While smaller providers have largely figured out how to architect their services, operations takes skill and money. "Operating PaaS at scale and [at] the price points being set is incredibly difficult, and it takes an unbelievable amount of resources," he said.
As an example, Roth said he has a five-person team just to handle security, and his service doesn't even have the kinds of certifications that Amazon, the largest IaaS provider, has. In addition, operating such services requires kernel engineers, Java virtual machine engineers, people who can optimize storage, and many other types of skilled workers.
He expects that the traditional IT vendors just getting into the market will be able to buy their way in by purchasing small operators, or quickly build the technology they need internally.
Big IT vendors have the engineering resources for that type of work. HP, for instance, already has 70 or 80 people just working on contributions to the OpenStack cloud platform, said Patrick Scaglia, HP vice president and CTO of cloud services and applications.
DotCloud is a small provider of PaaS services, and Hykes agreed it is a "big company game."
"But there are two ways to become a big company: You can get bought or grow into one," he said.
An Oracle executive who spoke at the conference seemed to bear out some of the comments made by the startup providers. Rick Schultz, vice president of Oracle technology product marketing, indicated that his company is committed to its cloud service offerings. But he also emphasized that Oracle's software is widely used in cloud offerings from other providers, in what sounded like a defensive strategy for protecting its traditional business.
He was also questioned repeatedly by people in the audience who seemed skeptical about how serious Oracle is about its forthcoming cloud offerings. Oracle CEO Larry Ellison once derided the cloud concept as "nonsense," but Oracle now plans to offer its own PaaS service. Schultz called the decision to launch the service an evolution of Oracle's strategy to sell products that other companies use to build cloud services.
"It's a matter of separating the buzz word of 'cloud' from the realities of the cloud," he said. "What we've tried to do is work with customers to provide them with a road map."
According to surveys Oracle has conducted, 40 percent of its customers have built private clouds and a further 10 percent are planning to do so. Twenty percent are using public clouds, almost double the percentage a year ago, he said.
Ultimately, both small and large PaaS providers face challenges, Engine Yard's Dillon said. Traditional vendors will offer services with one foot in the new world and one in the old, he said. They are saying to themselves, "I'm going to take my old stuff and try to make it fit so it doesn't disrupt my world completely," according to Dillon. But at the same time, startups are struggling with how to scale to meet the demands of larger customers.
"It's a really big market. Lots of people will survive," he predicted.
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