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VMware's spinoff Pivotal going after AWS

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May 9, 2014

Yet another company is making a bet that platform-as-a-services clouds are the future and Amazon Web Services' infrastructure-as-a-service technology is the past.

This time its VMware's subsidiary Pivotal which has launched a "Pivotal Web Services" cloud based on its own Cloud Foundry platform-as-a-service to take on equivalent services from Google (App Engine), Amazon (AWS Elastic Beanstalk), Salesforce (Heroku), and Microsoft (Azure).

PWS runs on top of CloudFoundry 6 (CF 6), which is a PaaS service with open source elements. PaaS's allows developers less control over underlying infrastructure but claim to make application deployment significantly easier.

CF is written in Go (its predecessor was made in Ruby), and Pivotal says this gives it greater and faster performance.

Initially though, the PaaS supports apps written in Ruby, Node.js., and Java, but developers can add their own applications and runtimes by building "Custom Buildpacks".

"Overall, Buildpacks are a convenient way of packaging framework and/or runtime support for your applications," Pivotal explains.

"For example, by default, Cloud Foundry does not support Python, or a Python framework like Django. Using a buildpack for Python and Django would allow you to add support for these at the deployment stage," added Pivotal.

Buildpacks are one of the keys to Pivotal's overall technology strategy, which sees the company take a different approach from those of its rivals.

Pricing has been designed to be substantially lower than its competitors, with Pivotal's pricing for its service working out to about $10.80 per month versus Amazon's $35.27.

Though the company's comparison isn't exactly correct as it stands now, as AWS's "Elastic Load Balancer" has different characteristics to its "HTTP Routing and Balancing", it serves as a good rough estimate for where the service fits.

PWS also comes with a "Services Marketplace", which means that people can easily integrate and pay for additional technology such as ClearDB's MySQL Database or SendGrid for email delivery, or a MongoDB-as-a-Service technology from MongoLab, and so on.

But overall, Pivotal Web Services is a serious bet by VMware that it can succeed in a cloud world. The main emphasis of the company is on-premises installs wrapped in a pricy package of consultation.

It's also worth remembering that we've been here before-- both Google and Microsoft's early cloud services were both platform-as-a-service systems, and they failed to make the companies significant sums of money.

Both have since developed infrastructure-as-a-service platforms as part of a Plan B for greater revenue.

In other IT news

IBM has released a new Phase Change Memory product research and demo effort-- a hybrid PCM/NAND server flash card that has at least twelve times lower latency than an enterprise PCIe flash card.

The hybrid card completed 99.9 percent of write requests within 240 microseconds, equal to 1 millionth of a second. A consumer-class SSD took 275 times longer before it started writing the data in the test IBM used.

Phase Change Memory (PCM) uses a chemical state change (from amorphous to crystalline) in a chalcogenide alloy, with the differing resistance levels of the two states signalling a binary 1 or 0.

The change in state is caused by controlled heating. PCM has been trumpeted as a follow-on technology to NAND, which is running out of acceptable error rates and endurance as cell geometry shrinks below 16 nm.

PCM cells can be written or reprogrammed to at least 106 times. The performance and price characteristics of PCM lie between DRAM and NAND.

But overall, producing PCM has been problematic at the best of times, partly because it has a relatively high write latency, and so this IBM Research demonstration is significant.

Ioannis Koltsidas, a semiconductor memory boffin at IBM's Zurich labs, in conjunction with colleagues there and at the University of Patras, built a hybrid PCIe card furnished with both NAND and PCM and tested its performance.

They called it a Prototype Storage Subsystem (PSS). Micron P5Q 128 Mbit PCM chips were used with 90nm technology nodes. These were commercially available when the project started at the end of 2012.

The write time for a sector I/O (512B + 64B) was 1.15 msecs with the read time being 75.24 µsecs so it's a tad asymmetrical.

More sub-banks on the card make for a better write performance while more sub-channels improve the read performance.

Koltsidas states-- "We chose a configuration that minimises write latency without severely penalising reads." He adds-- "The design of PSS targets storage workloads that are dominated by small (eg, 4 KB) random I/O operations and aims to achieve low, predictable latency with reads and writes."

The testing results included a chart of latency profiles for the PSS card, an MLC flash PCIe card, and a TLC (3-layer cell) SSD - the baseline in effect.

The test used "per-I/O latency measurements for two hours of uniformly random 4KB writes at QD=1, after 12 hours of preconditioning with the same workload."

The PSS card's latency was 12 times lower than an MLC SSD but this is not such a big deal, not relatively. If we want faster flash we could use an SLC flash PCIe card. However it used old PCM chips, 18 months old technology, and newer PCM chips may well be better.

With this result Koltsidas said that PCM is a promising new technology and suggests the following use cases for a PCM card:

  • Caching device
  • Metadata store
  • Backend for low-latency key-value store
  • Tiered storage device in a hybrid configuration with Flash
  • That seems sensible, but of course, whether IBM will build such a card is another question. We think it's unlikely to leave the lab.

    Perhaps Micron or another PCIe flash card supplier might make one though, if the cost profile is acceptable and customers will pay sufficient money for the performance improvement.

    In other IT news

    At a cost of one billion dollars, HP has finally unveiled its two-year campaign promoting its open-source cloud, now rebranded as Helion. The company says it will be spending on R&D, the development of cloud products and hiring “hundreds” of experts in a new OpenStack professional services practice.

    Various experts are being hired to cover planning advice, building and migration, and operations and management.

    Underpinning this will be a tried and tested HP-branded version of the OpenStack distro released in two packages - one free, the other commercial.

    The Helion OpenStack Community edition is the free version but will feature relatively limited functionality, for use in pilot programs and testing.

    The commercial edition of the HP-branded code is promised for sometime in June, and that will have been tested to scale to thousands of servers. It will support third-party plug-ins, come with management tools, and run with a choice of hypervisors and hardware.

    According to Hewlett-Packard, Helion OpenStack follows the core of the OpenStack trunk.

    A development platform that’s based on Cloud Foundry will also be announced. Called the HP Helion Development Platform-as-a-service (PaaS), HP’s development service is due for a preview release in the third quarter of the year.

    Additionally, HP is offering Helion a financial umbrella should patent sharks come knocking at the door.

    Source: VMware.

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