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4/20/2011
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PHP Language Gets Fault-Tolerant Development Platform

Zend Technologies will supply the tools and development environment in partnership with RightScale, which will provide application deployment to multiple clouds.

The popular Web programming language, PHP, is getting a reliable, fault tolerant development platform, similar to what's already available for Java, Microsoft's Visual Studio, and Ruby.

The platform as a service development environment can also serve as a deployment site without requiring developers to jump through additional hoops to make their application scalable and ready for production use. It can help speed application implementation.

PHP is open source code and one of the most heavily used languages for Web applications. Coupon marketer, Groupon, and social networking message service, Twitter, are heavy PHP users. PHP originally stood for Personal Home Page, but has taken on many business logic characteristics since its first two versions.

The supplier of a leading PHP integrated development environment, Zend Technologies, will provide the tools and development environment. Its partner, RightScale, has been commissioned to provide the means of application deployment into multiple clouds. That flexibility will one day give the RightScale/ Zend platform an advantage over single cloud platforms. At the moment, however, the RightScale/Zend platform is only available on Amazon's EC2.

RightScale CEO Michael Crandell said in an interview Tuesday that RightScale will offer the PHP platform on Rackspace as well as EC2 "before the end of the year." RightScale is not a cloud service provider; it is a front end manager of cloud services and deployer of its customers' applications into a variety of target clouds.

The RightScale Cloud Management Platform also routinely interfaces to clouds running VMware ESX Server virtual machines, such as Terremark, but Crandell had no projection for when VMware supporting clouds might be included as PHP platforms as a service.

"Most customers need a little help getting oriented in the cloud world," said Crandell, since the rules of application deployment there differ from those inside the enterprise. For example, if the application is performing a mission critical function, the application deployer must generate a backup server as well as commission its initial run. In EC2, a running application and its data can be lost if the server underneath them fails; it's the customer's responsibility to guard against that loss. Cloud applications also need to be able to perform session clustering to scale out using multiple servers.

To create what they call the RightScale Zend PHP Solution Pack, the two firms integrated the Zend Framework tools and integrated development environment (go here for a podcast on Zend Framework) and a PHP application server with RightScale's management platform. The solution pack can be deployed in a cloud and users authorized to develop PHP code with it. When an application is ready, a click of a button in a RightScale customer's management console will deploy the application in the cloud where it was developed.

The platform will provide a PHP server cluster as needed with built in high availability. "It scales up the application server in the best industrial strength way, with cluster fault tolerance," said Andi Gutmans, CEO of Zend, in an interview.

In addition, the PHP Solution Pack uses the Zend-sponsored Simple Cloud API, which gives developers a single API for the same type of service in different clouds.

Cloud service providers have to support Simple Cloud API for the approach to work. But the open source code project has supplied APIs for cloud storage services, supported by Amazon's S3 and Nirvanix; a document API with adapters for document services, supported by Microsoft Azure Table Storage and Amazon SimpleDB; a queue API for message store and forwarding services supported by Amazon Simple Queue Service and Azure Queue Storage. IBM and Microsoft both support Simple Cloud API.

Painless deployment doesn't come without a price. The RightScale Zend PHP Solution Pack is offered as a monthly subscription for $2,400.

RightScale offers additional services, such as virtual machine format conversion, which would allow an application developed in one cloud to be migrated into another.

The emphasis on push button deployment carries the notion of platform as a service a step forward and anticipates the day when developers will not need to be oriented to a particular server architecture, such as Windows Server 2008 or Sparc/Solaris. Instead, they will concentrate on the business logic and regard their application as able to migrate, deployable in a cloud of choice.

One of the pioneers of platform as a service was Heroku in San Francisco, a supplier of a Ruby on Rails platform that was run in Amazon's EC2. In addition to online Ruby development tools, Heroku provides automated load balancing and the ability to invoke Memcached as a service, a way of adding an automated caching system for your application's data. Four-year-old Heroku was acquired in December by Salesforce.com for $212 million.

Other platforms include Engine Yard, another Ruby specialist; Google App Engine, a platform for deploying Python and Java applications; and Microsoft Azure, a platform for .Net languages and Visual Studio development. IBM offers its multi-language Rational development platform and testing environment in its Smart Cloud Enterprise.

Despite the proliferation of platforms, the idea of the development and deployment environments being the same is relatively new, and platforms are expected to continue to expand the ease of development options available to developers.

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