Heroku opens up to third-party apps

Vendors can build applications to offer to Heroku customers

Heroku hopes to make its platform-as-a-service offering more appealing by formalizing a process for accepting and offering add-on applications built by third parties.

The result is that Heroku's customers can easily shop for and start using applications like search, tools for accessing the Twitter API (application programming interface) or services for accessing NoSQL databases. Heroku's cloud application platform, based on Ruby, currently hosts about 80,000 Web applications including some from Comcast and Best Buy.

Heroku has been working with 15 vendors who have built 20 applications currently available in the Add-ons store. "We had a huge number of vendors saying we want to offer add-ons, we want to be a cloud service provider and integrate into your platform," said Byron Sebastian, CEO of Heroku.

Heroku worked with the initial 15 vendors individually. "We took a lot of lessons learned from going through those experiences ... and now we're at a point where we're comfortable opening it up," he said.

Now, third-party vendors can visit Heroku's Provider Program site to access an API and read advice from Heroku about marketing their services and managing the technical integration.

Vendors can also take advantage of a Heroku program that helps them manage their offering through an alpha version, private beta, public beta and then general availability. The developers' kit offers the third-party vendors an API for provisioning and tools for offering users a single sign-on.

Heroku customers can simply visit the Add-ons store, learn about available offerings and sign up to start using them immediately. The applications are all integrated with Heroku's standard management console, so users are able to manage the add-ons plus the Heroku service from one place.

"It feels like a unified platform to developer [customers], but they're getting access to services provided by specialists in search, API management and e-mail delivery, so they don't have to choose between a specialized service and using a unified system," Sebastian said.

Sebastian said he thinks Heroku is the only platform-as-a-service provider offering this kind of third-party application store. Without it, customers have to work hard to add such services from third parties, he said. They have to research who is providing the service, find out if it is compatible with the platform they are already using and decide if it will perform well when integrated with the platform service.

"Then they have to deal with the ongoing complexity of all these different moving pieces out there," he said.

Heroku decided to support add-on services after third-party vendors as well as customers asked for them, he said. While the general idea is for Heroku to make its platform more attractive for customers, it will provide a revenue stream, he said. In exchange for hosting the Add-ons store, providing billing and offering the development kit, Heroku splits revenue with the third-party vendors.

While Heroku may be one of the few platform-as-a-service providers that have opened up to third-party development, cloud services providers in other industries have also realized that they can boost the value of their platforms and earn revenue by similarly opening up. Companies like Tickets.com and TrueCredit have done so, as have Amazon.com with its Web Services and Salesforce with Force.com.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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