Cloud computing lets companies move data and applications from their own servers to those managed by someone else. The dream is to forget all about managing infrastructure, but in reality, applications are still deeply tied to surrounding software, such as a specific operating system or database, so it’s not so easy to move them.
A company based in Raleigh, NC, called rPath is winning admirers among IT experts by selling technology that addresses this problem. The company won top honors last week in the “cloud and infrastructure” category at a competition held at the 2009 Venture Summit East conference in Boston.
Technology developed by the company takes an application, automatically determines what other software it relies on, and creates a self-contained virtual environment for it. Within this environment, the application gets access to only those software components that it needs. For example, the environment typically contains an extremely pared-down version of the operating system that the application runs on. After this, the application can be installed anywhere–in a cloud-computing environment or on traditional infrastructure. Maintenance of the different components bundled with the virtual application is also simplified.
Jake Sorofman, vice president of marketing and business development for rPath, says that most businesses struggle to deploy applications on their infrastructure, never mind moving them over to a cloud-computing platform. “It’s invention for the first time every time,” he says, alluding to the fact that nowadays applications are built using a wide variety of languages, libraries, and other components that can interact unpredictably. Subsequent changes, such as security updates to an operating system, can have a cascade of unintended consequences that break applications, Sorofman says. The rPath technology fits between the application and the infrastructure, easing the pain of configuration and maintenance, he says.
The company’s technology represents a different approach to deploying applications, adds Brett Adam, vice president of engineering for rPath. Traditionally, he says, companies try to keep applications working and up to date by creating and managing several layers of infrastructure. Adam says that it’s easier to have stable systems by treating each application separately.