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Vertebra: EngineYard's Next Generation Cloud Computing Platform

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Ezra Zygmuntowicz, founder of EngineYard and Merb developer, presented his latest project—Vertebra—at RailsConf 2008. The presentation slides are available on Ezra's blog.

We talked to Ezra to learn what Vertebra is and what his plans for it are.

Vertebra is a fairly large scope project. It is best described as a next generation Cloud Computing Platform. Built with Erlang/Ruby and centered around Ejabberd and XMPP. Vertebra can be used for automating the cloud as well as for distributed real time application development. The whole idea of Vertebra is to democratize the cloud, abstracting the cloud interface API's and allowing folks to utilize multiple cloud providers based on a number of cost/benefit factors. It also has large potential for enterprise integration projects. If you have some old legacy service that needs to join a modern architecture, you can write a simple agent to get your legacy service on the Vertebra message bus where it can be addressed by anything else on the message bus in a standard way.

Vertebra itself is the 'backbone' of a new platform. We are using it to automate many many servers, but it also has big implications for application developers working on the real time web. It is basically an integration system, any language with an XMPP library that implements our protocol can join the XMPP cloud and become part f a larger organism of machines and services.

So Vertebra will come with tools for automating deployment of applications and virtual servers in the cloud. But will also be useful as a backend messaging and distributed computing system that runs behind web apps, giving them powerful tools for running compute heavy jobs in parallel ala map/reduce. It will also allow for dispatching based on least loaded nodes. Say you get a request to your web app that includes some image processing and you have a farm of 20 backends that can process images. When you get the request to your web app, you make a call to vertebra asking for the least loaded node that can service this particular request, vertebra returns a list of least loaded nodes and allows you to dispatch based on this or many other factors.

We were also interested in the Ruby–Erlang combination and wanted to know how they work together.

[..] significant portions of the system are written in Erlang, Engine Yard recently hired two kick ass Erlang programmers to work on the system. The security/discovery mechanism, the state machine workflow system and the distributed key-value storage system are all written in Erlang. The agent framework for writing agents is all ruby though and the actual functionality of the agents is ruby.

But Vertebra is about integration of disparate systems so any language can become part of the XMPP cloud by simply implementing our protocol.

So when is all this technology going to be released, and under what license?

I'm happy to say that I got approval to release all of Vertebra as open source with a GPL license. We will offer paid support for Vertebra as well as hosted Jabber/Erlang infrastructure as a service.

I cannot say a definitive release date as it is still in flux. We have to finalize some aspects of our protocol and write up the XEP jabber standard document in order to get our protocol recognized as an official XEP. Of course we want to get this out there as soon as possible because I think Vertebra has far reaching ideas and I'm excited to see what other folks do with it.

We should be able to open it up this summer once we have locked down the protocol and written decent documentation.

I think web 3.0 is going to be about the real time web. XMPP is going to play a major role in this movement, Vertebra will be a great platform to build and integrate many disparate services.


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