Open Sourcers Race to Build Better Versions of Slack

Real-time chat applications have been around since the earliest days of the Internet. Yet somehow, despite the enormous number of options, the workplace chat app Slack has surged in popularity. After just two years in business, the company now boasts 675,000 paid users, 2.3 million users overall, and annual revenue of more than $64 million.

Slack’s growth has shown that even seemingly ancient technologies like chat can still be improved, particularly when it comes to using instant messaging for work. But Slack has the limitations that all proprietary cloud apps do. Your data lives on someone else’s servers. Customization is limited. You have to trust that Slack the company will make the changes you want to Slack the app and not make changes you don’t want.

Open sourcers are trying to beat Slack at its own game by providing features it doesn’t yet have.

That’s why the open source community has been racing to build better versions of Slack, even though countless open source chat apps exist already. In fact, Slack alternative Mattermost and Rocket.chat topped the Black Duck Rookies of the Year report, an annual list of new open source projects that attract the most developers and produce the most code. Along with other open source chat apps such as Friends and Let’s Chat, these projects are hoping to provide not just a more open alternative to Slack, but beat the company at its own game by providing features Slack doesn’t yet have.

No Longer Stuck

Mattermost co-founder Ian Tien knows what it’s like to get burned by cloud software. In 2014 he and his colleagues at the game development company SpinPunch were at their wits’ end with the commercial chat application they’d been using (Tien won’t say which one). “We didn’t want to leave, but there are too many bugs, and it crashed too often,” he explains. The company decided to switch to Slack, but found they were unable to export their old chat logs from the chat app. “We had gigs and gigs of data,” he says. “We think we just had too much data in there, it was too big to get out.”

Slack’s growth has shown that even seemingly ancient technologies like chat can still be improved.

As much as the team liked Slack, they didn’t want to risk a repeat of what happened before, so they repurposed the chat features of their game development engine and turned it into Mattermost. The application is designed to be compatible with Slack so that users can easily connect applications–such as GitHub and Trello—to Mattermost in exactly the same way they would connect Slack without any modifications. That managed to turn some heads in the developer community.

“I saw someone mention the Mattermost 1.0 announcement and it seemed like the best of both worlds: a pretty Slack-like interface with media embeds and Slack-compatible hooks, but open-source,” says Benjamin Reed, a developer of the the open source network management platform OpenNMS

Open Options

But by building their own software, the SpinPunch team was able to add new features that weren’t already in Slack, such as threaded messages. Likewise, the desire to be able to go beyond what companies like Slack already offer out of the box is what drove the team at the Brazilian business software company Konecty to create Rocket.Chat. Co-founder Gabriel Engel explains that some of Konecty’s clients wanted the company to create a chat feature for its customer relations application.

The Konecty team looked into integrating with Slack, which they used themselves, but soon realized that it wouldn’t quite meet their needs. They wanted ways to not just add users or create new chat rooms, but create different types of users and chat rooms, since the software would be used by salespeople to both chat with customers and to chat with each other. So they decided to build their own chat system, written entirely in the popular JavaScript programming language.

Engel credits the choice of JavaScript as one major reason that developers from outside Konecty have been so excited about the project. Most web developers know JavaScript, which lowers the barrier of entry for those who want to make changes to the code. “When we ask people why they decided to use it, they say simplicity of how the code is organized, and how easy it is to add new features,” Engel says.

Both open source projects are now hoping to turn this early enthusiasm into money. Engel says most of the Konecty team are now focused on developing Rocket.chat. The company offers Rocket.chat hosting for those who don’t want to run Rocket.chat on their own servers and makes money selling support and customizations to the software. SpinPunch, meanwhile, has pivoted entirely to developing Mattermost. The company now sells a non-open source version that adds special features that large companies need, such as the ability to integrate with corporate directories. Slack, of course, is still hugely popular. But for people and companies who want something different, their options are open.

