Cloud // Software as a Service
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1/20/2011
09:08 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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With Cloud, What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

Inevitably, cloud announcements, like Amazon's introduction of Elastic Beanstalk, sound good, but there are limits.

In other cases, it's not the technical limits to a promising advance that's going to hold you back. There's often less to an announcement than there appears. During Salesforce's Dreamworld conference in San Francisco last December, the company announced it wanted to move beyond its proprietary language Apex and user interface Visual Force and adopt a standards-based system. Therefore, it was buying Heroku for $212 million, a cloud platform for Ruby developers. Ruby has a certain panache that Apex lacks. For example, Flightcaster, Hulu, and Twitter are built in Ruby.

At first blush, it appeared that Salesforce.com's platform, Force.com, would support Ruby applications. But Heroku is a front-end cloud deployment system. Once launched, the Ruby applications that it hosts are running in a multi-tenant environment on Amazon's EC2, not Heroku's own cloud -- it owns no servers, nor uses any at Force.com. That may change somewhere down the road, but it is not immediately clear to me how acquiring a Ruby hosting service expands Salesforce's commitment to making its platform less proprietary and more standards based -- if the Ruby apps continue to run on EC2. We await further developments.

But an interesting reaction to this acquisition was buried deep in the aforementioned Amazon Elastic Beanstalk announcement. As if in anticipation that the 111,000 Ruby applications Heroku currently hosts on EC2 servers may one day move away, Amazon tapped Heroku rival Engine Yard to help pose a response. "We're excited about the introduction of AWS Elastic Beanstalk and the benefits it can offer to Ruby on Rails developers," said Engine Yard CEO John Dillon, even though in its initial phase it can deal only with Java/Tomcat.

That is, the Engine Yard will share its expertise in scaling Ruby applications with Amazon, and together they will offer an automated service. Engine Yard's approach has already "been battle tested by thousands of high-growth companies," Dillon added.

So there, Salesforce. You were previously the main platform-as-a-service guy on the block and AWS was just infrastructure as a service. Now it looks like Amazon may become more of a platform itself, not only running a huge number and variety of applications but managing their scalability and load balancing as well.

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