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6/28/2011
10:31 PM
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DotCloud: The Cloud's New Developer Hotshot?

What does the winner of Structure 2011's startup competition have that Google App Engine, Force.com, and Heroku don't?



DotCloud, a platform for cloud developers, is the new kid in town, and it might get looked down upon by the established crowd.

Already resident on this block are: Google App Engine, a Python and Java platform; Salesforce.com's Force.com platform with its proprietary Apex language; and Microsoft's Windows Azure platform with Visual Studio tools geared to it. There's also Heroku, an agile cloud platform hosting 100,000 Ruby apps--it's now part of Salesforce. Don't forget Engine Yard, another Ruby platform, and PHPfog for PHP developers.

But DotCloud is different. Each of the players above tends to be language and environment specific. DotCloud is a generalist, bringing expertise in many open source components together with deployment skills for a broad set of languages, according to co-founder and CEO Solomon Hykes in an interview. They include Java, Ruby, PHP, Python, Perl, and the server-side JavaScript, Nopde.JS.

As another example, DotCloud will handle application connections to the relational database systems MySQL and Postgres; data caching systems Memcached and Membase; and big data systems Cassandra, MongoDB, Redis, Membase, Memcached, CouchDB, and Hadoop.

Hykes gave a four-minute pitch on his young company last week at the Launchpad startup competition, an annual feature of the Structure conference in San Francisco. In a field of 10 contenders, DotCloud won both the judges and audience voting as most promising startup.

The DotCloud platform lets developers assemble a software stack of their own preference, "one platform, any stack," said Hykes. He meant any open source software stack, and one example is the LAMP stack, with Linux, Apache Web Server, MySQL, and PHP. But DotCloud claims the integration skills on its 15-person staff to deploy many different stacks.

Hykes said DotCloud views an application as a set of services, not a set of modules of code. Developers upload their code to DotCloud where it's analyzed by its systems. The developer then assembles his DotCloud Build File, telling its form what services he needs within the applications. DotCloud has APIs that connect the application to various databases and other open source code components. By invoking the API, the DotCloud Build File will add an integrated service, instead of the developer needing to configure a database server or application server for a particular environment.

"Each time a developer uses a new stack, there's a constant weight of needing to configure it to work together for a new environment," said Hykes in the interview

DotCloud is removing that weight by setting the environment as x86 infrastructure as a service in Amazon Web Services' EC2. It then builds a set of APIs that function on its servers there to connect to needed services. The developer doesn't need to know anything about Cassandra or MongoDB in order to get big data handling resources, Hykes said.

DotCloud can do this more efficiently than individual developers by assembling a staff with expertise in open source code and APIs. For five years, Patrick McGovern, VP of marketing, was a director of SourceForge.net and managed the popular host site for 92,000 open source projects. One of its staff members is the leading developer of a frequently used Perl stack, Hykes added.

It currently uses EC2 as its deployment site, but Hykes said he is testing the platform to run in other clouds as well.

"Everyone here is obsessed with solving the problem of deploying workloads in the cloud," he said.

DotCloud has come along at the right time to take advantage of open source software that has built cloud concepts into its operation. For example, it uses MongoDB's capability to create triplicate data sets on different servers as its safeguard against server failure under any one set. The DotCloud Build File will use MongoDB to guarantee availability of an application's data, without needing to build planned server failover or other data survival mechanisms into its deployment environment.

The DotCloud handles scaling and high availability issues on behalf of the developer. "High availability is completely baked in ... It's awesome. There's never been a better time to be a developer," said Hykes during his LaunchPad appearance.

DotCloud launched its public beta June 22. It is free for developers to use, with supported subscriptions available at $99 for a professional version; enterprise subscriptions with many applications supported may be negotiated on an annual basis and would start at $10,000 or higher.

DotCloud has $10 million in venture capital funding from Benchmark Capital and Trinity Ventures. Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, recently became a member of its board of directors. The firm was founded in San Francisco last year by Hykes and Sebastien Pahl.

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