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I’ve been recently involved helping a new European start-up just launched a new Platform-as-a-Service capable of running and automatically scaling any Java application. Here’s a quick write-up on why I think Jelastic is really onto something, a service to try and a company to watch.

Say, you’ve got a great Java application which you want to put on the internet and make it available to the world. Believe it or not, up until today, what sounds like a trivial task simply could not be done. You effectively had to choose between lack of scalability, necessity to manually set up and maintain the whole software stack, requirement to re-write your code to conform to a particular framework (and get locked into it thereafter), or a combination of the above.

Traditional hosting simply leased you a server and had you set it up including the web server and Java stack – effectively making you spend hours and hours doing pure operational work instead of producing next biggest and coolest services. And obviously getting you confined to whatever servers you rented – so when you need to scale up due to being mentioned on Slashdot you were out of luck.

First generation Infrastructure-as-a-Service clouds (IaaS) like Amazon or Rackspace made server provisioning a simple programmatic call. This made scalability a little easier (at least you did not have to wait days or weeks to get more or less servers). However, all they did was effectively give you a bunch of (often overpriced) virtual machines leaving it to you to set them up, configure them, patch them. To make things worse, scalability was not free either. For these providers, more resources meant more virtual machines. Which in turn meant, that your application had to be designed to be able to run on multiple machines in parallel, and most likely using storage and instance coordination mechanisms specific to this platform. Thus, you were almost getting the worst of both worlds: limited scalability, extra operations tasks, high fees, and vendor lock-in.

Early Platforms-as-a-Service (PaaS) solutions like Google App Engine, Force.com, Windows Azure, and VMware CloudFoundry offered a trade-off of taking away the operational tasks of setting up and managing the virtual machines by requiring you to write your applications specifically for the platform – thus putting you at the maximum lock-in ever.

Jelastic – a new start-up which just launched its beta at Jelastic.com is aiming to learn from predecessors and give you the best of all worlds:

  • Easy to deploy and manage – like earlier PaaS systems, Jelastic automatically sets up, configures and maintains the software stack that you need (such as Tomcat server, MySQL database, load balancer, static content cache, and so on) – all you need is add your application on top.
  • Runs any Java application – with Jelastic there are no requirements to specifically adapt your code, simply upload the package and if it runs, for example, on standard Tomcat server (or for that matter JBoss, GlassFish, or Jetty) with MySQL (MariaDB, PostgreSQL, MongoDB, CouchDB) – it will run in Jelastic as is. This means painless deployments, zero learning curve, and most importantly zero platform lock in.
  • Automated scaling – most amazingly, Jelastic manages to scale your application up and down depending on the load it gets. As your application becomes popular and its use intensifies, Jelastic transparently gives it more memory and processing power.

See this quick video with Jelastic overview:

And a set of videos demonstrating the actual Java application deployment, autoscaling, and URL mapping.

Or even better, take your application and give it a try at Jelastic.com.

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Here’s my attempt to put together the list of things I expect to happen to Cloud Computing in 2009 – kind of natural thing to do the fist day of the year, right?

Overall, this is going to be a year when cloud computing will start rapidly maturing with competition heating up on the infrastructure/platform level, real private cloud solutions hitting the market, traditional applications increasingly moving to SaaS or hybrid model, and browser offline becoming a reality.

Let’s go through these one by one – and go through the IaaS and PaaS markets first.

Platform and Infrastructure as a Service (PaaS and IaaS) markets maturing and blurring.

IaaS is basically Amazon EC2 approach with hosters giving customers the ability to instantiate and control virtual machines running in the datacenter. This is a natural progression from the traditional server hosting model. However, this model of raw VM does not provide a lot of opportunity to differentiate which in turn is leading to higher competition and lower profit margins. We will see more and more platform functionality being added to infrastructure offerings and these two layers merging more and more.

Amazon is clearly adding more and more services besides EC2, and partners such as RightScale are adding automated scaling features normally associated with PaaS.

Even newcomers are now often shooting for something in between right from the get go. Can you tell where Windows Azure is? It is already kind of both infrastructure and platform.

Speaking of Windows Azure, this is likely going to be the year when it will hit the market. Folks at Microsoft are doing their best to make it easier for existing software ecosystem to get in with effectively the same or very similar tools they use today. The sheer size of the ecosystem, and this evolutionary approach is likely to immediately make Microsoft a serious player in the space.

VMware can definitely get into the top 3 as well if they execute well with their vCloud initiative. They would need to make sure that:

  • Their hosting partners can compete effectively against Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and others.
  • This pick your partner approach does not confuse the market, and
  • They don’t end up being behind competition by limiting themselves to basic infrastructure only.

The interesting aspect of that is that VMware really has the potential of forcing Microsoft to let partners run Azure. Today this is not the case and the only place where Azure exists is Microsoft’s datacenter.

It remains to be seen whether pure Platform as a Service players such as Salesforce.com (with its Force.com) and Google App Engine will be in the leaders group. They will likely start feeling pressure from the infrastructure level as I mentioned already but it might be challenging for them have the ease of migration and the flexibility that IaaS solutions have.

Also, Google seems to be making surprisingly small progress lately. They have posted some information on the upcoming System Status site and billing/quota dashboard – which means that the beta status is likely to be gone soon. However, their development story (Python as the only programming language and quite limited development environment) and the economy forcing them to concentrate on their core search and ad business are limiting their ability to compete.

Thoughts, comments on any of these?

I will continue with other trends next week.

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The posts on this blog are provided “as is” with no warranties and confer no rights. The opinions expressed on this site are mine and mine alone, and do not necessarily represent those of my employer Jelastic or anyone else for that matter. All trademarks acknowledged.

© 2008-2012 Dmitry Sotnikov

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