Software Vets Turn to Federated Cloud Computing

By Derrick Harris

December 2, 2008

Every now and then — especially in the cloud computing market — you come across a company who seems to have something really unique going on. Such is the case with Arjuna, whose software, business model and experience suggest it could have a bright future in the cloud.

Here is a little background from its Web site (www.arjuna.com):

Arjuna Technologies is a Centre of Excellence in reliable, large-scale distributed systems building products for some of the world’s leading software companies.

Originally formed as a University research group in 1985. The group spun out of Newcastle University in 1998 to commercialise its research output and focused on sales to middleware application server vendors. This strategy was rewarded in 2000 when Arjuna was acquired by Bluestone Software for $13.25M. Bluestone’s press release read “Through our acquisition of Arjuna, we became a leader in the new world of distributed Internet transactioning”. In 2001 Bluestone was acquired by Hewlett-Packard for $525M and Arjuna operated as HP-Arjuna Labs, a part of HP’s middleware division, based in Newcastle upon Tyne.

After a merger between HP and Compaq, that led to substantial reorganisation of HP, Arjuna’s management team executed a management buyout with the support of HP and became independent again with a strategy of improving the product IP and focusing on service delivery. This strategy succeeded with the sale of the Arjuna Transaction Service IP to JBoss Group in late 2005 for a seven figure sum.

Since 2005, the company has been focused on utility computing. The result is Agility, a platform for creating federated cloud computing platforms. According to CEO Steve Caughey, “Our focus is on being able to connect together users to clouds and clouds to clouds to create a dynamic network of clouds, which from the perception of the individual user is just one cloud, but behind the covers it’s a number of companies connected together through service agreements.”

To accomplish this, Agility acts as an overlay to existing infrastructure, to which, Caughey says, users can assign resources and define services. Agility then dynamically provisions resources for that set of shared resources based on user-defined SLAs. The catch, though, is that Agility allows Cloud No. 1 to connect to another set of resources (and more after that), regardless of whether it’s another department’s infrastructure or a public cloud offering. For example, Caughey told me, Arjuna integrates with Amazon EC2 by running an instance of Agility on Amazon’s cloud, and then managing EC2 as if it’s a container into which Agility can drop components and applications as need.

“The idea,” he says, “is to allow you to create a market, effectively, for clouds, so you can make comparative choices depending on pricing, service agreements, and so on.”

Service agreements between end-users and the service providers (including corporate IT departments) are specific between the two parties, who can define the semantics of their external contracts and assign SLAs to Agility accordingly. To enable billing, Arjuna gives a thorough auditing of service agreements. Initially, Caughey acknowledges, agreements probably will be made internally or with much-trusted partners, but he believes things will open up over time. And actually, he added, some apps already are ready for the public cloud, with middle-ground apps becoming ready as cloud offering evolve.

Caughey says that Arjuna’s focuses on services, as opposed to applications, is what set the company apart. Agility maps service requirements onto application components, which then are mapped to physical resources. It’s all abstracted from the underlying infrastructure — including the software — he told me: “We’re neutral as far as applications are concerned.” In fact, he said, while Arjuna’s focus has been on enterprise apps, he sees applicability for HPC and Web 2.0 apps, as well. Agility provides the platform, and whatever the application does is its own business.

For the time being, managed hosting providers looking to offer cloud services are Arjuna’s target market. On top of dynamic provisioning, Caughey says Agility will let providers bridge their resources to public clouds to  give users the “impression of highly scalable, highly available services.” Six months ago, he said, financial services would have been a target, but, obviously, circumstances have changed a bit. That said, he knows that Platform’s financial customers were looking to federate their grids, and he assumed DataSynapse customers were thinking the same thing. (Since I spoke with Caughey, DataSynapse affirmed this customer desire by releasing its Federator product.) Ultimately, though, cloud computing is wide-ranging model, and Caughey thinks Arjuna’s pay-per-use pricing model offers  any potential customers a “very gradual way, an organic way” to test and get comfortable with the software and the cloud.

As with most things cloud computing-related, though, it’s important to remember it’s early on. Arjuna, for example, doesn’t have a referenceable customer (although they hope to shortly), and even the licensing model isn’t a finished product. “[E]xactly what we monitor and how we measure in a moot point at the moment,” he told me, because there are a variety of billable metrics available. He suggested as possible models charging based on the number of service agreements a customer enters into, or the amount of dynamic provisioning that is done, but it will be on a pay-per-use basis, he assures.

Like I said, it is early days for both cloud computing and Arjuna’s play in the field. But if past success and knowledge in large-scale distributed systems are any indicators, Arjuna could make a splash. It’ll be competing with companies like VMware for offering a hybrid cloud experience, but, once it gets everything in order, customers not wanting to further bind themselves with vendor lock-in might consider giving Arjuna a look.

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