Web Apps

Apps That Live Where the Air Is Rarified, Part 1

“Cloud computing is not magical, but it is more economical, more easily scaled and more easily managed,” said Lance Walley, chief executive officer of Engine Yard, a hosting and infrastructure support company for Ruby on Rails applications.

It’s getting more so, too, Walley told TechNewsWorld. That’s because it’s so practical, more applications are sure to appear every year.

“It’s like running your own generators or buying power from the public grid,” he said. “What this will do is make more apps appear and prosper than would have before.”

Companies all over the Web have been building their own clouds.

“Salesforce had to build its own cloud, as did every successful company from Yahoo to Friendster to LinkedIn to Facebook,” said Walley. “That’s a huge capital investment, as well as a time investment.”

A Head Start

Companies like Engine Yard offer a head start in building and maintaining cloud computing worlds.

“Because we have invested several years of expertise in our hardware, software and people,” said Walley, “customers get a very complete value chain in the Engine Yard cloud offering.”

Engine Yard is developing services that utilize public cloud infrastructure, he noted, which allows the company to focus on tools for managing and scaling Ruby on Rails apps, he said.

“Our software makes it easy to run replicated databases on AWS, for instance, and to tune them for Rails performance,” Walley said.

Cloud computing applications are often divided into three types of services: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS).

“The common ‘cloudness’ of these is that since these are ‘as a service’ on the Web, consumers of these services need not worry about the physical hardware, network configuration or capacities of those systems, and maintenance of those systems,” said Kevin Hakman, marketing director of Aptana.

“The service handles those for you, which is precisely what makes these cutting-edge,” he told TechNewsWorld. “These services eliminate cost, headache and slower times to market that are typical of systems where you buy, configure and maintain your own infrastructure.”

Like a Utility

Cloud services have also been compared to municipal utilities.

“Cloud service enables you to plug in like you would to the electric service or phone service,” explained Hakman, “and the providers handle scaling you up and down as needed, in addition to instantly adding or removing other features.”

Aptana is “doing pioneering work” in that area, he said, with its integrated workflows with all three classes of cloud services.

“Aptana Studio — [an] open source Eclipse-based IDE (integrated development environment) for Web and Ajax development, with over 2.6 million downloads so far — has been architected as a hybrid application,” said Hakman. “[It’s] both on your desktop and online at the same time, connected to cloud services via a Web browser embedded into tools. This tooling and the integrated services enable Web developers to more easily create applications for the cloud, since the entire application lifecycle of the remote resources in the cloud are integrated right into the IDE.”

Users can instantly deploy on-demand applications and tap into management functions such as hosted source control and staging environments access, he said, which are managed by an integrated team management service.

“There’s nothing that really compares to this level of hybridization and integration,” Hakman said.

Distinct Category, Distinct Value

Following are some of the most innovative new Web applications, according to Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group:

Each has its own value in its own category, Enderle told TechNewsWorld.

Those in the sync category — e.g., SugarSync and Live Mesh — keep information nearby, regardless of the device being used.

Mozy and Amazon S3, which perform backup functions, are “the most reliable of the cloud services [in their category] at the moment,” Enderle said.

Amazon EC2 and iCloud occupy the platforms category. Slacker and Amazon Video on Demand are in the entertainment realm.

Another category is SaaS, where Salesforce.com and OpSource operate.

What makes these applications cutting-edge is “price, access and a trend towards utility — like reliability over time,” Enderle said. “It is this shift to a resource that’s managed by others and treated like a utility, either free or very reasonably priced, that tends to differentiate the players.”

Cloud services will continue to evolve, he predicted. “Typically, as a market emerges like this one, folks approach the opportunity traditionally. Then, as the market becomes more experienced with the differences, vendors start taking risks and begin leveraging more heavily what makes these things different.

“We are still at the early phases,” Enderle continued, “which means that even though there is a lot more latitude with regard to how these products can be pushed to market, combined and marketed, folks are generally working with them traditionally.”

Eventually, he said, that will change. “Then we should see some really interesting things, like cross-vendor bundles on the fly, multicompany collaborative offerings, virtual corporations made up of smaller firms, and offerings that morph depending on who is looking at and using them,” he said.

Apps That Live Where the Air Is Rarified, Part 2

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