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New Runnable service seeks to woo firms from AWS staging servers

Cratejoy will test code in environments automatically created by Runnable to avoid bottlenecks around EC2 instances used for staging. But will this plan work for enterprise IT shops?

A newly pivoted SaaS company aims to replace your staging server. It's found at least a few buyers among web-based startups, and it plans to add more oomph to appeal to more enterprise customers.

Runnable began life in 2013 with Runnable CodeSnippets, a service for developers to test code by running it in a browser. A new twist on that service, generally available this week, combines software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service to automatically generate Docker-based infrastructure in response to code commits in GitHub branches.

Some analysts are skeptical of Runnable's value proposition as an alternative to staging servers, but Cratejoy, a hub for online subscription businesses in Austin, Texas, signed up immediately for a beta six months ago and uses it as part of its testing process for about a dozen engineers, nine of which use Runnable's systems daily.

"I quickly saw it was going to solve some of the orchestration and logistics headaches I was dealing with in making sure engineers had an area other than their own machine to test things on," said Alex Morse, CTO and co-founder of Cratejoy.

"Previously, we had our own dedicated EC2 [Elastic Compute Cloud] instances for staging, or we would spin things up as needed, but that was an interruption in the process, a little cumbersome, and we were paying for those resources full time," Morse said. "Now, it's just on-demand as it's needed, and we don't have to deal with any of the startup or tear down, or worry about our bill changing drastically month to month."

Reservable infrastructure, semipermanent environments on the roadmap

Once Runnable is pointed to a user's GitHub repository, each branch receives its own isolated infrastructure inside an Amazon Virtual Private Cloud. It's similar to another company, called Codenvy, which focuses on container-hosted collaborative developer workspaces linked to the Eclipse Che integrated development environment, said Donnie Berkholz, analyst with 451 Research.

"For things like user-acceptance testing, or work between a contractor and a company that's paying for development services, it would be easier to share something instantly, something you can just click into with basically zero effort ... because it's just automatically tracking the code repository," Berkholz said.

Use as a staging server is another matter to Berkholz, however.

"The entire point of a staging server is that it is essentially identical to a production server," he said. "Unless you're going to be running production in those environments, then it doesn't make much sense to me to use that for staging."

Runnable has been willing to host full EC2 instances, Morse said, with a little effort upfront, and the company is considering offering more performant CPU and RAM options as part of its future roadmap, as well as allowing customers to bring their own infrastructure as part of a future enterprise offering.

"The one thing I did ask them for was the ability to maybe pay a premium to get better resources," Morse said.

In the meantime, Morse said Runnable's service saves the company some money on Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure and makes the development cycle more efficient, adding another release per week to the three the company had already been putting out.

"We're using it a lot more heavily than we were using the AWS test instances, too," Morse said. "We had two full-time EC2 instances for this, and if more than two people needed to use them, we either had to say, 'Wait,' or spin another one up -- and, usually, it was, 'Wait.'"

Test automation software and services abound

Runnable has some differentiators, such as its creation of a full isolated infrastructure stack for each GitHub branch and a flat fee per user, per month, rather than infrastructure resources consumed. But its offering overlaps in many ways with other products already on the market besides Codenvy.

For example, QualiSystems' CloudShell sandboxes require more manual intervention in setup, but offer more customizability and are more focused on precisely emulating production environments than spinning up a remote infrastructure automatically. QualiSystems' software can also be deployed on premises, or in a hybrid or public cloud, while Runnable is only in the cloud.

That's a common message I'm getting now, people having to wait for EC2 staging areas -- and the cost of them.
Robert Stroudanalyst, Forrester Research

Look for more such offerings to surface, said Robert Stroud, analyst at Forrester Research.

"That's a common message I'm getting now, people having to wait for EC2 staging areas -- and the cost of them," he said. "I think we're going to see more capabilities like this and more automation of the CI/CD [continuous integration and continuous development] pipeline -- that's already happening, with application release automation tools moving left [on the DevOps spectrum] and CI/CD tools moving right."

Runnable's service starts at $9 per user, per month at a starter level, and it ranges up to $49 for a plus level that offers support for up to 15 GitHub repositories. The company is offering a 25% discount for the first six months to companies that sign up for the service before Sept. 30.

Runnable already counts a handful of other web startups as customers for its service, including Udemy, DoorDash, eShares, Convoy and Hitch.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization Media Group. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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Would you use a SaaS offering to replace your staging server? Why or why not?
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I’m just not seeing benefits, especially in an environment where you’re looking at multiple integrations. Maybe if you’re in a new environment, and everything is clean, fresh, and stubbed out, but that’s at odds with most test environments out there.
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