Makara layers DIY platform cloud atop EC2

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This spring, a startup called Makara came out of stealth mode with a beta of a product called Cloud Application Platform, which as the name suggests allowed companies to set up private platform clouds like Microsoft Azure, Google App Engine, or Engine Yard internally on their own iron. Today, Makara is doing something that will perhaps be more interesting, which is layering atop Amazon's EC2 infrastructure cloud to turn it into a platform cloud.

Makara thinks that its Cloud Application Platform is the mighty Wurlitzer for controlling cloudy infrastructure. The software was launched as a beta back in February, and at the heart of the tool is a hardware and infrastructure software abstraction layer called WebappVM.

This abstraction layer masks the complexity of the underlying hypervisors, virtual machines, and operating systems from Java or PHP applications. The Cloud Application Platform is the set of tools that wrap around this platform cloud layer that allows system administrators to set up software stacks to support Java and PHP applications and then have it automatically scale that infrastructure up and down as workload conditions dictate.

Now that Amazon's EC2 compute cloud can be brought to bear using the Cloud Application Platform, the set of monitoring and management tools that allow customers to manage their private clouds running atop Eucalyptus (KVM), Ubuntu Enterprise Cloud (KVM), Red Hat KVM, and VMware vSphere hypervisors and cloud frameworks can now be used to manage EC2 images.

In fact, says Isaac Roth, co-founder and chief executive officer at Makara, the whole point of the Cloud Application Platform is to make the differences between a public cloud and private cloud moot and to abstract both up one layer so companies just worry about the services their applications need to run - a Web server, a database, and so forth - and leave the Makara system at work to manage how the underlying infrastructure is scaled up and down.

WebappVM includes PHP and Java runtime environments as well as middleware stacks based on either Tomcat or JBoss application servers; Apache is the Web server of choice and MySQL is the supported database at the moment. Companies can add their own components to the software repository and specify how that software is to be updated.

Oracle databases are not yet supported on the Cloud Application Platform, but Amazon's SimpleDB and Relational Database Service (RDS) are supported as database layers, and you can even hook out to the Google Data and Microsoft Azure SQL data services that reside outside of EC2. The platform cloud software does not yet speak .NET or Ruby, and Roth concedes that these are limitations, but that said, there are plenty of customers whose applications run atop the LAMP stack and are therefore appropriate for this first version of Cloud Application Platform.

Makara is playing up the autoscaling aspect of the Cloud Application Platform, and Roth says that the way Makara's software works is more sophisticated than Amazon Web Services' own CloudWatch. Roth says that Cloud Application Platform gathers up a slew of performance metrics and can be told to scale up resources (or scale them down) based on application-level metrics that "are really meaningful" to the application.

Rather than just scaling up a whole stack of virtualized application and database servers when the database becomes saturated, Cloud Application Platform can look a little deeper and see that it is really a database problem and add CPU and memory capacity to a database node on a private or EC2 cloud.

"You specify the minimum and maximum number of nodes that an application can have access to, and the platform scales up all of the pieces underneath automatically," explains Roth. "You set it and forget it. It's all baked in, it works, and you don't have to write scripts."

Patching and updating the stack, log analysis, security, rollback, and change control are all in the Cloud Application Platform as well, which means customers setting up private clouds or using Amazon EC2 do not have to buy and integrate security, log management, and monitoring software or go through the hassle of patching their software images. "All of that can add up to be very expensive," says Roth, and it makes cloud computing more troublesome than it might first appear, too.

The Cloud Application Platform comes out of beta today and is generally available. Roth says that Makara has inked a deal with its first customer and has a dozen trials underway on private clouds. Another five customers have deployed Makara's platform cloud atop EC2. When Makara came out of stealth mode in February, the company said that it would eventually support Rackspace Cloud and Terramark vCloud public clouds, and Roth said these are "coming soon".

In an effort to keep its pricing simple and fair to both private and public cloud users, Makara is charging both sets of customers (who will likely use both kinds of clouds in the long run) the same exact price to use its Cloud Application Platform. That is 25 cents per virtualized server per hour.

To use Cloud Application Platform to create and manage EC2 images, all you need to do is go to Amazon and get and EC2 ID. You don't even touch anything, you just plug this ID into the Cloud Application Platform and tell it what you want to do, and it creates the EC2 images from scratch with the software you pick from the repository and links the images to outside storage, networking, and data services as necessary.

The pricing works out to be about a 20 per cent uplift over Amazon's large or extra large server slices on the EC2 cloud.

It is hard to say if this is a reasonable price or not, but cobbling a set of tools together, setting up server images, and gluing them all together is no cakewalk either, and takes system administrators time and tools.

Makara was founded in May 2008, originally as with the cryptic name OSS-1701 (no doubt short for Open Source Software followed by the hull number for the Starfleet flagship Enterprise) and then was briefly known eponymously by its original product name, WebappVM. Makara has received $6m in its first round of venture funding from Shasta Ventures, Sierra Ventures and the Marc Andreessen-Ben Horowitz tag team. ®

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