Platform-As-a-Service Needs an Audience

Last Updated Jun 23, 2008 11:19 AM EDT

Software as a service has turned into platform as a service (as if we needed another "aaS") and as this application battle royale gets underway developers need to think about these efforts in terms of audience.

bappleton.jpgFor instance, Bill Appleton, CTO of DreamFactory, which makes cloudwareâ€"rich Internet applications that are built to run on outsourced platforms such as's AppExchange and Amazon Web Services, is one of the early guinea pigs for Intuit's QuickBase platform.

Intuit in April announced plans to open up QuickBase, a Web tool used by half of the Fortune 100 to collaborate, manage projects and customer data, to developers. What's the appeal for Appleton? QuickBase is all about the access to the QuickBooks customer base.

"We look for different things in platforms. There are a lot of differences in what they do, but there are also different audiences. We look at four main issues: How viral is the platform? How open is the platform for new users and building new apps? What's the pricing model? And what is the anchor tenant of the platform. What will bring people there?" says Appleton.

That little item is notable because it can be seen as a predictor of success for these newfangled platform as a service efforts. QuickBase is appealing to Appleton because he can take DreamFactory's project management applications and pitch them to Intuit's army of small and mid-sized business customers. Under that logic, AppExchange is a worthwhile platform for DreamFactory because its project management software is a natural fit with customer relationship management applications. Appleton admitted that he wasn't sure what the audience was for Amazon Web Services, the third platform DreamFactory is using but the distribution possibilities are obvious.

Appleton's take on the PaaS success equal audience theory is something to keep in mind for future reference. With any platform you have to find out what the vendor brings to the table.dreamfactor.png
Other excerpts of my conversation with Appleton:

On being a QuickBase guinea pig, Appleton said Intuit's platform compares to the other platformsâ€"Google, Amazon and AppExchangeâ€"DreamFactory has used. He described it as a middle of the road platform based on REST. "It's easy to use and we had technical integration with QuickBase within a day. There's meta data functionality and you can use a web services call to add fields and create tables."

On DreamFactory's business model, Appleton noted that the company's business model is based on subscriptionsâ€"roughly $25 per user per month on AppExchange. As for infrastructure, DreamFactory wants no parts of it. "We don't use servers ourselves," says Appleton. "We consume raw services and build native applications that use these services." So far, DreamFactory counts 1,000 different enterprises as customers.

On the importance of using different platforms, Appleton came back to his audience theme. A company that solely makes "cloudware," DreamFactory's term of choice, has to be available on multiple clouds. "We look to publish the application widely," says Appleton.
On the QuickBase terms, Appleton says that the pricing for developers "is still being figured out," but he expects the terms to be middle of the roadâ€"not as cheap as Amazon Web Services but not too expensive.

On the perks of being an early adopter, Appleton says "there's a marketing push when you go out first and become the poster boy. You can piggyback on the marketing efforts of these platforms."

On the future of cloudware, Appleton says he's surprised that the move to on-demand software hasn't happened sooner. However, he was optimistic that cloud-based software has hit an inflection point. "I think we're at the tip of this revolution that changes everything," says Appleton. "It just doesn't make sense for people to do this software themselves. It's very convenient to consume these services and we think that being solely a cloudware publisher is going to be big."

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and Editorial Director of ZDNet sister site TechRepublic. See his full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.
Credit: ZDNet

  • Larry Dignan

    Larry Dignan is editor in chief of ZDNet and editorial director of CNET's TechRepublic. He has covered the technology and financial-services industries since 1995.