Ruby, COBOL jump on Amazon cloud
Or were they pushed?
Two different companies this week announced that they have created tools that allow for software written using two different application development environments - the relatively new Ruby on Rails and the relatively ancient (but still respected and used) COBOL - to be deployed on Amazon's Web Services compute and storage clouds.
The Ruby on Rails effort is being spearheaded by Engine Yard, a hosting company that was established in 2006 for the express purpose of hosting and maniacally supporting applications created using the Ruby language, an increasingly popular choice option for creating Web-based applications that dates from the mid-1990s.
Engine Yard's co-founder and chief technical officer, Tom Mornini, says that as of the end of 2008, the company had over 400 customers hosting more than 500 applications on the company's own internal cloud. Mornini says that this cloud is based on just under 200 x64 machines and runs somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 virtual machine images. The Engine Yard cloud was created with a modified version of Gentoo Linux, It carves up and virtualizes the servers using a customized version of the open source Xen hypervisor.
Not everyone wants to deploy applications on a single cloud, so Engine Yard decided that it should also facilitate deployments of Ruby on Rails applications on Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) processing utility and on its related Elastic Block Service (EBS) storage utility. (The offering does not make use of the S3 storage utility, which is a different storage utility). Interestingly, the Amazon cloud runs on Linux and Xen as well, both customized by Amazon in much the same way as Engine Yard has done for itself.
The resulting product, called Engine Yard Solo, is a non-elastic (meaning a single instance) of the Engine Yard Ruby/Rails environment that can be deployed on the EC2/ECB combo instead of on the Engine Yard cloud. On the internal cloud, Engine Yard sells scalable Ruby slices for $399 per slice per month, which includes expertise, tech support, and a database instance to support the Ruby applications. Engine Yard Solo will cost $129 per month for a single instance. The company passes through the cost of a small, medium, or large Amazon EC2 instance and related EBS storage to the customer. Engine Yard Solo will be available on January 28, and the company will eventually port its Ruby/Rails tools to other clouds. (Names were not given).
Engine Yard also said this week that it was open sourcing the management framework it created on its own to manage its own cloud under a project called Vertebra. The Vertebra framework is based on an XML-alike messaging protocol called Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), and according to Jayson Vantuyl, one of the company's co-founders and its system architect, Engine Yard took XMPP as a base and then added security, fault tolerance, scalability, and policy-based management features so it could control Ruby on Rails deployments.
The Engine Yard founders have nothing against Amazon's cloud, but they say it has limits because Amazon tends to think of an instance as a complete software stack image. This is not what Engine Yard sees happening. "Applications will span images, and what the cloud providers don't want to think about is that applications will probably span clouds."
The Vertebra project is about creating tools that help manage the deployment of applications on and across clouds. It is arguably a first step, of course. But given that the code behind Vertebra has been released under the GNU Lesser GPL open source license, there is now an opportunity for it to be embraced by the open source community and extended.
COBOL compiler and legacy application modernization tool maker Micro Focus also wants to get into the cloud racket, saying this week that it has tweaked its Micro Focus Server, the runtime environment at the heart of its COBOL tools for mainframe, Unix, Linux, and Windows platforms, so it can be deployed on the Amazon EC2 and S3 utilities.
"We're surrounded by 17 Google buildings in our Mountain View offices, and we figured that if we can't sneak into Google's free cafeteria, we'd better get out there on the clouds," quips Mark Haynie, chief technology officer at the company's application modernization unit.
Like Engine Yard, Micro Focus knows the smart move is to be cloud-neutral, and while the COBOL tool maker is delivering support for COBOL applications on EC2 and S3 today, it has every intention of supporting Microsoft's Azure cloud (and has tested on the prototype for it). The interesting bit is that Micro Focus is guaranteeing its customers that COBOL applications have been sufficiently abstracted by its software so they do not have to tweak them at all.
For instance, COBOL applications that have VSAM files for keyed access reads still work. The VSAM files are, in fact, stored in an SQL database as a BLOB out there on the cloud, and because of the tweaks in the Micro Focus Server, the COBOL applications are none the wiser. Even Microsoft is not promising such compatibility with its own Azure cloud, according to Haynie. If you have C# applications, you have to tweak them so they speak to Azure services instead of Active Directory services on a local machine.
Micro Focus expects to deliver its Amazon cloud variant in May at its annual user group meeting. For now, only early adopters are getting their hands on it, and in May, the company will show off their experience and do a formal launch, complete with pricing. While not being specific about pricing, Haynie says it will be a subscription-based model, perhaps with a fee per month per registered user or per hour of compute time used. ®