Friday, April 15, 2011

Open Source Middleware for Access to Cloud Services

Transferring applications to a cloud offers enormous cost reductions. It also can be a trap. After placing an application on IaaS it becomes wedged into a unique software environment. For all practical purposes applications cease to be transportable from one IaaS to another IaaS.  There are hundreds of cloud services that operate in this manner. IaaS is useful in offering raw computing power but it is not sufficiently flexible how it can be redeployed when conditions change.

Applications can be also placed in a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud. All you have to do is to comply with the specific Application Interface (API) instructions and your application will run. Google, Microsoft Azure, a version of Amazon PaaS as well as other cloud services work in this way. After applications are placed in a particular cloud environment they must comply with a long list of required formats.  For instance, various PaaS vendors may limit what software “frameworks” can be applied. Such “frameworks” include reusable libraries of subsystem offered by software tools such as Ruby, Java, Node.js and Grails. Some PaaS vendors may also restrict what operating systems (such as which version of Microsoft OS) can be installed.  Consequently, PaaS applications will not be always transportable from one cloud vendor to another.

To support the future growth in cloud computing customers must be able to switch from one cloud vendor to another. What follows is restricted to only PaaS cases. This requires that cloud operators must offer the following features:

1. The interface between customer applications and the PaaS must be in the form of Open Source middleware, which complies with approved IEEE standards.  Standard Open Source middleware will allows any application to run on any vendors’ PaaS cloud. Regardless how an application was coded it will remain transportable to any cloud, anywhere.
2. The isolation of the customer’s applications from the PaaS software and hardware will permit the retention of the customers’ intellectual property right, regardless of which cloud it may be hosted.
3. Certification by the cloud vendor to customers that that applications will remain portable regardless of configuration changes made to PaaS. This includes assurances that applications will retain the capacity for fail-over hosting by another PaaS vendor.
4. Assurance that the customers’ application code will not be altered in the PaaS cloud, regardless of the software framework used the build it.

This week, VMware introduced a new PaaS software offering called Cloud Foundry. It is available as open source software. It provides a platform for building, deploying and running cloud apps that make it possible for cloud vendors to comply with the four features listed above. Cloud Foundry is an application platform, which includes a self-service application execution engine, an automation engine for application deployment, a scriptable command line interface and development tools that ease the applications deployment processes. Cloud Foundry offers developers the tools to build out applications on public clouds, private clouds and anyplace else, whether the underlying server runs VMware or not.

Cloud Foundry is the first open PaaS that supports services to cloud firms such as Rackspace or Terremark. Cloud Foundry can be also deployed behind firewalls for enterprises can run this software as a private cloud. There is also a version of Cloud Foundry, the “Micro Cloud”, which can be installed on a personal lap top so developers can write code themselves, and then push to whichever cloud they choose. “Micro Cloud” should be therefore understood as a single developer instance of Cloud Foundry.

Cloud Foundry aims to allow developers to remove the cost and complexity of configuring infrastructure and runtime environments for applications so that they can focus on the application logic. Cloud Foundry streamlines the development, delivery and operations of modern applications, enhancing the ability of developers to deploy, run and scale applications into the cloud environment while preserving the widest choice of public and private clouds.

The objective is to get an application deployed without becoming engaged in all kinds of set-ups, such as server provisioning, specifying database parameters, inserting middleware and then testing that it’s all set up after coordinating with the data center operating personnel to accept new run-time documentation. The Cloud Foundry offers an open architecture to handle choices of developer frameworks. It accommodates choices of application infrastructure services. It enables the choosing from a variety of commercially available clouds.

Cloud Foundry overcomes limitations found in today’s PaaS solutions.  Present PaaS offerings by commercial firms are held back by limited or non-standard support of development frameworks, by a lack in the variety of application services and especially in the inability to deploy applications across diverse public and private clouds.

It is increasingly a prerequisite for modern software development technologies to be available as open source.  DoD memorandum of October 16, 2009 offers guidance a preferred use of open source software in order to allow developers to inspect, evaluate and modify the software based on their own needs, as well as avoid the risk of lock-in.  Cloud Foundry is now an open source project with a community and source code available on  This provides the ultimate in extensibility and allows the community to extend and integrate Cloud Foundry with any framework, application service or infrastructure cloud.  It includes a liberal licensing model encourages a broad-based community of contributors.

Cloud Foundry takes an Open Source approach to PaaS. Most of such vendor offerings restrict developer choices of frameworks, application infrastructure services and deployment clouds. The open and extensible nature of Cloud Foundry means developers will not be locked into a single framework, single set of application services or a single cloud.  VMware will offer Cloud Foundry as a paid, supported product for customers as well as provide the underlying code so developers can build their own private clouds. VMware will also offer Cloud Foundry as a PaaS service in combination with a recently acquired data center in Las Vegas that presently runs data back-up services for over million customers.

Cloud Foundry allows developers to focus on applications, not machines or middleware. Traditional application deployments require developers to configure and patch systems, maintain middleware and worry about network topologies. Cloud Foundry allows you to focus on your application, not infrastructure, and deploy and scale applications in seconds. In the future interoperability of applications across several PaaS firms will matter to more and more companies especially those starting new systems. Flexibility to choose from a range of available PaaS service will become one of the factors behind the choice of trusting any one firm with the hosting and custody of its data processing.

Any DoD plans to migrate systems into a PaaS environment will henceforth have to consider whether Cloud Foundry software, or a similar offering yet to come, will be in place to assure application portability.

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