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Java in the cloud: Google, Aptana, and Stax

Peter Wayner | April 22, 2009
Just as the megastars in Hollywood seem to find each other and fall in love, it was only inevitable that two of the greatest buzzwords ever hatched -- "Java" and "cloud" -- would meet and begin to breed.

At this point in time, you download the code, build your application on your machine, and redeploy code with a command-line tool. This flexibility lets you use Ant, Eclipse, or any other Java tool to build the application. I wouldn't be surprised if Stax doesn't eventually integrate some of the wiki-like features from other Web sites into its tool and make it possible to do much of the building in your browser.

The Stax cloud, by the way, is just a subcloud of Amazon's EC2. Or maybe it's a virtual cloud. In any case, Stax Networks rents from Amazon and then turns around and rents to you. This means that you might want to use some of Amazon's other services, like S3, because they don't require a long trip across the Internet. They're all in the same server farm.

The Stax software doesn't offer up as much low-level access as Aptana, but it offers a greater variety of computational resources. On one hand, you can't just push a button to get root access to your server. There's no Secure FTP or other configurations available. On the other hand, you can move your application to a cluster with up to five servers with just a click of the button.

The simplicity of the Stax software made it easier to get moving. I was able to start up a simple Wicket application and move it to a cluster of two machines in just a few minutes. As I pounded on it, I could watch the graphs show how the CPU and memory spiked as the HTTP requests piled up. It was pretty simple to push the servers to the edge.

Stax offers the full JVM, but there are some minor hiccups. You can pretty much do anything you would normally do with Tomcat, such as start up your own threads, but you've got to be aware that some of the resources, like the file system, might be a bit hidden. The applications can write directly to a sandboxed corner of the file system, but this data is not synchronized between machines. If you're only going to use one server, you'll be fine. The simplest way to handle the synchronized data is to write to Amazon's S3 because it's in the same datacenter. I suppose you might also handle the synchronization yourself by setting up JMS because when it comes down to it, Stax is just Tomcat under the hood.

The Stax cloud is still officially in a free beta. The JVMs all run in 256MB of memory, but this will be another dial that you can choose in the future. The prices haven't been set, but it only makes sense that it will be a bit more expensive than Amazon's cloud unless Stax Networks is able to swing some bulk pricing.


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