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Google shares software network load balancer design powering GCP networking

Google’s highly flexible cluster management technology, called Borg, makes it possible for Google engineers to move service workloads between clusters as needed to take advantage of unused capacity, or other operational considerations. On Google Cloud Platform, our customers have similar flexibility to move their workloads between zones and regions. This means that the mix of services running in any particular cluster changes over time, which can also lead to changing demand for load balancing capacity.

With Maglev, it’s easy to add or remove load balancing capacity, since Maglev is simply another way to use the same servers that are already in the cluster. Recently, the industry has been moving toward Network Function Virtualization (NFV), providing network functionality using ordinary servers. Google has invested a significant amount of effort over a number of years to make NFV work well in our infrastructure. As Maglev shows, NFV makes it easier to add and remove networking capacity, but having the ability to deploy NFV technology also makes it possible to add new networking services without adding new, custom hardware.

How does this benefit you, as a user of GCP? You may recall we were able to scale from zero to one million requests per second with no pre-warming or other provisioning steps. This is possible because Google clusters, via Maglev, are already handling traffic at Google scale. There’s enough headroom available to add another million requests per second without bringing up new Maglevs. It just increases the utilization of the existing Maglevs.

Of course, when utilization of the Maglevs exceeds a threshold, more Maglevs are needed. Since the Maglevs are deployed on the same server hardware that’s already present in the cluster, it’s easy for us to add that capacity. As a developer on Cloud Platform, you don’t need to worry about load balancing capacity. Google’s Maglevs, and our team of Site Reliability Engineers who manage them, have that covered for you. You can focus on building an awesome experience for your users, knowing that when your traffic ramps up, we’ve got your back.

Posted by Daniel E. Eisenbud, Technical Lead, Maglev and Paul Newson, Developer Advocate (Maglev fan)


1 D. E. Eisenbud, C. Yi, C. Contavalli, C. Smith, R. Kononov, E. Mann-Hielscher, A. Cilingiroglu, B. Cheyney, W. Shang, and J. D. Hosein. Maglev: A Fast and Reliable Software Network Load Balancer, 13th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI 16), 2016

At NSDI ‘16, we’re revealing the details of Maglev1, our software network load balancer that enables Google Compute Engine load balancing to serve a million requests per second with no pre-warming.

Google has a long history of building our own networking gear, and perhaps unsurprisingly, we build our own network load balancers as well, which have been handling most of the traffic to Google services since 2008. Unlike the custom Jupiter fabrics that carry traffic around Google’s data centers, Maglev load balancers run on ordinary servers  the same hardware that the services themselves use.

Hardware load balancers are often deployed in an active-passive configuration to provide failover, wasting at least half of the load balancing capacity. Maglev load balancers don’t run in active-passive configuration. Instead, they use Equal-Cost Multi-Path routing (ECMP) to spread incoming packets across all Maglevs, which then use consistent hashing techniques to forward packets to the correct service backend servers, no matter which Maglev receives a particular packet. All Maglevs in a cluster are active, performing useful work. Should one Maglev become unavailable, the other Maglevs can carry the extra traffic. This N+1 redundancy is more cost effective than the active-passive configuration of traditional hardware load balancers, because fewer resources are intentionally sitting idle at all times.

Google’s highly flexible cluster management technology, called Borg, makes it possible for Google engineers to move service workloads between clusters as needed to take advantage of unused capacity, or other operational considerations. On Google Cloud Platform, our customers have similar flexibility to move their workloads between zones and regions. This means that the mix of services running in any particular cluster changes over time, which can also lead to changing demand for load balancing capacity.

With Maglev, it’s easy to add or remove load balancing capacity, since Maglev is simply another way to use the same servers that are already in the cluster. Recently, the industry has been moving toward Network Function Virtualization (NFV), providing network functionality using ordinary servers. Google has invested a significant amount of effort over a number of years to make NFV work well in our infrastructure. As Maglev shows, NFV makes it easier to add and remove networking capacity, but having the ability to deploy NFV technology also makes it possible to add new networking services without adding new, custom hardware.

