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FastScale deploys skinnied stacks to EC2

Fatter logical servers optional now

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Fastscale, with Composer Suite 3.0 Enterprise Edition, is jumping on the Amazon EC2 bandwagon and wrapping all its goodies into a single package.

There are lots of different ways for virtualisation server applications to boost efficiency, and for more than two years FastScale Technology has been trying to sell the idea of plunking operating system and application software into a repository, only deploying the bits of the code that are actually used by the applications and leaving the rest of it there.

To be honest, FastScale was already running alongside the EC2 bandwagon and was halfway on, with a beta version of a future subset of Composer Suite called Stack Manager Workstation Edition.

Both products put the software that comprises an entire production development stack into a repository and watches how it actually runs. It then packages up only the operating system, middleware and application elements that are used into something that FastScale calls a Dynamic Application Bundle, or DAB. With the new release of the tool, FastScale is offering a more malleable stack configuration, which it has named the logical server.

A DAB puts the entire production software stack on a diet, both in terms of disk storage and main memory use. As an example, when Compose Suite was launched back in April 2007, FastScale deployed an Apache Web server running atop the Linux kernel in about 20MB, as opposed to the 3GB it hogs when you load all the surrounding software that is goes unused as Apache runs.

A logical server, says Jerry McLeod, vice president of marketing at FastScale, allows programmers to forgo the DAB diet process for their software stacks and deploy all of the stack from the repository or bits of the stack that they designate as necessary (even if the runtime does not require it).

In both cases, the repository gets updated and DABs and logical servers get those updates automatically when they are stopped and restarted, providing a centralized way to patch and maintain that software stack. You patch once in the repository and it updates many times in the DABs and logical servers.

The initial Composer Suite release was able to be a repository for applications that could be deployed to Red Hat Enterprise Linux or its CentOS clone. In August 2007, Composer Suite was tweaked to allow logical servers to be deployed inside of virtual machines atop VMware's ESX Server hypervisor, and in July 2008, support to deploy logical servers based on Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 operating system was added to Composer Suite.

Support for Sun Microsystems' Solaris 10 operating system running on x64 iron was expected by the end of 2007, but it never happened.

Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is not yet supported, and neither are other hypervisors, such as XenServer from Citrix Systems or Hyper-V from Microsoft, and this could be a problem. FastScale said back in April - when VMware launched its ESX Server 4.0 hypervisor and its related vSphere 4.0 tools - that it would support these by the end of the year.

Composer Suite 3.0 Enterprise Edition can, however, create DABs or logical servers for bare metal x64 machines, for ESX Server virtual machines, or for Amazon Machine Image (AMI) containers on the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). So in a way, FastScale's tool does support the Xen hypervisor, since EC2 employs a home-grown variant of Xen.

The logical server support is significant for EC2 instances based on Windows, since Amazon requires customers deploying Windows to use its AMI image of Windows, not their own: Composer Suite is not allowed to take chunks out and make a skinnied-down DAB.

On Linux instances running on EC2, customers can create their own Linux image and deploy it as an AMI, or use one of the many pre-packaged AMIs offered by commercial Linux distributors. At this point, Composer Suite is only supporting RHEL and CentOS, while Amazon allows deployment of RHEL, Fedora, Oracle Enterprise Linux, openSUSE (but not SUSE Linux), Gentoo, Ubuntu, and Debian, as well as Windows Server 2003 and OpenSolaris.

McLeod says that its customers have not yet demanded support for Hyper-V hypervisors, but is seeing some interest in XenServer 5.5. It is taking a look again at when it will offer support for deployment of DABs and logical servers to XenServer. As for Red Hat's chosen KVM hypervisor, McLeod says there is also no demand yet.

Composer Suite 3.0 Enterprise Edition is available today. It costs $30,000 for a base configuration, which includes the repository - contained in an IBM DB2 database running atop Linux - all the tools to manage DABs and logical servers, and licenses to deploy to 25 servers. Each additional physical server requires a $500 license fee, with volume discounts, of course.

FastScale was founded in 2006 and secured $6.5m in Series A funding from ATA Ventures, Leapfrog Ventures, and Hunt Ventures in late 2006, prior to the official launch of the company. In April of this year, FastScale locked down another $5.5m in Series B funding that came from these three venture capital firms (with ATA Ventures leading) and an unnamed private investor.

The company is an obvious takeover target for VMware, Oracle, IBM or Microsoft, and maybe even Red Hat or Novell. But before that is likely to happen, FastScale is going to have to get more sales and demonstrate that its way of managing software stacks is better than the gold images and virtual machine jukeboxing that other vendors are peddling. ®

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