Looking to the clouds

Spotlight on: CloudBees – going beyond PaaS

Chris Mayer

We talk to Steve Harris, Senior VP of Products about being voted onto the JCP Executive Committee, the success of Jenkins and more.

As one of the stalwarts of the PaaS market, Boston company CloudBees have enjoyed a successful 2012, seeing their early gamble on cloud platforms pay off.

Opening its doors in 2010 with former JBossian Sacha Labourey at the helm, CloudBees were one of the first companies to go GA with their JVM-focused Platform-as-a-Service, whilst the competition continued to tinker.

Java’s foray into cloud technologies has been a tentative one thus far. Standardisation for Java EE 7 may well be too soon, but there’s a general consensus that cloud is pivotal in maintaining Java’s relevance.

The recent election of CloudBees to the Java Community Process Executive Committee perhaps signifies this growing desire. Having fallen short in recent elections, CloudBees were elected alongside the London Java Community in late October.

Whilst Steve Harris, CloudBees’ Senior Vice President, sees cloud as big part of Java’s future, he thinks the JCP has bigger fish to fry first.

“For me there’s a impedance mismatch between a formal body that approves things and drives things through and the way people actually work today, which is primarily in open source communities,” he says. is a sizable reform effort to make the JCP relevant again to the wider community. Harris explains there’s been some good work towards “transparency and agility” in the early stages. Now however comes the acid test – wading through the mountain of legalese and resolving the issues surrounding areas like intellectual property and licensing. Not exactly an easy task with so many parties present on the JCP.

Harris adds: “If they can agree to improve some of those things, I think it will help the Java developers use and interact with the JCP proper – that formal process. If they can’t improve it, the JCP I’m afraid will continue to become less relevant to actual Java developers. It takes a lot of desire from people and companies to lower these barriers to participation and make the JCP a way that helps embrace the way Java developers work as opposed to being this gate.”

Harris praised the work of fellow electees, the “fantastic” London Java Community, in “trying to glue together the JCP”, adding that he hopes that CloudBees’s arrival to the Java steering group would bring “a sense of urgency” to the reform.

The former Oracle employee believes that the long documentation process coupled with JSRs is the biggest turnoff for developers. “It would be nice if what we could do is make the licensing requirements very uniform across technical efforts,” he told JAXenter.

“They have a standard license, they just use it and it’s something that’s familiar to them. That’s what I’d like to see happen,” he said, before reiterating that the biggest hurdle is making the JCP speak to developers, and that takes paramount importance.

“There’s actually more energy in the Java community today than there has been for two years, it’s going up. I don’t think the JCP changes are going to negate, it’s just going to happen. It’s more the trick of embracing that.”

Cloud Standardisation

On the recent Java EE Standardisation discussion, Harris admitted he was disappointed to see the Expert Group delay certain cloud features, but that it was “a reflection of reality.”

“[It] was supposed to be to fix the underpinning of things that were preventing cloud usage of EE,” he explains before adding that “some of the investment in EE 7 will pay off,” down the line.

One of the biggest challenges CloudBees have faced in the past two years is clarifying what a PaaS actually is. There’s still many unaware of what a cloud platform entails, what it can be, what it can do and what it’s not.

It’s especially difficult to get across when cloud platforms continue to be redefined – and CloudBees are no exception to that, lauding their one-click services.

Continually delivering

Companies new to the benefits of cloud platforms often worry that adding a PaaS into an development environment just bloats an already clunky infrastructure. CloudBees insist it doesn’t have to be this way, saying their “vision is to free developers from infrastructure maintenance duties so they can focus 100% on developing great applications.”

Fundamental to this core belief is Jenkins, the hugely successful continuous integration server created by Kohsuke Kawaguchi (who also works at the company as an Architect). Since taking the open source tool under its wing, installations of Jenkins have risen to 40,000, Harris informs us.

“It’s totally integral to what we’re doing. It’s become more and more obvious to more people the role that continuous integration plays in today’s development, like in mobile for example,” he explains.

“It really becomes the best tool in your toolbox. People are delivering software as a service and this is the tool they want to use to be able to deliver things continuously, as opposed to big long 18-month release cycles.”

Community call to arms

Whilst Jenkins might be the jewel in the crown for [email protected], it’s not just about CI. Like many of the PaaS players have realised, the key to success is through engaging larger developer communities of different ilks. To do this, you have to tailor your cloud platform towards that community. Amongst the projects that CloudBees target are web frameworks Play! and Grails, offering them “a native experience” according to Harris.

Recent moves such as making a CloudBees deployment option on Google App Engine opens up continuous integration in a platform where before it wasn’t possible. From a marketing perspective, it does wonders too.

“It’s kind of nice because if you’re a Google App Engine developer doing Java or Python, how do you do continuous integration and deployment? How do you setup a Dev Test Staging environment that continually drives new deployments as you push code along?” asks Harris.

“There’s nothing built into Google to do that, so we did this integration that it’s very easy to use with DevCloud service. It just pushes to App Engine, that’s another way to reach a set of developer and introduce them.”

When pressed on the company’s plans moving into the New Year, Harris was understandably coy, but felt it would be more of the same – “broadening visibility” and creating further community appeal. Harris believes developers within communities hold the key, marking out JBoss as a success story in driving through a product to the enterprise.

With Red Hat’s OpenShift and VMware’s Cloud Foundry still in beta, could 2013 prove to be the year that the PaaS market is validated? The CloudBees SVP believes so, expecting the big guns to emerge with major versions, meaning “broader uptake” for cloud platforms in general.

Some smaller vendors might fall by the wayside in the coming year (or be gobbled up by bigger fish) but the meticulous strategic planning from CloudBees mean they certainly won’t be one of them, with their fingers in so many pies.

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