Can Heroku Become the Official Cloud of Facebook Apps?

Updated: Spotting an opportunity to formally merge cloud computing with social networking, Ruby-focused PaaS startup Heroku has developed a program specifically to help customers develop and launch Facebook apps on the Heroku platform. The aptly named Facebook App Package includes a how-to guide and a standard set of must-have features from Heroku’s fast-growing add-on market. Given the huge number of social apps hosted atop Heroku, the time is ripe to launch this program, which is available now.

Last week, Heroku CEO Byron Sebastian told Om that the company is set to cross the 100,000-application threshold, an impressive feat given Heroku’s relatively small size compared with other cloud providers.  On Nov. 1, Heroku founder James Lindenbaum told me the company will exceed that mark “very shortly.” According to the Heroku website, its platform already hosts almost 98,000 apps, and Lindenbaum said the number coming on board per week has doubled over the past few months. In April, Heroku was hosting 60,000 applications. Lindenbaum estimates 25-30 percent of the apps fall under the umbrella of social media.

Of those roughly 25,000-30,000 applications, Facebook apps represent a large and growing percentage. With a little help, Facebook developers using Heroku have built applications that avoid the performance issues many other apps face. Many other apps can’t handle the complexities of interfacing with both the Facebook platform and the backend infrastructure — or even the amount of traffic. Lindenbaum points to Heroku customer Cardinal Blue, which maintains high performance for its social-gaming portfolio despite managing 12 million unique users.

With the Facebook App Package, Heroku customers have access to a best-practices guide and a starter kit of a 20GB dedicated database, 20 backend processes, 1GB of Membase Memcache, New Relic’s RPM Gold application-management service and a $200 credit for additional add-ons. With so many Facebook developers already choosing Heroku, Lindenbaum thinks the new program could drive significant growth. “We want to see what happens when we give people the core guidance.”

If successful, the Facebook App Package could spur an even broader social media push by Heroku. Lindenbaum says this is likely the first in a series of vertically focused packages, and there has been some thought given to a formal partnership with Facebook. He didn’t have details on how that partnership might look, but the idea of Heroku as the Official Application Platform of Facebook has a nice ring. Update: Heroku isn’t alone in targeting Facebook developers, though, as Joyent offers its own program hosted atop its SmartMachines IaaS platform. Update two: The Joyent program, which gives developers one virtual machine plus storage and bandwidth for a year, has been available since 2007 and, according to founder and chief scientist Jason Hoffman, maintains a steady– and capped — rate of about 15,000 VMs.

An interesting sidenote: However successful Heroku is with social apps (or in general), Amazon Web Services (s amzn) wins. Not only does Heroku run atop AWS, but some large social-software companies, such as Zynga, host their applications directly atop AWS.

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