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Taking Ruby to the cloud, startup to launch scalable application testing

Cloud computing products aren't just for giants like Google and One Boulder, Colo.-based startup has taken Ruby to the cloud with an on-demand application testing system.

Cloud computing services don't just come from giants like Google and One Boulder, Colo.-based startup has taken Ruby to the cloud with an on-demand application testing system.

Benjamin Brinckerhoff, CEO of Devver Inc., said his venture-backed company got started a year ago when he and his team came up with a way to speed up test times for their Ruby on Rails applications. They were working on another startup that was winding down, so they dusted off some spare laptops and wrote a prototype, and Devver was born, he said.

Packaged as a gem (plug-in) and running in a command-line environment, Devver receives testing instructions from a local machine, runs the tests in Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and serves back the results. Brinkerhoff said the company plans on maintaining test records for its customers to allow for reporting on historic trends.

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"When you've got developers that have test suites that are taking anywhere between 2 minutes and 80 minutes, you just want it to go as fast as possible," said Brinckerhoff.

At present, the company has one major focus: speed. Brinckerhoff said testing in the cloud instead of on local machines has cut the testing time of some of his beta users by as much as 60%.

Not every test will see great benefits from the cloud, however. Brinckerhoff said the threshold per test is about 45 seconds to a minute, at which point using a product like Devver becomes useful. The longer and more complex the test, the more it helps to leverage the cloud.

"A lot of people, as they grow their team and their application, they inch past a certain point," said Brinckerhoff. "Then it gets to a point where Devver can run it faster."

A niche vendor supporting only Ruby frameworks, Devver enters a crowded market populated mostly by larger companies within which cloud testing is part of a larger package or product suite. VMLogix and Skytap offer entire scalable test labs with management software in the cloud that can cost several thousand dollars per month on average.

SOASTA Inc. provides performance, functional, Web user interface and Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (Ajax) testing as an appliance or on-demand service. SOASTA's CloudTest for Amazon EC2 starts at $4 per instance per hour, and its Global CloudTest starts at $1,000 per instance per hour.

Where Devver differentiates itself is in its packaging as a lightweight RubyGem. Although it probably won't offer the testing versatility of its larger competitors, it runs with a few keystrokes and promises to be cheaper.

Currently in its beta stage, Devver supports the Test::Unit and RSpec Ruby test libraries. Brinckerhoff said his team aims to integrate more libraries and build the service out for other languages, which could include Python and PHP.

Though the testing occurs in the cloud, Devver is made to be used by traditional Ruby applications.

When it comes to developing in the cloud, Brinckerhoff said he thinks Ruby and Python developers are going to be the earliest innovators.

"The Ruby and Python communities are leading the charge because they as developers are saying, 'I am totally willing to cut anything that's not my core competency and give it to someone else,'" said Brinckerhoff. "Those communities are thinking more about distributed programming and building services that can be enabled in the cloud."

In the cloud, workloads may be distributed across an enormous number of machines. It is just this sort of process outsourcing that Brinckerhoff said will come much easier to Python and Ruby users as well as the open-source community.

Now in beta, Devver has around 12 active users and $500,000 in venture capital and angel funding. Brinckerhoff said the company plans within a few months to release its pricing structure, but the service will remain free for open source users.

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