Amazon gains professional-grade memcached distribution

Open source startup Gear6 has brought its version of memcached to Amazon Web Services in an attempt to capitalize on Web 2.0's insatiable appetite for cache.

Gear6, a Mountain View, CA-based open source startup, has entered the cloud fray by releasing an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) of Gear6 Web Cache Server, its memcached distribution server.

Memcached keeps tiny Web transactions such as page click and search query strings in memory rather than letting them pass to storage when set up with a Web application. This greatly reduces response time between a Web user and an application, making memcached a standard tool for modern, user-driven Web 2.0 sites like Wikipedia, Twitter and Flickr.

"Applications running in the cloud use memcached to avoid doing things more than once," said independent Amazon Web Services (AWS) consultant Shlomo Swidler via email.

Swidler said that this is the secret behind the popularity of user-driven websites like Facebook and Twitter: caching speeds up the user experience without websites having to buy truckloads of expensive servers all over the globe.

"There's nothing cloud-specific about memcached, but data-centric applications running in the cloud invariably make use of caching," Swidler said.

In fact, Gear6 sells its main product as a hardware appliance running its customized version of memcached; customers locate the appliance in their own data center.

Memcached, which is maintained as an open source project, was first developed for social media pioneer Livejournal.

These high memory instances are just begging for memcached.
Joaquin Ruiz, company spokesman for Gear6,
Swidler said that proper caching with memcached is essential for websites hoping to do business on today's Internet. Users won't sit still for old-fashioned static pages, and companies need to personalize the experience in as many little ways as possible. They also need to make money doing it, and handling the highly complex transactions between advertisers and websites without being intrusive is another vital function of high-performance caching.

How Glam Media uses Gear6
Gear6 customer Glam Media is an example of this new distribution model. Glam both runs content-distribution networks and brokers advertisements to get sellers closer to interested customers. Raj Narayan, co-founder and vice president of engineering for Glam, said he been testing the new AMI on Amazon, where Glam is a heavy user.

"We do quite a bit with Amazon and Rackspace," said Narayan.

Glam has a hybrid infrastructure of servers it owns, including a Gear6 memcached appliance in-house, and the company fires up servers in the cloud as business expands or contracts, according to Narayan. During busy periods, Narayan said, its infrastructure can be up to 80% cloud-based. After the holidays, when Narayan said Glam does 40% to 50% of its yearly business, that would drop to 20%.

Narayan is pleased so far with the virtual offering from Gear6, saying he was willing to pay for the product rather than develop it because it lightened his load. He thought others would do the same, as he didn't know of alternative commercial products for memcached. Otherwise, he said, he would have had to use the open source version on a Linux server, a headache as far as he was concerned.

The memcached marketplace
In fact, there are several commercial products springing up around memcached, such as GreenCloud Server for Memcached from Virident and the Schooner Appliance for Memcached, both of which compete with Gear6's hardware offering. Gear6, however, is the first to release for Amazon. Analysts say it will be interesting to see if Gear6 can follow the MySQL model and make money from free software without a specialized platform providing an advantage.

Joaquin Ruiz, company spokesman for Gear6, said the company will make the AMI free for the cheapest single instances available on Amazon and charge for use as customers use more powerful instances. They plan to max out at $0.84/hour on the Quadruple Extra Large instances, in addition to what Amazon charges.

"These high memory instances are just begging for memcached," he said.

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer at Contact him at

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