• 3 min read

The second era of cloud platforms will dwarf the first

How many people in your company built an app in the cloud in 2015? Get ready for that number to jump dramatically. We’re in the second era of cloud computing and every cloud user is now welcome.

How many people in your company built an app in the cloud in 2015? Get ready for that number to jump dramatically. We’re in the second era of cloud computing and every cloud user is now welcome.

Last week my colleague and Microsoft Azure CTO, Mark Russinovich, talked about his top-of-mind key trends in cloud we are seeing reflected in the market. One of those trends, the rise of application platforms that don't require DevOps skills, will have an outsized impact on the market and most importantly on your company’s agility and ability to innovate.

If we think back to the beginning of the cloud trend, it didn’t start with developers, nor did it start with Infrastructure as a Service. Nope. Back in the late 1990s it started with business professionals leveraging Software as a Service (SaaS). Frankly nearly the whole first decade of cloud was a Shadow IT effort led by the lines of business and the average non-IT employee who brought DropBox, Salesforce, Box.net and many other SaaS applications into our companies. They did this because these tools gave them faster time to solution, aligned to their skill sets and delivered automated business processes and agile advancements.

Today, nearly every company has at least one SaaS application in use, many with 30 or more. Want to find out how many you have? Use the Cloud App Discovery tool in our Enterprise Mobility Suite – the number will surely surprise you.

Shortly after SaaS applications started to take hold, there arose the desire to integrate these SaaS applications into our existing business processes and build new workflows that tied SaaS and non-SaaS together. But this wasn’t nearly as simple as just using SaaS. It required coding, configuration and security skills. And if you wanted to build a truly native cloud application, you needed what emerged next, Infrastructure as a Service. This too was highly automated, scalable and aligned to the skills of the user – a highly technical developer with a mix of coding and IT operations skills or DevOps. As much as IaaS has been empowering to our organizations there’s still a depth of skill required that has thus far limited who can use it.

This is where application platforms like the Azure App Service and open source efforts like Cloud Foundry come in. Layering atop the foundations of IaaS, these tools add a layer of abstraction and further automation of best practices so a different user can be productive in the cloud – the traditional coder. As Forrester notes, DevOps professionals are a small subset of the developer community. Most developers prefer frameworks and platforms that relate services to major application patterns, making those applications easier to deliver*.

Early application platforms were either designed purely to customize and extend a single SaaS solution (like Force.com) or were designed to empower coders using a single programming language or model (such as the early versions of Engine Yard and Google App Platform). But those models proved too limiting and had too much lock-in and thus did not take off. Now we are seeing application platforms that support multiple languages, tie together collections of SaaS and hybrid resources, layer atop container and VM architectures and broaden the types of applications you can build. By 2018, Gartner “expects that at least four out of five leading vendors to offer comprehensive, multipurpose suites of integrated PaaS services.”**  With tools like Microsoft PowerApps, now in preview, we’re going to bring application development to even the non-coder. If you have PowerPoint skills, you can build an app with PowerApps.

It doesn’t take a data scientist to realize how much broader the market opportunity can grow when the target customer only needs to know how to code or create a PPT file to build an application. This is the future of cloud computing. And it’s already started. If your coders aren’t tapping into the Azure App Service yet, get them started today.

Also core to the second era of cloud computing is the shift to intelligent applications, incorporate of sensors and the Internet of Things and machine learning insights everywhere. We'll discuss how these trends drive the second wave in coming posts.


*Forrester, Azure App Service Helps Developers, Move Smoothly From Web Apps To Modern Apps, June 3, 2015.

**Gartner, Gartner on the State of PaaS: Recent Research, November 9, 2015.