FreeBSD Gains Ground With Small Cloud Providers - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Cloud // Infrastructure as a Service
08:06 AM
Connect Directly

FreeBSD Gains Ground With Small Cloud Providers

Can this 30-year-old version of Unix help DigitalOcean and other cloud startups compete with the likes of Amazon?

DigitalOcean has started offering FreeBSD, an open source version of Unix, as an option on its cloud infrastructure. It is the second cloud supplier to do so, staking a spot in which smaller services can compete against Amazon and other giant cloud providers for customers, particularly developers.

 8 Biggest Tech Disappointments Of 2014
8 Biggest Tech Disappointments Of 2014
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

FreeBSD is having a moment in the spotlight in certain circles, in part, because a few developers noticed that it's used to run the backend of WhatsApp, a mobile services platform acquired by Facebook in October 2014 at a final price that topped $21.8 billion.

FreeBSD appeals to some developers for the back end of heavily trafficked systems, given its reputation as a stable, 30-year old version of Unix.

That might seem like a distinction beneath the notice of the millions of Windows and Linux developers were it not for the WhatsApp halo effect. (WhatsApp also uses Erlang, the programming language used for systems running many concurrent processes.) Apple’s OSX, which runs the Macintosh, is also derived from FreeBSD.

New York-based DigitalOcean is one of the fastest growing young cloud service providers. It is also the second East Coast supplier to provide FreeBSD-equipped hosts., which opened a West Coast data center in mid-December, said that it would offer FreeBSD, as well as Linux and Windows hosts, from its East Coast and West Coast facilities.

[Want to learn more about the other host of FreeBSD? See Cloud Stretches To The Pacific.]

So far, the public cloud has been almost exclusively the domain of Linux and Windows. In offering FreeBSD, DigitalOcean is ahead of the major cloud suppliers when it comes to appealing to developers. Early on, it housed development resources for Ruby developers and featured low-cost, quick-ramping virtual servers based on solid state disks. Both Amazon and Microsoft later added solid state options to their virtual server line-ups.

Last September, in another move intended to appeal to developers, it added the CoreOS version of Linux for hosting Docker containers. Development projects thrive with the use of Linux containers, which enable code to be moved around ready to run. The service provider is trying to capture a new generation of developers oriented toward Go, Node.js, Ruby, and PHP. They're more likely than their predecessors to opt for a $5-a-month virtual server available from providers like DigitalOcean and other low-cost service providers.

Still, FreeBSD is likely to appeal to a limited number of developers. FreeBSD is a descendent of open source BSD Unix coming out of the University of California’s Berkeley Software Distribution. For legal reasons, FreeBSD is barred from using the Unix name and trademark, but it is the most widely used descendent of BSD Unix.

DigitalOcean is popular with Ruby developers, among others. It has obtained $87.2 million in funding from Andreesen Horowitz and Fortress Investment Group venture capital firms. The service provider had 631,726 servers in its cloud data centers at the start of December 2014, Karl Alomar, chief operating officer, told InformationWeek in an interview. It’s adding servers at a pace that’s outstripped by few other service providers, with the exception of Amazon. Alomar said it installs 50,000-60,000 servers a month.

DigitalOcean operates data centers in New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, London, and Singapore. By the end of first quarter 2015, it will add one in Frankfurt, Germany. It is likely to add three more in 2015, Alomar said, bringing its number of global regions to nine.

Attend Interop Las Vegas, the leading independent technology conference and expo series designed to inspire, inform, and connect the world's IT community. In 2015, look for all new programs, networking opportunities, and classes that will help you set your organization’s IT action plan. It happens April 27 to May 1. Register with Discount Code MPOIWK for $200 off Total Access & Conference Passes.

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive ... View Full Bio

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
2/2/2015 | 7:45:08 PM
We host all of our systems in Rackspace data centers and one of the main benefits we saw in our move to Rackspace years ago was their offering of FreeBSD back then.

For us - FreeBSD has proven to be exceptionally reliable when it comes to hosting large database driven web applications - its performance and scalability when well configured cannot be beaten.

Whilst it's nice to see other providers finally start offering FreeBSD - it surprises me that it has taken so long.
User Rank: Ninja
1/20/2015 | 1:43:38 PM
It's kind of odd that the biggest, and best known user of FreeBSD, Apple, wasn't mentioned. FreeBSD is the basis of OS X and, as a result, of iOS as well. Apple's version is one of the few certified Unix's in use. You can get the free version from Apple, called Darwin. It uses a windowing system, but not the OS X Desktop or services. Apple has thrown a number of software features into FreeDSD over the years, including "launchd".
Charlie Babcock
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
1/20/2015 | 1:29:09 PM
Good supporting evidence
AllanJude, Thanks for that comment. That's good additional information. I didn't know Netflix uses FreeBSD servers.

User Rank: Apprentice
1/19/2015 | 11:21:27 AM
FreeBSD on EC2
You can also run FreeBSD on Amazon's EC2:


There are quite a number of other 'cloud' providers that also have FreeBSD.


FreeBSD powers more than just WhatsApp as well:

Netflix - Almost all video streamed online comes from FreeBSD Powered servers, making up 33% of all North American internet traffic

Voxer - All servers are powered by FreeBSD and OpenZFS.

Verisign - The .com and .net top level domains are powered by 1/3rd FreeBSD machines

Sony Playstation 4 runs a modified FreeBSD - Front page has been powered by FreeBSD since the 90s

Yandex is powered by FreeBSD

The Apache Foundation SVN servers are all powered by FreeBSD

NetApp Data ONTAP storage appliances are powered by FreeBSD

EMS/Isilon storage appliances are powered by FreeBSD

Cisco Ironport, Juniper switches and routers, Citrix Netscaler, McAfee SecureOS Firewall, Dell KACE, Sandvine NPC, Sophos Email gateway, SpectraLogic storage appliances, and The Weather Channel IntelliStar are all powered by FreeBSD.


Top 10 Data and Analytics Trends for 2021
Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps,  11/13/2020
Where Cloud Spending Might Grow in 2021 and Post-Pandemic
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  11/19/2020
The Ever-Expanding List of C-Level Technology Positions
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  11/10/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
Current Issue
Why Chatbots Are So Popular Right Now
In this IT Trend Report, you will learn more about why chatbots are gaining traction within businesses, particularly while a pandemic is impacting the world.
Flash Poll