CloudExpo 2010 NYC: RoR Platform as a Service for the Enterprise
Jason Lochhead of Terremark (CTO of Cloud Computing) and Tom Mornini of Engine Yard were co-presentors of this session. The session explained how and why Ruby on Rails (RoR) Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings such as Engine Yard are becoming formidable competition to perhaps more well-known PaaS options such as Force.com, Google App Engine, and Microsoft Azure.
Mr. Lochhead started the session with a quick chronology of Terramark’s evolution toward support for cloud computing. He explained that his company’s customers wanted something between traditional hosting and managed services, which lead to Terramark offering an enterprise cloud platform. While this initial Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solution meets the needs of some customers, Mr. Lochhead said that Terramark believes the next evolution in cloud computing is toward PaaS. Why? Because PaaS manages takes care of more management thus allowing app builders to focus just on coding. To that end, Terramark has partnered with Engine Yard to deliver the trusted infrastructure necessary to support an enterprise-grade RoR PaaS.
Mr. Mornini then took over the session and delivered one of the best presentations I have seen yet at the show. Each slide was a simple sentence or graphic that one could scan in a second or two, and then listen to the speaker discuss the key points of the slide, then on to the next slide. Bravo! Someone who has obviously watched a Steve Jobs presentation, read a book like Beyond BulletPoints, and then honed his presentation skills.
The key point that Mr. Mornini made during his segment was that RoR clouds offer an incredible level of agility and speed when compared to other choices for building apps. He contends that RoR coupled with cloud deployment options such as Engine Yard enables quality apps to be built with much less effort, and in an iterative fashion that delivers apps that actually meet the needs of end-users.
At the end of the session during the question and answer period, Mr. Mornini asked how many of the attendees were considering PaaS, and then RoR/PaaS. Out of the 50 or so people in the audience that seem to be focused on enterprise apps, no one admitted that RoR/PaaS was being considered in their organization. When asked why, one person stated that there are relatively few skilled RoR developers for the enterprise space when compared to Java or .NET.
Yet RoR seems to be all the rage in non-enterprise software development circles. I have a theory as to why RoR usage varies so much inside and outside the enterprise. First, startups and smaller organizations don’t have the vast resources of an enterprise, so licenses for .NET and other proprietary environments eat away at their limited budgets. In contrast, RoR apps are typically built on open-source components top to bottom. Second, startups and smaller organizations typically have to build things very fast and with very high quality within the first several iterations to be competitive. The Rails framework makes building standard web app components like a form as easy as one line of code. I think that it’s only a matter of time before RoR finds its way into the enterprise as more and more developers learn about its advantages compared to other options.
To that point, I wish Mr. Mornini would have had some slides in his deck hat did code comparisons of RoR, Java, and .NET. When presenters show seasoned web app developers how much you can do with RoR using so little code, integrated support for AJAX and unit/functional/integration testing, and vast libraries of plugins for almost everything you can imagine, they typically become RoR evangelists in no time.
Disclosure: My company is using RoR to help two of our clients build their solutions.