The need to develop cloud applications with a new architecture is changing the nature of platform-as-a-service.
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Cloud applications need a new architecture, and IT development -- which has already absorbed many Agile development principles -- is trying to determine how to proceed. A Sept. 30 workshop at Interop 2014 in New York City, "Cloud Applications: The Next Generation," will bring together leading speakers on cloud application development to discuss how it may change developers' underlying tools and processes.
One of the central ideas for cloud applications is that each service that makes up an application should be discrete and able to be maintained without disrupting other services. That usually means the software architect will think of the application as a set of services, sometimes running in different places, making up a composite application.
Recently, discussion has pushed this concept in the direction of "microservice architecture," as software development author Martin Fowler did in a March blog post. "For many of our colleagues this is becoming the default style for building enterprise applications. Sadly, however, there's not much information that outlines what the microservice style is and how to do it," Fowler wrote in his post.
With microservices, each service in an application runs in its own virtual machine or Linux container. Part of developers' excitement about the Docker container system is that it provides a detailed format for doing this, allowing services to be linked and nested in relation to each other and moved around as necessary. The microservice approach also makes them more maintainable. When a master copy of a service is modified and proven by testing, the order can be given for all containers running the service to get an automated upgrade.
The Interop workshop chairman is Bernard Golden, author of "Amazon Web Services for Dummies" and VP of strategy at ActiveState Software, whose Stackato platform is built on top of the open source Cloud Foundry PaaS.
Speakers will include Sam Ramji, VP of strategy at Apigee, the API management firm; Mark Russinovich, Microsoft Technical Fellow for Windows Azure; Brent Smithurst, VP of product management at ActiveState; Sravish Sridhar, founder and CEO of Kinvey, supplier of a backend-as-a-service platform for mobile applications; Krishnan Subramanian, director of OpenShift strategy, an open source PaaS platform at Red Hat; and Rob Walter, CTO of Engine Yard, an independent PaaS based on Amazon Web Services' EC2.
The three-hour workshop is slated to cover:
Why cloud computing applications are different and what that means for IT.
APIs: the new lingua franca of enterprise applications -- how to design, build, and operate API-facing applications.
PaaS: using frameworks to accelerate application delivery and achieve the promise of DevOps.
Mobile: the rise of the new client, and how mobile is the future of enterprise IT.
I will also be moderating a workshop panel on the future of PaaS systems, "How Next Generation Apps Are Changing Platform as a Service," with Smithurst, Russinovich, Subramanian, and Walter as the panelists.
Subramanian, as Red Hat's OpenShift strategist, is expected to bring a deep understanding of Linux containers to the discussion. Red Hat is fully invested in seeing its customer base working with containers. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.0, released in June, supports use of Docker. Red Hat is committed to bring out a stripped-down version of RHEL, called Atomic server, to run containerized workloads. A full version of Linux isn't needed to run containers, because the user-specific elements of the operating system are included in the container. All a container needs is a compatible Linux kernel on the host with its supporting utilities.
Smithurst is an outspoken advocate of Cloud Foundry and the ActiveState platform, Stackato, built on top of it. (IBM's BlueMix PaaS also uses Cloud Foundry.) OpenShift, Cloud Foundry/Stackato, Microsoft Azure, and Google App Engine are viewed as leading suppliers of PaaS -- and sometimes direct competitors with each other -- though each tends to occupy a niche with its own specialization.
At previous events that I've attended, such as the 2013 CloudBeat in San Francisco, Russinovich has been a knowledgeable spokesman for Microsoft Azure. Azure's first offering was as a Windows PaaS, not infrastructure-as-a-service, and it continues to play an important role in that regard for developers. Azure as PaaS is equipped with Visual Studio and .Net tools, as well as supporting application services such as Azure SQL or relational-database-as-a-service.
Azure also runs Linux workloads under its Hyper-V hypervisor. I once remarked disparagingly that if you want to run a Linux container on Azure, you'll have to do so in a virtual machine. Well, that's actually how it's done on Amazon Web Services; the container runs inside an Amazon Machine Image VM and Google Compute Engine (inside a Xen VM, I believe). The state-of-the-art is such that no cloud provider takes a containerized Linux workload and runs it natively on the host hardware. There are both too many unknowns and too many understood possibilities of host processes becoming visible from inside the container. Container security is sure to be one of the topics that come up on this panel.
Engine Yard's Walter is an expert on workload load balancing and scaling up applications, as traffic demands. Is that the responsibility of the application architect, the infrastructure provider, or the PaaS platform? That's been a hot topic in Twitterdom between OpenShift and Cloud Foundry advocates and is likely to get a fuller airing on this panel.
What functions can the PaaS platforms lift off the developers' shoulders? To what extent should the platform take over the task of marshalling additional virtual machines or containers as the application struggles to cope with increased traffic? Is PaaS going to end up as the middleware that manages both the development and deployment of cloud applications, including their updates, or will that reside somewhere outside the platform in the infrastructure mechanisms or in the application itself. It's going to be a lively time discussing these questions on Sept. 30 at Interop New York at the Javits Center.
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Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek, having joined the publication in 2003. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse ... View Full Bio
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