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How ActiveState’s Stackato Private PaaS Enables Agility in Enterprises

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Editor’s note: Stackato private-PaaS technology from ActiveState enables enterprises to accelerate aligning development, deployment, staging and production teams to focus on what’s most important: their own innovation. In this interview, Bart Copeland, ActiveState Software’s president and CEO, explains how Stackato empowers DevOps in the enterprise. He also discusses the cloud’s future and clears up some common misunderstandings about the cloud. 

SandHill.com: What comments has your company heard from existing and potential customers over the past 12-18 months about their needs for cloud services? 

Bart Copeland: Our enterprise customers need to empower DevOps in the enterprise. Their comments tend to skew by functional role. Developers want to be able to code in the language that’s right for them and to be able to deploy faster and more reliably (without rework). IT leads want control — to be able to scale their clouds (whether public, private or hybrid) without sacrificing management oversight. And CIOs want the ROI from the productivity gains that the cloud can deliver. 

Most often, our enterprise customers want to deploy faster; and Stackato delivers that, reducing deployment cycles from months or weeks to just minutes. But that just gets Stackato in the door. 

Our customers recognize Stackato’s management, security and polyglot benefits. For instance, global marketing-as-a-service company ExactTarget purchased Stackato to accelerate deployment cycles. In a corporate culture built on creativity, ExactTarget now deploys 10, 20 and even 30 times as many applications with Stackato in the time it used to take to deploy just one. ExactTarget now uses Stackato to power its innovative Interactive Marketing Hub. 

SandHill.com: One of your company’s blog posts says a private PaaS is a critical component of any cloud and is the only way to realize the full potential of cloud infrastructure. Please explain how a private PaaS helps companies. 

Bart Copeland: Virtualization promises efficiency, convenience, and most attractively, the potential of limitless resources. Enterprises can scale to their hearts’ content (or at least to the extent budgets allow), deploying into an abstracted (and seemingly unbounded) virtual environment. 

The challenge is in IT management. The DevOps lead — let’s call him “Ned” — no longer has to concern himself with provisioning hardware. But all that virtual real estate introduces a new administrative headache: Ned has to manage all that scaled space and, in particular, the gazillion new apps and pieces of data his developers have moved into the cloud. And unlike his cloud, Ned doesn’t scale! 

Stackato private-PaaS technology delivers on the promise of cloud. Its Web-based management tools enable Ned to administer applications and data across his cloud (or clouds), all via a unified GUI. In that sense, Ned’s cloud management bandwidth can scale along with his VMs (with no painful stretching required!). 

The agile enterprise must ensure its infrastructure supports the speed of its organizational creativity. 

SandHill.com: How does the the ActiveState PaaS solution differ from other competitors in the market? 

Bart Copeland: Stackato is not a service delivery vehicle (like say, Heroku). It’s a software solution sold to enterprises and/or delivered via service partners. It differs from competitor offerings in several key ways.   

First, it’s polyglot and offers the broadest language support of any PaaS technology in the market, which means that enterprise developers can work in the language or framework (e.g., Java, Perl, Python, Ruby, PHP, etc.) that’s right for their business. 

Second, it’s far easier to set up, deploy and manage than competing (and more complex) PaaS offerings. Third, Stackato comes with enterprise-grade commercial support. 

Finally, Stackato has ActiveState behind it: We know enterprise DevOps, and have been selling to the enterprise for 16 years. We’re not a startup, and we’re not a one-trick pony. We’re a profitable company able to invest in producing the right technology for our enterprise customers. 

SandHill.com: Please describe the benefits an ActiveState customer realized from your company’s products other than cost savings. 

Bart Copeland: Mozilla wanted flexibility in scaling and is rolling out Stackato worldwide to power its private-cloud Web applications. Mozilla selected Stackato in part for its Python support but also because Mozilla engineers were able to get Stackato up and running — in production — in a matter of a few hours. And that was after spending weeks fruitlessly trying to install a competitor’s PaaS platform. 

Another example is HP, which became a Stackato customer a year ago and is now a partner. With Stackato, the HP DevEx team saw deployment cycle times reduced from weeks to minutes (and that’s not an exaggeration). Making deployment so dynamic means that HP can deploy “off-calendar.” One key impact: the capability to fail fast lowers the cost of mistakes. 

HP was impressed enough with Stackato to put its own name on it — the coming-soon HP Cloud Application PaaS will be a white-label OEM version of Stackato. As part of its partner due diligence, HP stakeholders evaluated every PaaS technology out there. And they chose Stackato. 

SandHill.com: Is there currently something about cloud computing that companies still misunderstand? If so, please explain. 

Bart Copeland: Not all enterprises misunderstand the cloud. There are plenty of pioneers out there that “get it,” that truly grok both the business value and the business impact of cloud computing. 

However, some enterprises — perhaps seduced by marketing hype — commit to the cloud without recognizing the costs associated with potential vendor lock-in. Flexibility and portability are key value propositions for PaaS. And enterprises that don’t consider those values can get locked in to infrastructure that dictates a development framework that constrains future coding capabilities. 

Similarly, some enterprises (particularly multinationals) overlook regulatory compliance risk. No company should move to a public cloud without considering the impact of pushing proprietary data to a public host, especially if that public host must be situated within a specific geographic boundary (say, to serve a subsidiary). 

Some eager enterprises rush headlong (and “foolhardily”) to the cloud. But then there’s the opposite problem. For some companies, ennui, groupthink and a systemic fear of change can paralyze decision making and delay the shift to the cloud. To be clear, implementing cloud computing in the enterprise will impact workflow and require vision, foresight and commitment from developers, DevOps management, and the C-suite. 

The cloud — and especially PaaS — is transformational, and status-quo-loving enterprises that take a “wait-and-see” approach will be left behind by more nimble cloud-empowered competitors. 

SandHill.com: What do you believe will be the biggest changes in cloud over the next two years? And how will that impact the vendor landscape? 

Bart Copeland: The biggest change in cloud won’t be in the cloud! It will be in the enterprise, as development and operations blend and the DevOps role shifts from a reactionary utility to a strategic leadership function. 

In his enlightening book “The Phoenix Project,” author Gene Kim presents a compelling (and novelized) case for applying conceptual Lean manufacturing principles to enterprise IT operations. In one section of the book, multiple teams benefit when DevOps standardizes development, testing and production environments. 

PaaS easily enables that standardization capability, effectively sneaking QA upstream in enterprise development workflows, all while providing comprehensive cloud-management visibility. With an optimized (and proactive) IT operations model, enterprise DevOps shifts from firefighting to strategic leadership. 

In the cloud market space, look for IaaS companies to extend their focus up the value chain and integrate PaaS technologies. That will help those infrastructure providers stave off commoditization and differentiate their service offerings. 

ActiveState is a collaborator in the 2013 Future of Cloud survey, sponsored by North Bridge Venture Partners, 451 Research and GigaOM.

Click here to take the survey and share your input on shaping the future of cloud computing. 

As ActiveState Software’s president and CEO since 2006, Bart Copeland brings more than 23 years of management, finance and technology business leadership to his role. Bart focuses on Stackato, ActiveState’s private platform-as-a-service (PaaS) technology. Bart views PaaS as an enabler to accelerate cloud adoption and deliver value in enterprises and is actively involved in Stackato strategy, business development and evangelism. Bart is an active angel investor and serves as a director in several tech companies. 

Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor of SandHill.com

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