Get ready for a big strategic shift in the web services provided by Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) vendors. This blog discusses these changes among public and private clouds from an Application Programmer Interface (API) perspective. By looking at the current way that services are offered, and analyzing some recent product announcements, we can begin to trace the future of where cloud computing is headed.

There have always been management services available to control most IaaS and PaaS systems. The services can be used to allocate storage, spin up new servers, and provision applications. For example, OpenStack has quite a few different categories of administrative APIs, including network, compute, identity, and storage. The services are often used by dashboard applications that access, provision, and automate cloud-based resources. There are similar APIs available to control public clouds like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

All of these management APIs are different, but they don’t actually result in much product differentiation. First of all, they are mainly used by system administrators. This is a small and sophisticated audience capable of switching between services when necessary. Second, the services are often hidden behind control panel applications. They might not become deeply embedded in other systems. For example, switching from Amazon’s web interface over to Azure’s control panel is pretty easy.

One humorous aspect of this situation is that, while incredibly sophisticated services are available to allocate new cloud infrastructure with the click of a mouse, there aren’t usually any developer facing services available after that. Modern developers often have to spend months or even years building RESTful interfaces to access the databases and other storage assets that were just provisioned. This is like a trip from the cutting edge of cloud computing back in time to the old fashioned LAMP stack.

But the situation is rapidly changing. In the extremely competitive IaaS and PaaS world, some vendors are looking for more effective ways to lock customers into proprietary interfaces. In short, they are trying to move up the stack from ubiquitous commodities to targeted products that command a higher profit margin and raise switching costs. Recent announcements from various cloud vendors underscore this strategic shift. For example, Amazon recently released new services for mobile application developers that are specifically designed for this purpose.

System administrators can often switch between services at the IaaS and PaaS level, but this is more difficult for client developers. This is a much larger ecosystem with very diverse application requirements, software frameworks, and development environments. Developer facing services are widely used throughout modern applications. For example, our DreamTeam Project Management application makes about 350 different service calls to the backend database. These service calls end up either entangled in source code frameworks or embedded in the compiled application. When developers adopt proprietary interfaces the applications they write are hard to move.

And so enterprise customers and cloud developers alike need to prepare themselves for the API war that will unfold over the next few years. We can expect some cloud platform vendor to put forward various developer facing services in an attempt to lock customers into proprietary interfaces. Other vendors might decline to pursue this strategy, but they risk losing developer mindshare, and consequently subscription revenue. The danger for enterprise customers is that switching costs will rise, and this will reduce the flexibility and increase the cost of application deployments. Proprietary interfaces will reduce the compatibility between public, private, and hybrid cloud installations as well.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. The DreamFactory Services Platform can be installed on any server, in the cloud, or on premises. We provide a comprehensive set of secure developer facing services that expose all of the backed SQL databases, NoSQL databases, and file storage systems. Developer applications can easily be moved between clouds or from the cloud to the data center. Individual databases and backend systems are also abstracted, providing an additional layer of flexibility. And since DreamFactory is an open source software package, there is no danger of proprietary lock-in. My next blog is an in-depth discussion of the advantages of virtualization at the services level.

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