Develop and test your apps on the IBM Cloud

I moved to a new position within IBM at the beginning of the year, joining the Enterprise Initiatives organization responsible for delivering IBM Smart Business Development and Test on the IBM Cloud.

Before I joined this team, Development and Test launched as a free public beta in 2009. Throughout 2010 we’ve incrementally improved the pilot and in the near future a generally available pay-per-use version will go live.

I’ll describe some of the features that Development and Test beta has now, highlight some usage scenarios that it can enable or improve, and along the way tell you where to learn more. As always, the standard disclaimer applies.

In a future post, I may put together step-by-step instructions on using the virtual machines on the IBM Cloud to:

  • Build PHP with an instance of DB2 as a way to illustrate how system administrators can evaluate the platform or practice configuration.
  • Verify that a sample Java EE application written for Tomcat works unmodified on WebSphere.

IBM Smart Business Development and Test on the IBM Cloud
Like many Cloud technologies, Development and Test aims to reduce the time and money spent by customers to procure, configure, and run IT infrastructure, platforms and software.

But the target of this particular system is to:

  • Give developers and testers hands-on access to IBM software in minutes rather than days or weeks.
  • Provide application developers with an environment to write and run their applications.
  • Allow usage to scale up or down depending on the phase of the project.

As a result, users will have more confidence in the quality of their work and are able to make better informed choices about its hosting environment when they deploy.

Feature overview
The Development and Test beta is a Web application that provides a dashboard for managing Cloud resources, a catalog of images to start with, and a set of APIs (Web service and command line) for accessing assets programmatically.

With it, you can:

  • Provision virtual servers
    An application developer can quickly start up an instance of a server OS, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, that is pre-configured with WebSphere or DB2, for example.

    With an operating system and middleware in place, the developer can try out the software setup or verify that their application works on that particular configuration.

  • Set up virtual development environments
    A developer can request a fully configured IDE instance, such as the Eclipse-based Rational Software Architect, and connect to it using a virtual desktop like FreeNX.

    Alternatively, the user can integrate with a hosted instance of Rational source control, automated testing, and project management software from the physical workstation they already use.

  • Save and extend configurations
    Once the team is satisfied with the product or system at a point in time, they can save a snapshot image of the configured instance.

    That image can then be used as a template from which to create new instances that can be shared with others. Those images can also be tagged as a test release or captured as a known good savepoint to build upon.

    Beyond the catalog of pre-configured IBM software stacks in the system now, IBM is working with partners to add third-party pre-configured packages on the Cloud.

In all cases, the user acquires the resources s/he needs right away without the need to find and run hardware or download, install and configure software.

This shortens project start time, reduces time spent on configuration trial and error, allows for more development iterations in the schedule given the same project length.

If you want to get a hands on introduction now, have a look at the developerWorks overview article or user guide (PDF).

Otherwise, if you want to hear my take how I think this particular Cloud platform can make life a whole lot easier for anyone involved in software development, read on.

New possibilities
Since this approach reduces much of the time and money to get hardware and set up software, several new possibilities and potential use cases come to mind.

Imagine the following scenarios that can be made possible or made much easier:

  • You are an innovator who needs a place to demo an early prototype to potential investors in order to justify further development.
  • You are a developer who has created an application on your laptop with a Personal or Express edition of IBM software and you want to see if it will run on a WebSphere and DB2 server to see if there are unexpected differences.
  • You are an independent software vendor who has verified your software on Tomcat (or PHP) and MySQL and wants to widen your potential customer base to include those customers who have an IBM infrastructure.
  • You are a committer to an open source project, and you want to replicate an issue reported by a user and and debug it using the configuration they have on their system.
  • You are a student who wants to build skills or experience hands on or do comparative research between operating systems and software vendors.
  • You are a standards body member, such as for ODF or Java EE, and want to see how a vendor implementation adheres to the specifications.
  • You are an author, you can make sure your readers have a copy of your sample code.
  • You are an instructor, you can make sure your students have an identical setup to reduce class prerequisite setup time.
  • You are a system administrator, and you want to test out an upgrade on an identical server before committing changes that are time-consuming or difficult to reverse on your own system.

Sound interesting?
The Development and Test on the IBM Cloud beta is available to use for free right now. In the coming weeks, a paid, stable and supported version will be available that charges on a usage basis.

If you want to take it for a spin, have a look at the developerWorks overview article or user guide (PDF) in order to get started with the beta. The support page offers forums, FAQs and getting started videos.

You may also want to follow the new developerWorks section and join the user community to learn more about this platform in particular and Cloud computing in general.

If you’re interested in the upcoming paid version check out the data sheet (PDF) on the IBM Middleware Services page. This video also makes a compelling introduction.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to check back here in the coming weeks to see those step-by-step PHP/DB2 and Tomcat/WebSphere tutorials.