Another Wave of Infrastructure Apps

Recently, I took a look at the arrival of infrastructure apps. In the past, application developers often had to build a host of additional supporting functions, many of which required their own physical infrastructure. Today’s cloud computing platforms give rise to a new class of web-accessible application support functions, aka infrastructure apps, that replace costly integrated hardware and software.

For this round, I’ll look at companies that share these common themes:

  • They market to application and infrastructure developers.
  • They have a simple sign-up button on their home page.
  • They integrate through simple web-based mechanisms that turn conventional deployment times of days or weeks into minutes or hours.

Transactional email. Most applications, consumer to enterprise, rely on email as a communications mechanism with users. With a large user base, sending users something as simple as notification emails can be challenging with spam filters, blocked IP addresses and other email hurdles that complicate the process. SendGrid helps improve the chances that the email you send will reach a user’s inbox. SendGrid does this by using its email servers as a proxy, and maintaining the purity of the IP addresses, one of the biggest email management challenges

Compute-intensive cycles. While it’s getting easier to “dial up” virtual machines in the cloud, some applications still need instant access to compute cycles for CPU-intensive functions: for example, in the software development process and with math-centric calculations. Without having to actually spin up your own server, PiCloud allows application developers to send functions to the cloud where they are executed and returned. The company is initially focusing on the Python programming language, but I see no reason why this couldn’t expand later on.

Network services. Network services have been hosted for years, but the integration and simplicity of deployment has dramatically increased with cloud computing. Managed DNS is one area that is seeing rapid innovation. The Domain Naming System (DNS) maps web address domain names to network IP addresses, and companies using a DNS service benefit from improved security. OpenDNS and Zerigo provide ready-to-go DNS services.

Database as a service. Every application needs a data store, and if you know what you need at that level, why not let someone else manage it? That’s the premise behind the service offering of Cloudant, which offers a version of CouchDB in a shared cluster that’s ideal for development and small- to mid-sized applications. Instead of buying and configuring a database server, you can dial one up in the cloud.

Indexing and search. Our real-time world demands up-to-date search, and Solr, the “blazing fast open-source enterprise search platform from the Apache Lucene project” helps companies provide just that. Websolr, a company that provides support for Solr, also offers managed indexes. In this case, they host the index of your content in their shared cluster and can manage and optimize performance.

More segments are adopting the infrastructure apps model every day, and when people think outside the consumer web box, there are significant investment areas. Are there more infrastructure app areas that we’ve missed?

Gary Orenstein is the host of The Cloud Computing Show.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user michaeldbeavers.

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