PaaS Ecosystems–AppFog Unveils an Add-On Program. How Much on a PaaS Should be Core Functionality?

A growing theme amongst PaaS players is to develop an add-on program to give users of their platforms the ability to acquire and provision third party services that are already integrated with the core development environment. It’s a trend that Heroku for instance has followed for years – it allows the platform provider to offer richer functionality than just the core platform itself, and results in developers viewing the platform as more complete. Latest to join with this trend is AppFog which is announcing a new portal to allow the purchase of services from third party vendors.

Through this program, PHP Fog, AppFog’s PHP platform service, will provision the different accounts purchased by developers through a single interface and display partner information for the customer to make it easier to integrate additional functionality from third-party services into the applications built upon the AppFog platform. With this initial launch AppFog is being joined by MongoLab and New Relic.

In pitching the initiative, CEO of AppFog, Lucas Carlson says that;

Our goal is to provide the best, most comprehensive user experience for developers. We are partnering with a number of industry-leading ecosystem offerings through this new program, and expect the program to significantly increase the options available through the AppFog interface for developers.

Which got me thinking about just how much functionality a PaaS should provide for users natively. This thought was furthered at the recent CloudBeat conference when Abhinav Keswani, CTO for intelligence gathering service MarketScout presented about his experience building products on Heroku. In his presentation, Keswani talked of the immense value that a PaaS brings to developers, continuing the theme that Byron Sebastien, GM of Heroku articulated in a fireside chat I had with him (see video at end), that of developers being able to forget about servers. Keswani did however briefly touch on the fact that NewRelic, as a monitoring service for applications, could well be regarded as a core function for a platform. And yet, in both the case of Heroku and AppFog, it is a third party add-on which users need to pay extra for.

I wanted to take a dive into Keswani’s comments, and so did some investigation. As it turns out on Heroku’s add-on program there is a free version of NewRelic that offers some basic application monitoring functions at no charge. As far as that goes I have to disagree with Keswani’s perspective, it’s a standard approach towards freemium and so long as Herou users can get a reasonable degree of monitoring as part of the platform, they should be happy right?

Well here’s where it gets a little interesting – for anyone who wants the full version of NewRelic’s monitoring, troubleshooting and optimization toolkit, the cost is 6 cents per hour. Not much, but then bear in mind that the actually Heroku platform only costs 5 cents per hour. Here’s a situation where the monitoring and management of a platform costs more than the actual platform itself – that’s kind of bizarre when you think about it. I put this to Sebastian who gave a very ell reasoned argument;

This is a debate you find with any platform throughout history in our industry, and the short answer is that there’s no short easy answer to what should be in a core platform vs. what should be available in the ecosystem. The market decides.

Unfortunately in the past it has often been too cumbersome to use a third party service with a platform, and so basically customers have wanted more and more to come “baked in” to the platform because the alternative was endless integration and cobbling together of solutions.

We set out to solve that issue with our Add-on System. The add-on system provides an elegant and low-friction way for third party providers of services to deliver value to developers without breaking the overall developer experience. Heroku add-on services are all seamless integrated into our platform. This means that when developers want a third-party service, they don’t have to put up with spending countless hours or days trying to get those services to work.

The market will still decide what services they expect to see from Heroku versus from third party providers, but we feel we’ve taken significant steps to make sure that third party add-on providers are able to really shine at those services they excel at.

Anyway – swinging back to AppFog, it’s good to see them building out the platform via third party offerings. In the race for momentum this sort of deal is going to continue apace.

11:25-11:45am Fireside Chat: Byron Sebastian from Venturebeat on Vimeo.