What developers want from the cloud

Software developers explain why they want a standards-based cloud, and platforms to provide tools that will allow them to deploy apps to the cloud quickly

Software developers want a transparent cloud that is based on standards, and expect platforms to provide tools to package apps for quick deployment.

Sam Johnston, founder and chief technology officer of Australian Online Solutions, which provides cloud services and applications, said: "Open standards, particularly for APIs [application programming interfaces] and formats are far more important for cloud platform services — platform-as-a-service [PaaS] — than any tool a provider offers."

In an email interview with ZDNet Asia, Johnston said cloud providers that take care of scaling and billing but allow apps to be moved to another provider are most attractive, "because there is no vendor lock-in".

Diego Parrilla Santamaria, product technology strategist of Abiquo, said in an interview that a "revolution" will come when the cloud is transparent: when applications can scale without having to take care of replication over different servers.

Abiquo makes an open-source platform offering which aims to provide a common, 'standardised' layer over different hosts to run different apps.

"Developers expect big vendors to remove the constraints of servers and operating systems. I would never go to a PaaS that does not let me take full control of [my data]. If vendor lock-in is hateful, I cannot imagine the nightmare of having problems to get my data back to my own repositories," said Santamaria.

Commenting on Google App Engine, Google's platform for building and hosting web apps, Johnston said the search giant's modification of Python and Java runtimes — while "necessary to enforce security and scalability" — could make it "very difficult" to move apps out of Google's infrastructure.

Pete Koomen, App Engine product manager, Google, told ZDNet Asia the company received many requests for increased transparency and support for more languages and frameworks. He said Google has updated App Engine's support for Java in response.

"Our 'early look' announcement of support for the Java programming language on 7 April included a deep integration with the Eclipse IDE and compatibility with many standard Java frameworks," he said.

Sun's chief open-source officer, Simon Phipps, recently criticised Google's efforts, however. Phipps said in a blog post that Google's support for only a subset of Java classes and not all core classes "casually" flouts "the rules" of compatibility.

Australian Online Solutions's Johnston said this sentiment expressed by a top Sun executive "would lead me to believe that [Sun's] offerings will be somewhat more compliant, and therefore enterprise-friendly, but also somewhat more expensive".

Ken Pepple, a chief technologist at Sun, also said one of the most requested features from developers is the ability to port applications over various platforms, and that there is demand within the community for providers to adhere to open standards, so developers can reach a larger audience across platforms.

Tools to help ease developers to the cloud
Software developer Adwait Ullal told ZDNet Asia his top priorities for PaaS tools would be a local simulator of the cloud so developers can test their deployments offline during development.

Ullal said he would also want the provider to have tools that will help package the applications for its platform.

Pepple agreed, saying cloud developers are particularly interested in tools to help test...

..the scalability of their apps for the cloud, as well as those which will help them get their apps up quickly.

Earlier this year, Sun talked about its PaaS aspirations and announced a string of releases including a set of pre-packaged virtual machine images of open-source software and a public API repository, aimed at shortening the time to market for developers.

Pepple said: "IT resources on tap [help] developers for start-ups or new projects to get an IT infrastructure ready quickly."

He said developers also need tools to help them manage and visualise their apps, to ease them into remote deployments.

"We also see developers starting to ask for help with traditional enterprise requirements like data security and service level agreements," Pepple added.

Tom Frazier, regional strategic account director, Asia-Pacific, Verizon Business, said standardisation through processes is necessary to help quell organisations' fears around flexibility and security.

Frazier said these issues can be addressed by structuring an automated work engine with tiers of service layers on the virtual infrastructure. Integrated firewall services can help meet an organisation's minimum security requirements, he said.

"Unfortunately, many development projects have security enabled towards the end of the development cycle." Including security earlier in the development process will allow it to move along with the project from test to production, he said.

Microsoft is hoping to draw developers to its Azure platform with familiar tools such as Visual Studio.

Mark Glikson, general manager, developer and platform group, Microsoft Asia-Pacific, said in an email interview that Azure's integration with Visual Studio "allows for development to take place using the languages and approaches developers are already familiar with".

"In many ways, it makes the cloud feel more like a new set of available APIs... rather than an entirely new paradigm," Glikson said.

Microsoft envisions Azure as an "extension" of the desktop environment through its "software plus services" mantra, he added.

Therefore, tools for the cloud need to be interoperable with existing development environments that will also require less learning, Glikson said.

Australian Online Solutions's Johnston was optimistic about Azure. He said it will be interesting because it is based on the Microsoft .NET framework's Common Language Runtime engine.

The universal engine allows software developers to use different programming languages to write Windows applications, a benefit expected to apply to Azure as well.

On the other hand, limited language choices comprising only Python and Java on the competing platform from Google have "restricted Google App Engine to subsets of the developer community", said Johnston.

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