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rPath's Linux Stack Hits Real Production with Ingres, Other ISVs

On the rPath to Success

  • August 16, 2006
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

rPath, a start-up founded by two former Red Hat execs, used the forum of LinuxWorld this week to talk up the first major release of its product, a Linux-based software stack and toolset that ISVs are now using for building real appliances that cut application development time and support costs.

Also during the show in San Francisco, database vendor Ingres helped to put rPath more solidly on the visibility map with the announcement of Project Icebreaker, an integrated software maintenance appliance for customers which was created with rPath 2.0.

rPath's environment revolves around rBuilder, a tool for assembling software stacks, and rPath Linux, a Linux distribution that powers the stack, said Erik Troan, founder and CTO of rPath, and also former VP of engineering at Red Hat, during an interview with LinuxPlanet.

The Linux start-up also runs an online community, called rBuilder Online, that permits developers to use its software tools free of charge, as long as members of the online community don't charge others for appliances built with the tools.

Essentially, the software and hardware appliances developed with rBuilder allow ISVs to avoid many of the problems associated with "large, bloated standard standard OS," according to Troan.

"[It] performs as a hardware abstraction layer and provides system services to the applications," he said.

Appliances created with rBuilder can operate on top of either virtual machines or "bare metal," he said.

One big benefit is that developers can run their applications on multiple underlying hardware or OS platforms, without needing to keep tweaking their products in accordance to changes in the various environments, according to the CTO.

Troan contended that ISVs save on tech support, too since they don't have to field calls that are related more to "context"--or the underlying platforms--than to the application itself.

Application development time is shortened, too, according to the rPath exec. Digium, for example, recently announced that it has used rPath's environment to build a series of appliances for Asterisk, an open source telephony software platform.

"Digium wanted to ease deployments for its customers. About 40 percent of Digium's support calls were for misconfigured OS components," said Troan.

"Digium attempted to develop a solution inhouse. They put in several man-weeks of works with no results. But [with] rBuilder, they generated a software appliance within days."

rPath's Linux distribution uses rPath's Conary packaging technology, according to Troan, Consequently, ISVs can roll out builds on an "as needed" basis, in accordance with their own release schedules, instead of being locked into the scheduled release dates of a commercial Linux distribution.

In terms of support, rPath acts as a primary contact point for ISV customers. Also, ISV end user support issues can be escalated to rPath, if necessary, said Raven Zachary, an analyst at The 451 Group.

"rPath gives us a single environment for performing software maintenance," asserted Dave Dargo, CTO and senior VP of strategy at Ingres, during another interview.

In the newly announced Project Icebreaker, the Ingres 2006 database has been integrated with rPath's environment to provide a unified maintenance stream for database customers.

Essentially, the rPath Builder tool lets application developers add their own custom code on top of the base Linux distribution and open source components in the stack. Developers can also customize the Linux distribution and componentry, said Troan.

rPath had previously released version 1.0 of its environment. But ISV customers actually used 1.0 mainly for testing and early development purposes, according to the rPath founder.

rPath's other founder, Billy Marshall, was formerly VP of North American sales at Red Hat. Marshall serves as rPath's CEO.

"We are experts at open source business," according to Troan.

Ingres and most of the other companies in rPath's initial crop of customers are using the new rBuilder 2.0 as the platform for real production deployments, said Troan.

For instance, although Digium issued its announcement before the release of rPath 2.0, Troan told LinuxPlanet that Digium actually created the Asterisk appliances with the beta edition of 2.0.

Other ISVs now on Digitum's roster of paying customers include the US Department of Energy, Vindicia, Intrusic, and Agami, according to Zachary.

What's new about rPath 2.0? For one thing, the 2.0 edition adds integration with a tool known as rMake.

"rMake is a facility for reliably building software in a specific environment," said Troan. "You can [just] upload [your] software, and rebuild it into a binary."

Also with rPath 2.0, ISVs can also build appliances that include a customizable rPath Appliance Management Console.

"Your graphics don't need to look like anyone else's," he told LinuxPlanet.

A third addition in 2.0. the Entitlement Appliance, provides a turnkey infrastructure for updating alliances in the field from behind a firewall.

And in another new capability, the CTO said, developers can now use rBuilder to create CDs and DVDs suitable for demonstration purposes.

Appliances can now boot and run directly from the CD or DVDs, without the need for installation.

"There's nobody else who does exactly what we do," according to Troan.

But, in fact,The 451 Group's Zachary has identified a few competitors for rPath in the application stack and appliance development arenas, including BitRock, OpenLogic, Red Hat itself, and even Microsoft.

"[rPath's] focus on the ISV/application appliance market means that it will compete with BitRock," Zachary wrote in a recent report. "While rPath is focused on the platform and BitRock is focused on the installer technology, BitRock says it has come up against rPath recently in competitive deals."

Moreover, like rPath, OpenLogic allows for the reation of custom stacks using a combination of open source, proprietary, and custom components, according to the analyst.

"This is especially true as rPath adds support for [more] operating systems. Currently, rPath does not support Windows (while OpenLogic does), but OpenLogic does not offer the ability to include an operating system in the stack."

Zachary also noted that Red Hat is following a similar model to rPath's, to some extent, with the integration of Red Hat Enterprise Linux and its recent Certified Stacks offering.

"And now with the acquisition of JBoss, Red Hat is strengthening its stack, making it much more similar to an rPath offering," Zachary observed.

"rPath also sees Microsoft as a competitor, since [Microsoft] provides a complete stack--from operating system to application infrastructure components," the analyst added.

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