Java in the cloud: Google, Aptana, and Stax

Google App Engine, Aptana Cloud, and Stax for EC2 make it easy to spin up and scale a simple Java Servlet Container, but are still a far cry from the full Java EE

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There are real advantages to what may at first seem like a straightjacket to any programmer who grew up opening sockets on a whim and writing to the file system whenever it felt good. The explicit limitations help architects create better applications that run more smoothly because they prevent overreaching the limits of the system. Many of the early adopters of the Java EE found themselves pulling out their hair when one of the automatic tools would take forever to deliver the magic that the API documentation promised. Making the limitations of the architecture apparent by writing a tightly limited API is more of a gift than a curse.

If there are no joins in the data store, then it will be easier to generate massive reports because the database table will be denormalized from its inception. If the jobs can't run that long, the architect can make living documents that let the user drill down to generate the necessary information on demand. That can be much more efficient than spending the entire night pre-computing something that won't be read by many people.

It's worth noting that Google has done a nice job of integrating the system with Eclipse. There is a wide variety of tools, and they do more than just upload WAR (Web archive) files to the App Engine. The standard application shell is integrated with Google Web Toolkit, the mind-bending tool that converts your Java code into JavaScript that runs on the client. The dashboard is simple but responsive. The spikes I generated in my jobs started showing up within seconds.

All of this adds up to a compelling tool for serious experimentation, the kind of monkeying around with the hope that it will turn quickly into some that's worth launching a hundred servers. The App Engine will scale up quickly and then stop on a dime as it follows the ebbs and flows of fortune's fickle whim automatically.

Aptana Cloud

Aptana made its name by creating a nice set of plug-ins that sit on top of Eclipse and make it simpler to develop Java, JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, and Python applications. Aptana Studio is a nice solution for many developers who want to work with all of the dominant Web programming languages, especially AJAX. Now the company is expanding this set of plug-ins in a partnership with Joyent hosting to produce Aptana Cloud.

Aptana Cloud, like the Studio, is a set of Eclipse plug-ins that smooth the deployment process to Joyent's collection of servers. In one tab of Eclipse you edit your code, and in another you control how it's deployed to the server running Tomcat, MySQL, and PostgreSQL. You can also build out Web sites with Rails, Jaxer, and PHP. Python is said to be coming.

The "My Cloud" tab is pretty much a fancy front end to the standard Linux server. In one tab, you can turn the server daemons (Tomcat, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Apache) on or off. If you want to add more computational resources, you can switch to another tab where the options let you choose one of four settings for disk space and RAM. The basic introduction setting includes 256MB of RAM and 5GB of disk space, billed at $0.027 per hour, a price that works out to $20 per month. If you want more, you can move a little lever that goes up to 2GB of RAM and 25GB of disk space for $0.359 per hour, or about $267 per month.

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