This is the 4th post in the PaaS is the future of Cloud Services Series. In this post, I am going to talk about the importance of extensibility of any platform and highlight one of the vendors in the space, Northscale. Yesterday Northscale announced a Series B funding worth $10M led by Mayfield Fund. Series A investors included Accel Partners and NorthBridge Venture Partners. They also announced the addition of industry veteran Bob Wiederhold as their CEO. I got a chance to talk to Northscale during Under the Radar event and, again, over a telephone call. I am pretty impressed with what they are doing. In this post, I will talk a little bit about the importance of any platform service to be extensible and then dig a bit about Northscale and what they do to extend some of the well known Platform Services vendors.

Some of the biggest concerns about platform services are the possible vendor lockin and lack of options to meet the diverse needs of the customers. The former can be solved by making the platform open in the sense of open protocols, support for open formats, etc.. The latter problem can be solved by making the platform extensible. The world is diverse and the needs are diverse too. It is impossible for single vendor to satisfy the diverse needs of the marketplace. In fact, if any vendor tries to do it, it is foolish in my opinion. Any smart vendor will make their platform extensible so that third party developers can build various products/services around the platform. Even in the traditional software world, extensibility was very important for the success of the platform.

In the world of cloud computing, IaaS has the maximum extensibility and SaaS has the least extensibility. PaaS lies somewhere in between. In fact, the biggest attraction towards IaaS in the early days of cloud computing was mostly due to the fine grained control the developers gets in customizing the platform stack. But the flip side of this is the burden on the developers to manage automatic scaling of the platform and ensuring its security. This led to PaaS being more attractive but developers want more extensible platforms that could cater to their varying needs. Vendors like Heroku and Engine Yard jumped in to fill the gap. Heroku offers what are called as “Add-ons” and Engine Yard offers something called “extensible configurations”. These are extensible platforms that allows developers to customize the platform to match their application needs.

Such extensible platforms encourages third party developers and other vendors to offer services around the platform leading to a vibrant marketplace with wide variety of products and services. Some of these marketplaces are centralized and others are somewhat decentralized without the platform vendor forcing their hands on the developers. In the case of Heroku, they made it very easy for the third party vendors to offer services around their platform. Any developer or vendor wanting to offer their services for Heroku customers can easily hookup with their platform by sending a small configuration file. In fact, Heroku handles everything else including billing, thereby, making it very easy for the third party developers. From the users side, they can signup for the services and use in their applications with a few clicks. Successful platforms are the ones that makes extensibility part of their core dna making it easy for developers and users. 

Extensible platforms are just one part of the story. There should be a vibrant ecosystem around the platform to make the platform really useful. For the platform services to be successful, these developers/vendors are important. They are the ones who offer services that are otherwise unavailable for the developers. The role of such providers becomes all the more important for the PaaSy future we have been talking around. Northscale is one such vendor offering memcached based data management solutions that helps developers scale their applications seamlessly without much effort. Even though their core business is virtual appliance based distribution of memcached with some enhanced features, their offering around Heroku platform is essentially memcached as a service. Heroku platform users can buy slices of their service based on their application needs and pay only for what they used, in a typical cloud computing style. 

Let us take a look at why Northscale’s technology is important in today’s world and how it is core to the success of platform services. In the era of web apps and SaaS, the amount of data produced and stored increases at an exponential rate. In the traditional world, the need for additional data resources were handled in the scale-up manner. RDBMS played a crucial role for handling all these data. For the kind of data we are dealing in today’s world, the traditional scale-up approach to scaling will not work. We need a scale-out approach to handling data. RDBMS fails big time in scaling out. As an alternative solution, NoSQL gained steam offering Scale-out solutions to the data management problems we face today. However, organizations that are deep rooted in the RDBMS world are skeptical about taking a plunge into the NoSQL approach because there is a discontinuity while jumping directly into the alternative approaches to data management. Ideally, these organizations would want to take step by step approach in the transition. This is where Northscale comes in. They offer solutions for organizations to take a gradual approach while moving from the erstwhile scale-up technologies to the newer scale-out technologies. 
Northscale solves this problem by offering a seamless, stepwise path from this starting point, to an alternative database model that scales-out, thereby matching the scaling strategy employed at the application layer of a modern web application using the well tested memcached solution. Northscale’s Memcached Server, a directly-addressed, distributed (scale-out), in-memory, key-value cache, can be used with the existing RDBMS implementations, caching frequently used data, thereby reducing the number of queries a database server must perform for web servers delivering a web/saas application. In fact, according to Northscale, their memcached offering is the only solution that offers non-disruptive move to a full featured scale-out data management solution.

As Platform services gain stream and as more and more businesses start using PaaS for their application needs, they will find solutions like Northscale’s very useful. By making their platform extensible, PaaS providers can let application developers use technology like the one offered by Northscale. Even though they are only offering their services for Heroku platform right now, they are open to doing it for other platforms in the future. They are ready and waiting to help extend platform services of the future. 
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Krishnan Subramanian

Krish dons several avatars including entrepreneur in exile, analyst cum researcher, technology evangelist, blogger, ex-physicist, social/political commentator, etc.. My main focus is research and analysis on various high impact topics in the fields of Open Source, Cloud Computing and the interface between them. I also evangelize Open Source and Cloud Computing in various media outlets, blogs and other public forums. I offer strategic advise to both Cloud Computing and Open Source providers and, also, help other companies take advantage of Open Source and Cloud Computing. In my opinion, Open Source commoditized software and Cloud Computing commoditized computing resources. A combination of these two developments offers a strong competitive advantage to companies of all sizes and shapes. Due to various factors, including fear, the adoption of both Open Source and Cloud Computing are relatively slow in the business sector. So, I take it upon myself to clear any confusion in this regard and educate, enrich and advise users/customers to take advantage of the benefits offered by these technologies. I am also a managing partner in two consulting companies based in India. I blog about Open Source topics at and Cloud Computing related topics at

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