By reducing development costs and making new features possible, cloud computing promises to create opportunities for software developers. A New York-based startup called Aviary is hoping to cash in on that promise by offering graphics programs that compete with far more expensive software.
Founded in 2007, Aviary uses Adobe’s Flex, a general-purpose platform for developing Internet-based applications, to make software that lets people modify photos, create illustrations, and share the results. Aviary’s applications run in Flash, through the Web browser on a user’s computer. Images are saved to the company’s private servers rather to a local disk drive–the conventional way of storing files. The private servers are continuously backed up to Amazon’s S3, a service that provides bulk online storage. If Aviary’s servers become overwhelmed because of, say, a glut of users, the system stays afloat by transferring files from S3 to users instead.
Aviary’s software development process has been the work of just a dozen or so programmers, and it has afforded a quick return on their effort. Because they can update the software as often as they like without requiring users to install patches or upgrades, a working version of an application can be rolled out the door as soon as it’s complete, with refinements made later. Matt Wenger, president and CEO of the software company GroupSystems, says that cloud applications can be cheaper to develop than other types of applications, especially because it removes the need to worry about how and where users install software. “You write one version of the application and you install it in your own controlled environment [on your servers],” he says, “and any changes are tested and rolled out in that environment. The net of it is that you spend hundreds of hours less in support over the life of a product for a group of customers.”
But while cloud computing can make product development and marketing more efficient, it has its own quirks. For example, Aviary needed a way to save huge image files quickly across a network. “An artist’s work flow generally requires frequent saving,” says Avi Muchnick, Aviary’s founder. “This means that we’d theoretically need the capability to send huge files multiple times in the span of a few minutes.” But constantly sending large image files back and forth over the Internet would strain Aviary’s servers and frustrate users with slow connections. The company’s solution is to detect incremental changes and transfer only those small pieces of the file that have changed.