The distinction between an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform and a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) platform used to be clear and consistent.

You would deploy services on an IaaS that you would otherwise deploy on your own servers, whereas you would produce custom applications to be run from a PaaS.

In recent months, that distinction has grown fuzzier, especially with enterprises deploying OpenStack-based hybrid cloud platforms that include language interpreters. 

In a clear effort to sew up customers’ options into a single brand yesterday, Red Hat announced its intention to “integrate” its cloud infrastructure and its cloud application platform into a single Cloud Suite for Applications, beginning with an early access program for first adopters.

A Recurring Pattern

What would such an integration consist of, besides virtual shrink-wrap and rubber bands for bundling interlocking products together? Would it be the type of bundling Microsoft used to get in trouble for?

Red Hat answered that little question today at the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver, with the announcement of a new edition of its CloudForms cloud platform management service.

As Red Hat’s general manager for cloud management, Joe Fitzgerald, told CMSWire from Vancouver, this new CloudForms v. 3.2 should enable customers to deploy their own hybrid clouds that run the new class of microservices-based applications on Red Hat’s OpenShift PaaS platform, while at the same time supporting present-day, “monolithic” architectures that have not yet run their course.

“There’s already integration between OpenShift and OpenStack, OpenShift and CloudForms, and CloudForms and OpenStack,” said Fitzgerald. “What we found was, there was a recurring pattern: Customers would buy all three products together. That’s a new stack or a new suite, if you will, that covers both the infrastructure-as-a-service aspects as well as platform-as-a-service aspects.

“We’re reacting to customer demand for this,” he continued. “A number of analysts have covered the convergence between IaaS and PaaS. People don’t want to think about them separately, or have to have different tools, or deal with them as islands of stuff.”

Open Warfare

Here’s the situation:  OpenStack is not really a product, but an assembly of products that converge to form a cloud platform. Enterprises use OpenStack to build their own clouds, as well as to produce hybrid cloud deployments that blend available resources from public cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

OpenStack is based around Linux, but just whose Linux is up to the customer to decide. Red Hat produces an OpenStack system that includes its own RHEL Linux, but so does Oracle, and so does HP, and so does Cisco, and so does IBM, and so does a company called Mirantis.  Each vendor adds value to its system as it sees fit and with competition in mind, but without tainting it to such a degree that its system ceases to be interoperable with all the others.

When we put it that way, it looks like a round table packed with knights who have each pledged to joust with each other fairly and honorably. But don’t think for a moment that none of these vendors have considered having someone nominate it leader of the band.

OpenShift is a Red Hat product, not an assembly of products that compete under different vendors’ brands. Its purpose as a PaaS is to serve as a cloud-based interpreter for programs written in a variety of languages. Yes, OpenShift is open source, but it’s produced commercially.

One of the places you may read about analysts talking about the coming convergence of IaaS with PaaS is from OpenShift’s own blog.

“The bottom line here is that there’s a continuum between a bare-bones IaaS and a full-fledged development platform,” wrote Red Hat’s Gordon Haff last year. “This continuum can be thought of as laying along an axis from complete fine-grained control on one side to various hosted PaaSs on the other.”

Cloud Foundry is a different PaaS altogether — a project begun by VMware and spun off along with Pivotal, although which is now stewarded by the Linux Foundation. IBM is one of Cloud Foundry’s chief supporters, as is Cisco.

Both Cloud Foundry and OpenShift can be deployed as PaaS platforms on OpenStack IaaS. Which one customers end up preferring may depend on their respective vendors, who are now using the PaaS component as a differentiator for their product lines.

Learning Opportunities

This may explain Red Hat’s strategy:  If enough people think PaaS and IaaS are merging, perhaps they may be gently persuaded into perceiving Open-blah-blah-blah as merging with Open-blah-blah-blah.

Throwing a monkey wrench into the barrel of monkey wrenches is OpenStack itself, which with its “Havana” release in 2013 began its own journey of incorporating its own PaaS components, doing a little merger and acquisition of its own.

That move prompted Mirantis chairman and OpenStack Foundation board member Alex Freedland to essentially declare war against other vendors using the PaaS of their choice as OpenStack differentiators.

“Clearly, OpenStack is moving up the stack into the platform-level services and the community is pushing it there,” wrote Freedland in October 2013. “This progression is important because it is an early proof point that OpenStack is going to control not just the low-level infrastructure, but also the whole stack above it. The market is clearly asking for it.

“Have you heard of the successful adoption of Cloud Foundry or OpenShift on top of OpenStack? Well, neither have I,” Freedland continued, “and my prediction is that no such adoption is imminent.”

Docker Saves the Day

Since that time, Red Hat has been building out a differentiation strategy, and Docker has provided it with a possible golden egg. If PaaS and IaaS are merging, argues Red Hat’s Joe Fitzgerald, then the product will need a “single pane of glass” for its management system.

Such a system would need to incorporate customers’ existing assets in monolithic applications, including on virtualization platforms such as VMware vSphere, along with the microservices applications they’re building today on PaaS platforms.

As Fitzgerald told CMSWire, the CloudForms v. 3.2 component of its new Cloud Suite for Applications will begin addressing that need. But the version that follows this one should go much further.

“We are planning a major release towards the end of this year,” said Fitzgerald. “It’s going to have container support in it.”

Red Hat has already added container support to its Satellite lifecycle management system, he noted. “There are going to be subsequent releases this year for OpenShift, CloudForms, and Satellite, that all add additional container management capabilities.”

How strong have Red Hat’s consolidation moves been to date? Well, if you remember Mirantis declaring war on vendor-driven PaaS in 2013, you’ll be interested to see that, in advance of this week’s OpenStack conference in Vancouver, Mirantis forged an alliance with Pivotal on behalf of Cloud Foundry.

Typically, when the battle lines are fully drawn and the sides are chosen, three’s a crowd.