *still* has one (or more!).

      80% of IT budgets are spent keeping the lights on, so yes, you’re 100% correct, Java is going nowhere.

      Including, it would seem, into the cloud. I wouldn’t have predicted this myself, but the market is speaking loudly: have any Java PaaS offerings received any traction at all?

      So, yes, we agree that Ruby on Rails’ opportunity lies in new, greenfield development, not in replacing legacy Java infrastructure.

      • Thanks, Tom.

        The only mainstream Java PaaS that I know of is Amazon’s Elastic Beanstalk, tho I did speak to an entrepreneur recently who was talking ‘Java PaaS’.

        I don’t personally know of any enterprises looking at Amazon Beanstalk yet (it’s only Tomcat iirc), but if they add Weblogic or Websphere to the mix, that could be suddenly attractive to lots of shops w/ apps that are highly targeted to those two app servers.

  • Interesting article Ben – my thoughts are that Salesforce / Force.com really needed an open language which would drive adoption of Force.com : as Tom mentions in your interview, the barrier to entry and vendor lock-in from using proprietary ApEx language put Force.com on the back foot as a generic (eg non-CRM-enhancing) application platform. If they execute well with the Heroku offering then Force.com would look very different next year. Imagine the power and extensibility of Rails PLUS all the visual developer experience and preconfigured objects which come with Force.com.

    Also, in terms of Java PaaS: obviously there’s Google App Engine out there currently but is anyone really using it?

  • VMWare recently launched their PaaS offering CloudFoundry which is quite interesting. It supports both Java and Ruby. It has decent tooling built on Eclipse. Some thing to look out for in the Java PaaS space in the coming months.

    -Arul

    • Thanks, Arul.

      The CloudFoundry stuff from VMWare does look pretty interesting, especially the Eclipse piece. Enterprise java folks know that & are comfortable w/ it (good or bad, that’s the case).

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