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Engine Yard Sees Ruby As Cloud Springboard

Company executives tout the application platform provider's ability to quickly transfer customers out of the crashing Amazon cloud in April.
Ruby is something of an anomaly in the programming world, where most modern languages, including Java, are produced by committee. Ruby is the output of a single Japanese programmer, popularly known in the United States as Matz, and regarded as someone who hewed devotedly to the concept that a language should be built from simple concepts and its source code should be readable, something like English.

"Ruby has the traction to be the language of the cloud. You're typing very little and getting big results," said Piech. (Some PHP adherents would argue they also use the language of the Web and cloud.)

Ruby has also been boosted by the Rails framework that is built atop the language, accelerating a programmer's ability to produce applications and big Web operations, such as Twitter and Groupon.

Engine Yard is a sponsor of JRuby, employing three full-time developers for the project that allows Ruby code to be converted into Java byte code and run in the Java Virtual Machine.

Engine Yard also supports the Rubinius project with two developers. Rubinius has created a native virtual machine for Ruby code. A virtual machine makes a language more portable, since it can be configured for particular hardware architectures, leaving the application code unchanged.

A Ruby platform isn't servers or disks in the cloud; it uses the Amazon and Terremark public cloud servers. Rather, Engine Yard is the embodiment of platform as a service, or "expertise of scale," as Piech likes to put it. Engine Yard provides specific assists supplied from the platform, such as fast text search for a Ruby application, high availability, and disaster recovery.

The later proved surprisingly useful when Amazon's Eastern data center hiccoughed April 21, and Engine Yard started transferring customers out of there when it realized the problems were serious. No Engine Yard customer has complained about the consequences of the incident, thanks to Engine Yard's transfer service, which was still in beta when the incident occurred, Mornini said.

"We want to continue to give developers the ability to do cutting-edge things," said Piech. "We've left lots of knobs for people who want to experiment."

Still, the creation of Engine Yard, which with 2,000 customers is beginning to look like a valuable property, was something of an accident. Says Mornini, "It's very pragmatic, very humbling. (Co-founder) Lance Walley and I wanted a consulting company with five employees so we could get healthcare. We accidentally landed in the cloud. There are 100 employees now. I am highly conscious this was a lightning strike."

Engine Yard has received $38 million in three rounds of venture capital funding. "There won't be any need for a fourth," said Mornini. Revenue increased 125% and customers 100% in 2010.