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Keeping Innovation Alive: Jeff Talks 2.8
by Isabelle Groc

Isabelle Groc, March 15, 2013

With a new Stackato release every two to three months, ActiveState keeps pace with a rapidly evolving private platform-as-a-service environment. Each release brings more innovation.

Jeff Hobbs, ActiveState’s Engineering VP, talks about the latest 2.8’s new features.

What is exciting about the Stackato 2.8 release?

2.8 takes PaaS to the next level with a lot of features that are not available in Cloud Foundry-based PaaS infrastructures; and of course we are providing these features in a way that you can install them either in a public space or on your own private data center.

Tell us about the new Harbor service?

The Harbor port service is one of the most innovative elements for 2.8. It enables port management and opens up a new class of applications in Stackato. Many of the existing PaaS ecosystems are all about running web applications, but it is not all about web apps when you are running things.

With Harbor, we are taking a step in enabling a new set of applications that require multiple ports to operate, and this is all done in a way that keeps things secure and separated at the app level. The favorite application for testing this locally was Minecraft. There are a lot of services this can enable, administrative port tasks for example. We can monitor the system more easily, and this is all going way beyond web apps.

What are the other new features you are excited about?

We have written the backend pieces of our DEA management to use a new component we call Fence that handles the allocation of the containers, at the core level of the system. With Fence, we have reduced the memory usage and improved the performance of 2.8. Fence is really about faster operation of the system core.

Another new feature is a user authentication component called AOK which controls user access. We are releasing this new component in beta in 2.8, based on the previous LDAP integration that was available in 2.6. AOK will make the life of enterprises much easier because it comes with full LDAP integration available through just a few config settings, to have your Stackato system tap into your existing LDAP directory services for determining who the allowable users are in the system. It provides better out of the box, core functionality.

There are many other improvements in 2.8?

There are a couple dozen extra features. We have made improvements to our log aggregation and streaming services that make it more resilient to failure. Web sockets and SPDY support are part of the default setup now as well.

We have enabled java debugging (JPDA) in the system via the new Harbor port service. There is also a major reorganization of the Kato commands. Kato is the back-end server control system that helps end-users and cluster administrators scale out, setup, and manage a Stackato distribution. There were a lot of commands that had accreted themselves into kato over time, and we finally took the opportunity to rationalize them all.

How do you choose what to focus on for your releases?

We take several approaches, First, there is a backlog of items that we are always trying to address. We make sure that the code quality and structure don’t degrade over time.

The second approach is user and customer feedback that comes through support, sales, and product management.

Third, we always try and keep innovation alive in Stackato. It is a core part of development, and something we always try to maintain. So not only are we listening to the customers about what they need, but we also try to stay one or two steps ahead so customers always see something new. The log aggregation feature is a good example of how we think in terms of innovation. We knew that customers wanted to do log management. We saw how some of the others were doing it, we decided to rethink this concept, and we came up with logyard system in 2.4. It is an example of how we approach innovation, and it is always about having something new and interesting to be tested out with each new release.

What are the business impacts for enterprises that will use Stackato 2.8?

They get easier setup and integration into their existing systems with AOK. The Harbor port service opens up a new class of applications beyond web apps or simple stand-alone apps. It is basically open season for the developers in the controlled park that IT has set up. And with Fence, the system runs faster and better, scales easier.

With each new release, it is more, better, and faster.

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Isabelle joined ActiveState as a Technical Editor after several years as a freelance journalist, editor, and photographer, and has contributed to a variety of media outlets including PC Magazine, Canadian Geographic, Discover, Canadian Wildlife, Georgia Straight, and Scientific American.