Not all computing clouds selling infrastructure as a service (IaaS) are the same.
It would be easy to think they are the same, pretty much -- just rack upon rack of x86 servers, each one running essentially the same Xen-Linux-based stack. Sure, there may be some differences in storage setups, management options, and perhaps even pricing, but that's about it.
A company called Joyent Inc. is out to break this mold with what it describes as a specially designed set of cloud services running on a specially designed set of infrastructure. Backed by a recent $85 million round of venture money, Joyent has set its sights on what it calls the "real-time Web," which means handling high volumes of transactions with particularly low latency and high reliability. Its customers are using Joyent's services to handle online games, mobile telephony, and e-commerce.
Those are, of course, the apps that pretty much all public cloud providers talk about and are scrambling to bring on board. But Joyent has striven to differentiate itself, starting with the software under its hood, so to speak. It has created what it claims is a highly efficient, high-performing, custom-designed software stack that is ready to handle, not only those mainstream categories of apps, but also the emerging and potentially hugely demanding "Internet of Things."
That, in a nutshell, is the connection to the Net of seemingly everything from light switches to cars to fridges, all of them constantly reporting their health, their status, and their movement, for instance. As touched on here in recent days, the Net of Things will bring with it great torrents of data, much of it requiring processing with as much speed and reliability as possible.
What makes Joyent's cloud particularly well equipped for this kind of workload, says Jason Hoffman, co-founder and CTO, is its use of a homegrown operating system called SmartOS. It's derived from OpenSolaris, the software that Sun Microsystems released to the open-source community before the company was acquired by Oracle a few years ago. While Oracle quickly reversed Sun's move and pulled Solaris back in-house, others, including Joyent and its team of ex-Sun engineers, have continued to work on the open-source code as part of a project called Illumos.
SmartOS, Hoffman tells me, can host both Linux and Windows apps. But its virtual machines are both leaner and more resilient than most. These VMs run in containers, or Zones, which are a security scheme Sun came up with to keep VMs sealed off from each another. Hoffman compares this setup to the double hulls used to make oil tankers more resilient against damage.
Yet, Hoffman adds, this function doesn't take away from performance. Using KVM, SmartOS runs VMs at bare-metal speed, and because it's particularly small in size, the OS itself can run entirely in main memory and therefore rapidly replicate itself across many additional servers in response to spikes in demand. Hoffman says new instances of SmartOS can be running in a matter of seconds, versus the minutes such moves may take in other providers' clouds.
Moreover, he says that because of its choice of software, Joyent is able to run many more VMs at speed on any given physical host and thus keep its own costs down. Joyent's pricing, he adds, is on a par with, if not better than, that of providers such as Amazon and Rackspace.
I'll have to take Hoffman's word for it that Joyent's cloud represents something above and beyond the competition. Either way, though, the Joyent story does underscore the idea that for now, anyway, cloud computing services are not all the same and that there is room in this market for providers using more or less proprietary technologies.
Despite its name, the cloud is not turning out to be a mass of homogeneous services whose only differentiation is price.