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Joyent arms cloud for death match with Amazon

Son of Solaris hypervisor locked and loaded

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A month after open-sourcing what it calls "the first major hypervisor" to arrive in half a decade, cloud computing pioneer Joyent has added this hypervisor to its flagship service, allowing Linux and Windows applications onto the Joyent Cloud for the first time.

The Joyent Cloud – an "infrastructure cloud" along the lines of Amazon's EC2 – is built atop a Solaris-based operating system known as SmartOS, and as originally conceived, the OS did not include hardware virtualization. This meant the Joyent Cloud could not run applications built for Windows or Linux or any other outside operating systems.

But in August, Joyent and its firebrand CTO told the world they had ported the KVM hypervisor from Linux to SmartOS. They promptly open-sourced the code in an effort to "make the world a better place", and now they've rolled the hypervisor into a new incarnation of the Joyent Cloud, a service that provides access to readily scalable computing resources, including processing power and storage.

The "new Joyent Cloud" also adds an analytics tool – based on D-Trace, the open source dynamic tracing framework – that allows users to closely track the behavior of their applications. D-Trace has long been part of the service, but previously, it was merely a way for Joyent itself to troubleshoot issues.

"We're building on the core technologies we've been working on for six years now, but we're also leveraging the engineering advancements our software team has made by integrating KVM into the Smart OS kernel," Steve Tuck, general manager of the Joyent Cloud, tells The Register. "And we feel this comes at a time when infrastructure-as-a-service is moving from an interesting place to test stuff to something that really delivers on its promise."

Naturally, Tuck and company bill the new service as a superior alternative to Amazon EC2, and in effort to better compete with the undisputed behemoth of the infrastructure clouds, Joyent has switched to an Amazon-like price tag. It now charges by the hour for resources rather than asking a subscription price.

The company claims that its SmartOS virtual machines are up to 14 times faster than comparable Amazon server instances – and that this translates to lower costs. But Joyent views the world through SmartOS-colored glasses. Now that SmartOS includes hardware virtualization, CTO Jason Hoffman has told us, there's little need to use anything else – on anything.

"If anyone uses or ships a server, the only reason they wouldn't use SmartOS on that box would be religious reasons," he says. "We can actually take SQL server and a Windows image and run it faster than bare metal Windows. So why would you run bare metal Windows?"

Based on the open-source Illumos kernel – an outgrowth of Sun's OpenSolaris project – SmartOS has long offered operating system-level virtualization based on Sun Microsystem's containers architecture, and it now runs KVM inside these containers. This, Joyent says, allows other operating systems to tap the underlying design of SmartOS, including D-Trace and ZFS, the open-source file system and logical volume manager developed at Sun.

Hoffman says he has had the pleasure of gutting the Sun kernel team over the past few years, and his engineering staff also includes former kernel developers at Google and Apple.

StackMob – a "platform cloud" for building, deploying, and readily scaling mobile applications – runs atop Joyent, and it is on record as saying the service provides noticeable performance gains over EC2. Now that hardware virtualization is in place, Joyent says it will play host to various other platform clouds, including AppFog and other services based on VMware's Cloud Foundry platform.

Currently, AppFog runs atop EC2, and the company did not respond to a request for comment.

Joyent serves up its cloud from five data centers spread across the continental US, and these facilities are divided into 14 logically separate "pods", similar to Amazon's "availability zones". These are designed never to fail at the end time, but Amazon's don't exactly work that way, and it's always worth remembering that no technology is fail-safe.

The Joyent Cloud claims 13,000 customers, including names such as LinkedIn and social gaming outfit Kabam. In addition to offering its cloud service, the company sells SmartOS and additional software to other service providers. Eventually, this SmartDataCenter offering will also be updated with the new hypervisor.

Today, the company also introduced public APIs for the Joyent Cloud, letting developers oversee server instances via ad hoc scripts or third-party management tools, and the service now offers virtual machines that run Node.js, the event-driven, server-side JavaScript development platform that was bootstrapped at Joyent. Separately, Joyent hosts a platform cloud for Node.js applications. The company calls it No.de. ®

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