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Cloud marketplace as a service creates new dev possibilities

A neutral cloud marketplace would allow developers to pick and choose applications, without the constraints of one cloud. What could that mean for you?

From a developer's perspective, one main attraction of public cloud offerings is that all the services, integrations, billing and low-level configurations are provided from a common marketplace. Developers will still need to do a little extra work if they want to cobble together services outside the walled garden of a particular cloud service, but the nuts and bolts all come from one place.

The flip side, however, is that developer-oriented cloud services and tools that work across cloud environments require more effort to manage the integrations, billing and configurations.

One way to address these developer and provider complexities is a marketplace as a service (MaaS) offering. With a MaaS offering, a developer can identify potential platforms in a centralized location, make a purchase and begin to use it all under the umbrella of one centralized structure.

Let's explore how a developer can use MaaS in the current cloud marketplace, and some potential benefits that can come from its use.

The back end of clouds

All cloud providers need to build integrations with third-party SaaS tools that range from logging, monitoring and alerts, to emails, payments and databases. But, these integration builds account for only a tiny fraction of the actual work involved, said Anurag Goel, founder and CEO of Render, a platform for building web apps.

Most of the work centers on building business relationships and managing the billing complexities around subscriptions, plan types and proration. "All of these tasks end up taking an inordinate amount of time as well as engineering effort," Goel said.

Components of a marketplace

The three major components to operate a marketplace include: a catalog, provisioning and billing.

The catalog requires the provider to create intuitive experiences to discover the right product and facilitate a buying decision. The MaaS will also need to have enough available inventory, which means continually developing and maintaining vendor relationships.

Provisioning acts as the backbone of the whole system. The MaaS provider will need to orchestrate which resources need to be created or deleted with which vendors, and the guaranteed delivery of configuration for each.

Lastly, billing provides the system of record. This system needs to implement the intricacies of several different billing models, understand global currencies, process payments and transfer revenue to vendors. An active marketplace needs these critical systems to work in unison.

The dawn of MaaS allows cloud tool providers to deliver products to developers with ready-made integrations and configuration management for popular frameworks without worrying about building and maintaining it themselves.

Experts see two main uses cases for the evolution of MaaS technology: multi-cloud federation and increasing the value proposition of tier 2 and 3 cloud providers for developers.

MaaS in action

Manifold, a cloud-native marketplace, has released Marketplace-as-a-Service for developer platforms, aiming to address the catalog, provisioning and billing complexities. Each component comes with its own unique challenges, said James Bowes, CTO at Manifold.

An integrated marketplace allows cloud vendors to customize different ways to present their core services and make it easy for different styles of development. Bowes said some of Manifold's most successful cloud service customers have found ways to integrate and link services to user code. Some examples include different Kubernetes operators and customer resources, Terraform providers, Unix-style CLI tools along with popular language and framework packages.

A catalog of services integrated with a cloud offering allows platforms to remove steps from developer workflow. A runtime can provide developer applications with the credentials they need to access services automatically, without the developer needing to configure them or do any additional work.

Iron.io, a cloud-based message queue platform, has used the Manifold Marketplace-as-a-Service to create a collection of services that is much easier to manage than the marketplaces on the various cloud platforms. "On other platforms, the steps needed to complete simple listings become convoluted and frustrating," said Dylan Stamat, CEO at Iron.io.

Multi-cloud federation

Multi-cloud federation is an important characteristic to give enterprises more flexibility in how they deploy SaaS functionality that spans multiple clouds. Jim Kobielus, lead analyst for application development at Wikibon, said service marketplaces such as Manifold's are essential to build, deploy and manage the next generation of apps that crosses SaaS providers' own offerings.

Kobielus sees value in how Marketplace-as-a-Service enables developers to mix and match services from various SaaS providers. Manifold allows for unified discovery, purchases, combinations, integration and billing for services sourced from various cloud providers. "It deeply integrates with developers' existing DevOps workflows and enables seamless multi-cloud service federation," Kobielus said.

He believes the primary competition for these kinds of third-party MaaS offerings is from the major cloud providers, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. These providers rely on their own extensive service portfolios and partner ecosystems to populate their respective marketplaces and to provide a unified environment for developers to discover, acquire, build, deploy, and manage cloud app services.

These tier 1 cloud providers have the ability to sustain substantial marketplaces, including service catalogs, under one roof. Third-party MaaS offerings will need to address these management structure issues.

Increase the value of smaller clouds

Ovum analyst Roy Illsley said the key value proposition for MaaS offerings lies in how they can increase the value of tier 2 and 3 cloud providers because they allow developers to see a multi-cloud view of different services. The big cloud providers invested heavily to build their marketplaces and have hundreds of independent software vendors (ISVs) and partners with thousands of products.

Smaller cloud providers lack this ability. "MaaS is a quick and easy way for cloud providers to offer a marketplace," Illsley said.

He believes that marketplaces have two main issues to resolve going forward. First, cloud providers and SaaS providers need to figure out how to organize them and make sure they're targeted at the correct audiences -- such as developers or line of business experts. Second, as a MaaS provider grows in size and coverage, it becomes more difficult to manage the quality of the services offered. If marketplace providers make the entry process too complex and onerous, ISVs will move to a competitor. But, if the bar is too low, then quality -- and the reputation of the cloud provider -- could suffer.

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