Ruby on Rails Gets New Support in the Cloud

Engine Yard is aiming to widen Ruby on Rails’ (RoR) capabilities in the cloud, moving beyond its own infrastructure to the wider world of Amazon EC2 and debuting an open platform for developing and managing secure cloud applications.

The RoR vendor said its new Solo service would piggyback on Amazon’s (NASDAQ: AMZN) EC2 cloud computing service, supplementing Engine Yard‘s own in-house cloud service.

And because simply saying an application framework will work in the cloud is sometimes different from actually having it work, Engine Yard is also rolling out Vertebra, which aims to be an open development and management platform cloud-based apps.

The new efforts behind Ruby on Rails come at a crucial juncture, with Ruby language use on the ascent and a merger pending with the Merb developer framework for the upcoming Ruby 3 release.

“Initially, when we were developing our own cloud, we couldn’t find a framework to help us put together cloud applications — let alone manage a cloud,” Jayson Vantuyl, Engine Yard’s chief systems architect, told “We developed Vertebra in that vein and we’re open sourcing it so everyone can share in our work. With it, we think we can make Ruby on Rails in the cloud better and potentially make the cloud more universal itself.”

While the company has been maintaining its own cloud service since 2006 — well before Amazon EC2 debuted — Tom Mornini, Engine Yard’s CTO, explained that he doesn’t see Solo cannibalizing his existing cloud business.

Instead, he said that it’s about customer choice: By offering Amazon as an option, he’ll be able to serve a wider variety of customer needs.

Vantuyl also argued that the cloud had never really been the core business for Engine Yard in the first place. He noted that customers’ first priority is simply Rails itself — making the pick of one vendor of cloud services over another less important.

“We don’t look at it as eating our baby as it were,” Vantuyl said. “To be honest, our baby wasn’t the cloud — our baby is the support.”

The Engine Yard relationship with Amazon goes beyond just usage of the EC2 cloud service. Amazon is actually also an investor in Engine Yard.

While Amazon’s EC2 is joining Engine Yard in delivering RoR applications, the company said the issue still remains of how to properly architect applications for the cloud. That’s where its new open source Vertebra project fits into the mix — by ensuring that cloud-based RoR is delivered simply and easily, without forcing users to understand the behind-the-scenes technical aspects.

For end users, “the key thing about Vertebra is, at the end of the day, one of the primary aspects of the cloud is not needing to know where things are,” Mornini said. Developers, however, do need to understand where things are, and Mornini argued that they spend lots of time trying to figure that out.

Vertebra aims to solve both problems by providing a high level of abstraction for the underlying cloud infrastructure, enabling developers to pull in services and manage them in a cloud deployment.

In addition to Engine Yard’s new efforts, RoR for cloud-scale deployments is likely to further benefit from the pending integration with the Merb Framework.

Merb had been a rival Ruby-derived framework that debuted with the promise of being more customizable and scalable than RoR. But now, Merb’s core developers and technology are being integrated into RoR developer for the RoR 3 release, which is currently under development.

“One of the monkeys on Rails’ back has always been the question of scalability, and we believe that Merb addresses that issue,” Mornini said. “Now that the teams are working together, we think that post Rails 3 people will stop asking that question.”

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