September 19, 2008
Fine-Tuning The Cloud
Video animation specialist Animoto launched a Facebook application in April that lets people make music videos using digital photos. Within three days, 250,000 people had created their own rock personas, causing Animoto's piece of the Amazon EC2 cloud to surge from 40 to 4,000 servers.
Animoto used startup RightScale's management platform to pull that off. The Amazon servers supporting Animoto's application perform multiple tasks--fetching photos from some Web sites, grabbing music files from others, rendering video--requiring resource management and monitoring. RightScale lets customers deploy server instances in the Amazon cloud using prepackaged software components, then monitor those instances.
"Imagine 4,000 people ready to work for you, but there's no foreman, no hierarchy, and no instructions," says RightScale CEO and co-founder Michael Crandell. Cloud computing's scalability is meaningless unless businesses can manage the fluctuations, and many can't, he says.
Founded last year, RightScale lets customers deploy MySQL databases and server software templates in Amazon Web Services (EC2, S3, SQS), starting at $500 per month for up to 15,000 server hours per month. For companies that need help, RightScale provides consulting and custom development services. RightScale offers four packaging options--developer, Web site, grid, and premium editions--with different capabilities and support levels.
Its customers range from small Web companies such as Animoto and ForeclosureRadar.com to large health care, insurance, and media companies (Crandell says he can't name them) that use its service to process claim forms, digital images, and other files. The 32-employee company was self-funded until April, when it raised $4.5 million from Benchmark Capital.
RightScale co-founder Thorsten von Eicken was a colleague of Amazon CTO Werner Vogels in Cornell University's computer science department. That relationship helped RightScale get a jump into Amazon Web Services, and the company won its first customer early last year. So far, Amazon has been pursuing a high-volume strategy in the cloud computing market, steering clear of RightScale's value-added approach.
Crandell realizes that Amazon could potentially become a competitor. "We expect the infrastructure companies to move up the stack," he says. "Our answer is to stay ahead." Key to that strategy is to remain "cloud neutral," even to the point of recommending that customers spread certain kinds of processing workloads across multiple cloud service providers.
In fact, RightScale last week said it's expanding to support services from FlexiScale, GoGrid, and Mosso. Its management dashboard can be used to manage resources across those clouds.
Young companies are emerging as software and service providers in the cloud. These newcomers can help you deploy and manage IT resources in new ways.
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