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Why Modern Applications Demand Modern Tools

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Black and white toolsAbout once a decade, the tech industry experiences a fundamental shift in the way software is built and delivered. From batch jobs running on mainframes to applications running on PCs, and then on to Web-based and mobile apps, we’ve all lived through these shifts firsthand.  Most are driven by disruptive changes in hardware coupled with new kinds of applications.

Today, the tech industry once again finds itself staring down the barrel of two related secular trends: the arrival of massively multicore commodity processors and the unprecedented scale of cloud computing applications. Programmers know intuitively that this shift is happening, and they are already feeling the pain of trying to apply their old tools in this new world. Now that every programmer must be a parallel programmer, we need to embrace new models for building software that reflect this reality. Enter Typesafe.

This morning Greylock Partners announced a $3 million Series A investment in Typesafe, the Scala company. Founded by Martin Odersky, the creator of the Scala programming language, and Jonas Bonér, the creator of the Akka middleware project, Typesafe integrates Scala, Akka and developer tools to simplify and modernize software development.

If you were to take the lid off of the datacenter of every large company in the world, you might be surprised to discover that the most demanding systems are those that run some of the friendliest consumer businesses: Facebook, Zynga, Twitter and the like. Web sites that serve up games about farm animals or photos of your buddies from college may seem like fun and games, but serving up billions of unique interactions a day across hundreds of millions of consumers around the world is serious business. Many fail whales can be traced back to systems that weren’t prepared for massive scale. To improve the reliability and scalability of its service, Twitter became an early adopter of Scala. Many others, including LinkedIn and Foursquare, have followed suit.

Our old friend Moore’s Law holds that the number of transistors on a CPU doubles every two years. In the past, that meant more gigahertz, but we’ve now reached the physical limits of clock speed. So from now on, those transistors, still delivered by Moore’s Law, go towards additional CPU cores that run software applications in parallel. As a result, we are on the verge of having hundreds and then thousands of cores in our mainstream processors. And as any self-aware programmer will tell you, writing parallel software using traditional tools is hard.

For the challenge of multicore, Scala provides a better concurrent programming model that blends aspects of the object-oriented and functional programming traditions, enabling developers to be more productive while creating reliable software that scales up on multicore systems. For cloud workloads, Scala-based Akka middleware implements the actor programming model, enabling developers to write fault-tolerant software that scales out in distributed cloud environments. Scala and Akka are combined with supporting development tools in the easy-to-use Typesafe Stack.

The Typesafe Stack runs on the Java Virtual Machine and works seamlessly with existing Java environments, while rejuvenating the Java platform for modern computing architectures and workloads. With Typesafe, any Java programmer can easily take advantage of advances in multicore and cloud computing.

By giving developers the right abstractions and hiding the implementation details, Scala and Akka can make developing software a lot simpler. Typesafe provides packaging, tooling, documentation, training, and services to ease the learning curve for Scala. If you can program in Java, you can use the Typesafe Stack.

When we first met the Typesafe founders Martin and Jonas last year, their deep understanding of the fundamental challenges of modern software impressed us. And when we saw that leading companies like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Foursquare had bet their businesses on Scala, we knew that we wanted to be in business with them. We feel that the team at Typesafe – and the Scala and Akka open-source communities – are bringing developers the tools they need to create the next generation of powerful software applications.

Bill Kaiser has been with Greylock Partners for 25 years, after holding down real jobs at Hewlett Packard and Apollo Computer. He has invested almost exclusively in software companies selling to enterprises.

Donald Fischer is a principal at Greylock Partners, focusing on enterprise software, software-as-a-service, open source, mobile and cloud computing.

Image courtesy of Flickr user JanneM.

4 Responses to “Why Modern Applications Demand Modern Tools”

  1. What an excellent piece on the fact that “Shifts Happen”. The formalization of computing in the cloud from the long ago days of ASP’s to today’s SaaS over PaaS and through well thought out robust IaaS offers is a new decade of exciting opportunities. Building on a new approaches and making the web be more alive with content in context and more relevant. The LiveWeb and it’s here today! If you’re willing to stand on the edge of the future the rest of those who will follow seems simple.

  2. Sounds and looks pretty interesting, but …
    Trying to repeat Erlang success w/o support of a big corporation (like Ericsson) or open source community can be extremely hard for small start up.

  3. Given what happened with AWS recently and the fact that Foursquare (and not Netflix) went down in a big way, what do you think that says about pushing things to the cloud.

    I have a couple of SaaS apps, and we are constantly debating the feasibility of using the cloud for data storage. Our apps are for the healthcare industry, so any loss of info is catastrophic to our business.

    Is Scala something we should be looking at?

    • In my opinion, your situation means you can’t afford to have a single point of failure, whether in the cloud or your data center. The way you organize your operations is more fundamental from that perspective than the specific technology stack you use. Netflix’s post-mortem on how they avoided any significant issues from the AWS outage is probably the best read to start with.