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Platform as a Service speeds time to market of iPhone app startup

With Heroku's Ruby-powered cloud computing PaaS, the application development startup FlightCaster brought its iPhone application to market in only four months.

When application development startup FlightCaster needed a platform for its data-intensive iPhone app, it turned to cloud computing. The company needed a platform that supported the Ruby programming language, worked with Hadoop and could quickly compute the large sets of data needed to predict airline flight delays.

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While a lot of developers follow the agile software development methodology, things can get slow when deployment time hits. FlightCaster didn't want its small team burdened with application maintenance.

Launched from Y Combinator, Yahoo's startup incubator, the company went with Ruby-based cloud computing Platform as a Service (PaaS) vendor Heroku and got its app to market in four months. The FlightCaster application analyzes flight patterns and weather data to determine the percent chance that a given flight will be delayed.

The data to create the predictions comes from airlines, weather forecasts, inbound planes and the Federal Aviation Administration. FlightCaster normalizes the incoming data in the Heroku database and pushes it to Amazon Simple Storage Service, or S3. Then the application applies a proprietary algorithm to generate the predictions, and Hadoop takes things from there.

"We do everything in the cloud, but it's the Heroku layer that enabled us to build something so fast," said Jason Freedman, co-founder of FlightCaster. "I want to spend my time building an advanced feature set for users and zero time making sure the system is secure and stable."

Cloud PaaS speeds time to market 
Cloud PaaS has done what analysts had said it would do from the start: that is, allowed startups to launch complex products without the heavy infrastructure. With only seven employees and limited funds, FlightCaster did not have the time or money to hire a sys admin.

Heroku recently hired Byron Sebastian -- a veteran of BEA Systems, EMC, and -- as its new CEO. He said the major value of Heroku is agility.

"A lot of the adoption of Ruby has gone hand in hand with the adoption of agile development platforms," said Sebastian. "But that all came to an end-around when you had to deploy or maintain your application."

The company provides compute power, storage, messaging and caching -- such as open source distributed caching system, memcached. Sebastian said there are more than 37,000 applications deployed on Heroku that include e-commerce, data analysis and aggregation, customer service and content publishing.

Sebastian said that in the future, the company will focus on developing better partner programs and growing its presence in larger-scale enterprises. Heroku's pricing starts at $200 a month for one dedicated compute unit and 500 GB of storage.

Rob Barry is a news writer for Write to him at

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