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Joyent Buys Reasonably Smart to Create Open-source Cloud

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Joyent today announced it has agreed to acquire Reasonably Smart, a fledgling cloud startup based on JavaScript and Git, for an undisclosed amount. While on the surface it might look like simple industry consolidation, Reasonably Smart’s technology will in fact help Joyent compete with emerging service-centric clouds while retaining an open model that makes developers comfortable.

You might think the deal is just cloud roll-up: Reasonably Smart was a very small startup. David Young, Joyent’s CEO, said the company–whose backers include PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel– is in “a strong financial position that supports making strategic acquisitions.” Dig a bit deeper, however, and the deal is more than just a roll-up. Joyent gets an open platform with which to attract developers while preparing the company for the looming threat of Google (s goog) and Microsoft (s msft).

Joyent, along with other infrastructure-centric clouds like Amazon’s EC2 and Rackspace’s (s rax) Mosso, let subscribers see their machines. Because they virtualize at the hardware level, these clouds support a wide range of development languages. Users aren’t locked in: They can take their applications out of the cloud and run them themselves. But this model also means customers have to worry about operating their virtual infrastructure, undermining the promised scalability of cloud computing.

By contrast, service-centric cloud models like Google’s App Engine, 10Gen and Microsoft’s Azure hide the infrastructure from developers. A subscriber doesn’t worry about scaling. Instead, they fret over lock-in — the inability to leave their cloud provider when things go wrong because they’re dependent on its proprietary features.

With Reasonably Smart, Joyent can strike a balance between infrastructure and service. Developers write applications in JavaScript, using extensions for things like I/O and storage. These applications can run on a developer’s desktop, in a private data center, or in a cloud. Of course, Joyent’s betting its operational expertise will convince people to run it in their cloud. It’s a service model, but one that subscribers can leave if they want to.

Joyent CTO Jason Hoffman remarked last year at our Structure conference that he wanted an open cloud model that could scale indefinitely, independent of infrastructure concerns. “We intend to keep this new Joyent offering completely open-source,” he said of today’s acquisition.

The move toward service-based clouds is part of a trend that will shape cloud computing in 2009. This year, Google and Microsoft will roll out production-grade clouds that have features like search, mapping, licensing, social graph and authentication baked right in.

To compete, infrastructure clouds need to round out their open offerings with built-in services while trying to retain the openness of their infrastructure heritage. Amazon (s amzn), which has plenty of services, from SimpleDB to S3, continues to extend its offering with value-added services like CDNs, billing and management consoles — even at the expense of its ecosystem of existing vendors that have built similar tools atop EC2.

That makes Joyent’s acquisition look, well, reasonably smart.

13 Responses to “Joyent Buys Reasonably Smart to Create Open-source Cloud”

  1. Geir Magnusson Jr

    Alistair :

    Ok – it’s just that the way the articled flowed :

    “…. Users aren’t locked in. …. ”
    ” … By contrast, … 10gen …”

    positioned 10gen as a system where users were locked in to a provider, like with Azure and Google.

    I just wanted to make it clear that anyone can take the open source 10gen stack and run it where they choose, even on Joyent :)


  2. @Geir: 10Gen’s model of open source platforms (Mongo) that scale without caring about infrastructure is directly parallel to Reasonably Smart’s model (JavaScript + Git + other I/O, now open source). That was my point — Joyent needed a scalable development environment that people could run on their own if they chose.

    @anon: The Reasonably Smart platform runs on your desktop if you want it to, with I/O extensions that you can use and tweak.

    @Andy: Things like Hypertable (Bigtable-like) and CouchDB (SimpleDB-like) aim to reduce the lock-in but aren’t plug-compatible with Google or Amazon today. As for the JavaScript thing, yeah, I thought that too. James A. Duncan, ReasonablySmart’s CTO, tells a good story around that though. I suspect that for simple data-driven front-ends, it’s relatively easy. Who knows, maybe all those client-side coders will use it…

    Hopefully there will be some standardization on a minimum feature set soon. But the cloud operators know that if they make it completely transparent to move your app from one cloud to another, they’ll commoditize themselves. So they need to put in value-added services to keep you there. Which means that while you might one day be able to move your Google App Engine app from Bigtable to your own Hypertable, you’re unlikely to be able to disconnect from Google Checkout, or Search, or mapping.

    It’s those services that will be lock-in in the long term, just as it was things like font managers, printer drivers, and RTF editors on Windows that kept developers using it. It’s just too much of a pain to go rebuild it from scratch.

  3. All of 10gen’s software is open source as well, so you can take it run on your own equipment, on AWS, at Rackspace, wherever you wish.

    I’m not sure how our model is seen as any different than that of Joyent/RS.

    VP, Engineering

  4. The concept of Reasonably Smart sounds good.

    But why on earth did you have to pick javascript?? The reality is, NO ONE write server apps in javascript. By choosing js, you immediately cut your potential user base by 99.99%.

    Also, how is this any less lock-in than Google App Engine? GAE uses its own proprietary data store. Reasonably Smart also uses its own proprietary data store.

    At least GAE uses Python, which makes infinitely more sense than javascript for server programming.

  5. The source code for Reasonably Smart is open source. Joyent will be running a Reasonably Smart Platform service, but if you don’t like ours, you can down load the code and run your own version of the Reasonably Smart Platform, just like you can run your own instance of MySQL, Apache, Nginx, TomCat, Thin, or Mongrel.

  6. anonymous

    I dont understand how Reasonably Smart is open and not a vendor lock in. Since you have to write server side code in Javascript with their proprietary libraries for database etc, you would end up locked in to Reasonably Smart. There is no other open source platform that allows to write code in Javascript (except appjet).