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Stackato: A Great Leap Forward for ActiveState and the Cloud Foundry Platform
by Diane Mueller

Diane Mueller, March 8, 2012

At ActiveState, we have always worked to make a difference, whether we’re making it easier for developers to code, or enabling IT/DevOps to manage applications in the cloud. We have always been and will always be big believers in open source technology. The ActiveState universe encompasses quality-assured language distributions, user-friendly development environments, and support for a two-million-developer-strong programmer community. Our open-source roots and our commitment to our customers has helped us deliver on our vision: making it easier, faster, and safer to create, migrate, manage, scale, and deploy applications to the cloud.

In May 2011, VMWare launched Cloud Foundry, its open-source Platform as a Service (PaaS) code base. ActiveState jumped onboard, even becoming the Python Community Lead for the Cloud Foundry platform. We recognized the potential of the Cloud Foundry platform immediately. And now, with the launch of Stackato, we’ve taken Cloud Foundry to the next level, creating a rock-solid distribution for production use on any cloud (including vSphere, EC2, OpenStack, KVM, Xen, HP Cloud Services), all with ActiveState commercial-grade support, production-use SLAs, and professional services. In essence, we’ve “hardened” Cloud Foundry for the enterprise.

As with most Open Source projects, there is an impressive community talent pool backing the Cloud Foundry project  – including VMWare’s Cloud Foundry team headed up by Derek Collison. ActiveState’s engineering has contributed back to the project and created a core team of in-house engineers with deep Cloud Foundry expertise who have extended the platform to make it more secure, more efficient, and easier to deploy.

What’s the difference between Cloud Foundry and Stackato?
Cloud Foundry is the open-source PaaS platform. It’s a bare-bones, DIY solution, but it’s also a stable framework ideal for extension. Though built upon Cloud Foundry, Stackato is much more than just an extension—It’s the application platform for creating a private PaaS using any language on any stack on any cloud. It offers developers and enterprises innovative features built atop the “vanilla” Cloud Foundry framework.

The Stackato Management Console offers app visibility
Stackato’s Management Console gives you complete visibility into the health of your PaaS and the apps running on it. The web-based GUI offers comprehensive administrative control of Stackato applications running in the cloud.

 

The Management Console includes a configurable App Store from which you can easily deploy FOSS applications (such as WordPress or Drupal) or add your own enterprise applications for easy deployment directly from the console.

 

Extending the range of languages and framework support
In addition to adding ActivePerl and ActivePython support to the Stackato “stack,” ActiveState has also included a persistent file system service—a must-have for Drupal PHP developers. Cloud Foundry project file storage is limited to database file storage—instances are ephemeral. With Stackato, applications can scale to dozens or even hundreds of instances while sharing file storage. Developers can easily push applications like Drupal—which relies on file system level storage—to the cloud, and then scale, without having to fork the Drupal code base.

No more DIY installs
We’ve taken all the work out of deploying a private PaaS – Stackato includes both virtual-appliance and script-based cluster deployment for multiple cloud platforms. There’s even an Amazon EC2 AMI template that auto-boots a complete running Stackato PaaS instance. As always with ActiveState, you can count on excellent technical documentation and support on our community site. With Stackato, you can have your own PaaS cluster up and running quickly. (Most of the time is taken to spin up the instances themselves.) With vanilla Cloud Foundry PaaS deployments, you’ll have to write your own scripts or buy into a third-party orchestration tool to get your PaaS up and running.

Our client is on steroids
Whether deploying new applications, migrating an existing application or running an application with no web front-end at all, the Stackato client enables you to easily interact with your application either via the command line, our award-winning Komodo IDE, Eclipse Plug-in, your favorite scripting language, or from our Management Console. Stackato gets your application onto the cloud faster, safer, and easier with a single ‘stackato push –n’ command.

Stackato is 100% API-compliant with the Cloud Foundry VMC client. But we’ve extended it to support commands such as dbshell, tunnel, and run. We’ve also added the ability to configure hooks to run at various points of the app staging and running process. Stackato also has full crontab support: Cron commands can be provided either in a regular crontab file in the root directory of the app, or via the cron: section in the stackato.yml file.

The base Cloud Foundry framework offers support for a simple app configuration file via the manifest.yml file, and has some data-tunneling available. That’s suitable for new or greenfield applications with minimal configuration requirements.

Built-in security with Stackato
Stackato takes your application security seriously. Stackato deploys applications to a secure container, effectively protecting the application, data, and users from outside (or even inside) threats. By design, Stackato makes use of Linux Containers (lxc) to provide a secure, isolated environment for your apps in the cloud. Stackato ensures that each app has access to everything it needs to operate – all that is visible of the server are your app's files and processes, and nothing else. Thanks to Stackato’s proprietary containerization approach, an outsider trying to hack your app won’t get far.

Stackato’s lxc containerization architecture even protects apps from each other. Stackato includes checks and balances to ensure each deployed app gets its fair share of CPU. Stackato prevents an app from going rogue and tying up all of your server's RAM. Stackato allows you to set a RAM allocation on a per-app basis, ensuring that your server (and your other apps) stay running even if one app is misconfigured. Stackato makes certain that no app will go over the set RAM limit.

In contrast, Cloud Foundry relies on Unix user permissions which have to be managed and maintained manually (and with an eagle eye!). There is no specific security built-in to prevent users and applications gaining access to RAM, content, files, and directories that really should be out of bounds.

Did I mention auto-scaling?
Stackato 1.0 includes automatic scaling functionality for both Amazon EC2 and vSphere environments. This allows your Stackato cloud to automatically scale your capacity up or down according to conditions you define, instead of having to set a static cluster size you have to watch and manage manually. While vanilla Cloud Foundry provides all the mechanisms to allow for auto-scaling, it’s not available in a basic Cloud Foundry deployment without significant additional coding.

Engineers, Extensions, and Technical Support On-demand
It’s an open source blessing and curse: Open-source products rely on a community for support. It’s great to be part of that broader community, developing and contributing to the shared open-source project. But relying on community-based support isn’t always practical for the enterprise. For instance, it’s difficult for companies to protect themselves from unwanted changes or delays in getting change requests incorporated in a timely fashion. With most open-source projects (including Cloud Foundry), there are multiple parties involved with decision-making and product governance, and that can complicate IT planning in the enterprise, and make it difficult if your organization needs a customization (such as an extension) to support business needs.

ActiveState offers the best of both worlds—an engineering team of core Cloud Foundry experts backing a professional services team delivering commercial-ready SLAs, support, and services. We can help you navigate your path to the cloud.

We’re committed to Cloud Foundry
ActiveState is proud to be part of the vibrant and growing Cloud Foundry community. Some of the top Cloud Foundry technology experts work right here in our office. We’re passionate about Cloud Foundry and committed to its future. After all, it’s a fundamental piece of what makes Stackato the best choice for private PaaS in the enterprise.
 

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Diane Mueller is a Cloud Evangelist at ActiveState. She has been designing & implementing financial applications at Fortune 500 corporations for over 20 years. Diane has been actively involved in development efforts of XBRL Open Standard (http://www.xbrl.org) since 1999.