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The Meta Cloud gets more meta

RightScale and the floating UNIX analogy

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RightScale has renewed its quest for The Meta Cloud.

On Monday the Santa Barbara, California startup unveiled a new version of its Cloud Management Platform, an online service meant to grease the use of Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and other so-called infrastructure clouds, including GoGrid and Rackspace's Cloud Servers.

Among other things, RightScale has redesigned the platform's "server templates" so that you can automatically configure virtual servers for use across multiple cloud services. At least in theory.

Yes, others are building meta APIs for use across disparate clouds. But these projects are merely means of tapping tools duplicated by each cloud - the lowest common denominator, if you will. RightScale is working to build a platform that provides portability while still hooking into the tools unique to each sky-high service.

"What our system does is it will automatically select pieces of the server templates for a particular cloud implementation," RightScale CTO Thorsten von Eicken tells The Reg. "You can have one server template that runs across different clouds and makes use of different components."

He compares the idea to a portable application that runs across multiple flavors of UNIX. In some cases, a UNIX app might use a standard library that's used across various OSes. But in other cases, an app might include specialized modules for FreeBSD or Linux or Solaris.

"You might have pieces that are customized for each [UNIX OS], stuff that really matters to an app," says von Eicken, who worked alongside Amazon Web Services prophet Werner Vogels while doing distributed-systems research at Cornell University in the mid-1990s.

"That's kind of where we see the cloud going. Every major cloud provider we talk to has pretty fundamental and strong-held beliefs on how they architect their cloud...We believe that clouds will be different and that it's important to give users access to both the least common denominator [tools] and customized tools for each cloud."

von Eicken acknowledges there will be cases where RightScale has yet to write the particular components you've looking for. But all-encompassing portability is at least the goal. Also, von Eicken is adamant that portability shouldn't stop at fledgling APIs like Red Hat's deltacloud and Cloudkick's libcloud, which are limited to that lowest common denominator.

"[Red Hat's delta cloud] may be interesting, but it gives you a tenth of the functionality of EC2," he says.

RightScale's new server templates are built atop Opscode Chef, an open-source framework for juggling server configurations. Chef, says von Eicken, is "object oriented programming for systems administrators." Rather than building individual scripts for each type of server, RightScale has built object-oriented Chef "recipes" that configure servers on the fly. You specify what resources each virtual server requires, and at runtime, RightScale's system uses these recipes to cook up server instances in a way that's independent from cloud architectures, system architectures, and operating systems.

RightScale has also equipped its cloudy servers with something called RightLink, a way for instances to chat with each other. "This is an agent running on each server that provides communications," von Eicken says. Let's say an app server starts up and needs to register with available load balancers. RightLink could provide automatic communication between the two.

von Eicken and RightScale unveiled their new cookbook Monday morning at its inaugural "user meetup" in Santa Clara, California, and an alpha is scheduled for release Tuesday. The alpha is limited to use on Amazon and Rackspace, but RightScale aims to include other sky-high services at some point in the unspecified future. ®

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