Engine Yard goes PHP with Orchestra acquisition

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Platform-as-a-Service veteran Engine Yard is getting on board with the recent trend of multi-language support by acquiring Dublin, Ireland-based PHP PaaS startup Orchestra. Engine Yard has built up a portfolio of more than 2,000 paying customers for its flagship Ruby on Rails platform service, but a recent industry shift toward supporting more than one language and/or framework forced Engine Yard to pull the trigger on the Orchestra deal now.

A level up from Infrastructure-as-a-Service on the oft-cited cloud computing stack, PaaS offerings have become very popular among individual developers within their particular languages. That’s because PaaS lets developers write applications without regard for infrastructure-level concerns such as server count or operating system. However, PaaS has attracted its fair share of critics because, historically at least, offerings have often focused around one language, which left developers using multiple services when they wanted to write applications in multiple languages.

This has begun to change in the past year, however, with myriad multi-language PaaS offerings hitting the market, and with legacy providers (if we can say that in a field only a few years old) continuing to add support for additional languages. Even notoriously single-language platforms such as Heroku (Ruby) and Google App Engine (Python) now support multiple languages and/or frameworks.

For its part, Engine Yard CEO John Dillon told me, the company has been considering such a move at least since he joined three years ago. In fact, he said, the first question he asked when he joined the company was “Just Ruby, or more?” By his thinking, the company couldn’t fully leverage what it has learned over the past five years by sticking with Ruby on Rails alone; it was unnecessarily limiting itself to a discrete customer base.

Furthermore, Dillon noted, sticking with Ruby on Rails only meant that other PaaS providers “would eventually learn what we spent the last five years learning [about running a PaaS business and] mount a competitive threat.” So, when the company began reworking its core code about 18 months ago, he said, it made sure the code could support multiple cloud providers and programming languages.

However, Dillon is sure to make clear, Engine Yard did not rush into its decision to buy Orchestra and support PHP. It has built such a solid business, he explained, because the company knows Ruby inside and out and can answer pretty much any question a customer might have. When Engine Yard entered into talks with Orchestra last year, Dillon knew he had found a PHP PaaS provider that shared in Engine Yard’s vision of providing deep programming knowledge within its field.

Dillon said that Engine Yard isn’t going to stop with Ruby and PHP, though. Already, he noted, the Engine Yard supports JRuby in a beta-like manner, and, he said “you’re going to see us support Node.js in the not too distant future.” The plan is to add languages one-by-one when the timing is right, he said.

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