Most are very familiar with software applications, especially the plethora of apps available for mobile devices. Applications are ready to provide value almost instantly after installation. Think of something like a mapping application with navigation capability. You install the app, turn on location services, enter an address and you are on the way in less than five minutes. Conversely, platforms are tools for application developers. Platforms do almost nothing for end users after installation. Application developers must first configure and build applications using the platform before end users begin to see value.
Developers have been using platforms for decades. There are some classes of applications that require core services that are complex to develop but universally useful. In those cases, it makes sense for a group of experienced system developers to build a platform for use by the larger application developer community. Many developers lack the skills to do it on their own. Some of the first and most successful examples are relational database management systems (RDBMS). These systems include IBM DB2, Oracle, and Microsoft SQL Server.
The RDBMS category has expanded to include many more platforms over the last several decades. Millions of application developers and billions of end users have benefitted from software applications that are developed using these RDBMS platforms.
The most successful data platforms are both robust and flexible. Millions of application developers, who otherwise could not build the scalable foundations that are required to support enterprise class data management, can use them. Reinventing the wheel has always been costly and rarely produces superior modes of transportation. Despite that history, many organizations spend many months or years contemplating and prototyping proprietary data platforms.
Enterprise developers may be encouraged that most of the hyperscale Internet companies have developed proprietary data platforms to meet their specific industry and scale challenges. Some of these companies include Airbnb, Facebook, LinkedIn, Lyft, Netflix, Twitter, and Uber.
These organizations differ from most traditional enterprise organizations in several key ways. They were born cloud native, meaning the platforms that they have developed constitute the business. They can recruit and retain top talent with the backgrounds that are required to build platforms. Also, they are constantly adding the already large initial development investments because their data platform is critical to their main value proposition.