How does this benefit you, as a user of GCP? You may recall we were able to scale from zero to one million requests per second with no pre-warming or other provisioning steps. This is possible because Google clusters, via Maglev, are already handling traffic at Google scale. There’s enough headroom available to add another million requests per second without bringing up new Maglevs. It just increases the utilization of the existing Maglevs.

Of course, when utilization of the Maglevs exceeds a threshold, more Maglevs are needed. Since the Maglevs are deployed on the same server hardware that’s already present in the cluster, it’s easy for us to add that capacity. As a developer on Cloud Platform, you don’t need to worry about load balancing capacity. Google’s Maglevs, and our team of Site Reliability Engineers who manage them, have that covered for you. You can focus on building an awesome experience for your users, knowing that when your traffic ramps up, we’ve got your back.

Posted by Daniel E. Eisenbud, Technical Lead, Maglev and Paul Newson, Developer Advocate (Maglev fan)


1 D. E. Eisenbud, C. Yi, C. Contavalli, C. Smith, R. Kononov, E. Mann-Hielscher, A. Cilingiroglu, B. Cheyney, W. Shang, and J. D. Hosein. Maglev: A Fast and Reliable Software Network Load Balancer, 13th USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI 16), 2016


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Substance: a JavaScript library for web-based content editing

Custom document models: Define a custom document schema, with your own set of content types.

HTML/XML import and export: Substance interacts well with HTML/XML content. You can import a whole XML document or insert HTML fragments from the clipboard.

Custom HTML rendering: Have full control over the markup of editable content, by implementing components.

Server and client-side execution: Substance runs in the browser and in server-side environments, such as Node.js.

Collaborative editing: Substance documents are manipulated through operations that can be undone, redone and transformed to support concurrent collaborative editing. The needed server infrastructure will be provided soon.


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CyanogenMod 13.0 Release 1 Released

An anonymous reader writes: CyanogenMod 13.0 Release 1 is now available as the Android community’s first release based off Google’s 6.0 Marshmallow. […]

Not long after Google released the code for Android Marshmallow, CyanogenMod started rolling out nightly builds. Now, CyanogenMod has officially released its first Snapshot release for those looking for more stable development. Many of the improvements detail changes to the privacy settings. For example, CyanogenMod 13.0 has removed encrypted Whisperpush text messaging, and Privacy Guard has been altered to comply with Marshmallow’s new permission model. Some other changes include a new AOSP SMS/MMS application, memory screen that shows memory usage over a selected period of time, new controls for the status bar icons, and an enhanced Snap camera app based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon camera. A Cyanogen Apps pack is not yet available, but should be coming in a week or so.


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Why Messaging Startup Slack Keeps Raising Money It Doesn’t Need

Slack Technologies Inc.’s product is only two years old, yet the corporate messaging startup has already raised more than $300 million. And it’s not stopping there. The San Francisco company has been looking to raise between $150 million and $300 million more, Bloomberg reported this month.

Stewart Butterfield, the chief executive officer at Slack, said the company is close to profitable. So why continue fundraising? It’s partly a recruitment tool. Butterfield explained during an onstage interview at South by Southwest that workers like to see the company’s valuation continue growing at a rapid pace.

Slack competes with other high-flying startups and major tech companies like Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. when trying to lure top talent. When job candidates ask why they should place their bets on Slack’s stock instead of Google’s, a soaring valuation helps answer the question. “Getting a valuation tick would be the only rationale for raising money,” Butterfield said. “The reality is that over the last two years, compensation has gone crazy—especially in the last six months.”

After an investment valuing the company at $2.8 billion less than a year ago, Slack is looking to increase that to as much as $4 billion with the current fundraising round. It’s an unusual case in a cooling startup fundraising environment. Most companies can no longer treat venture capitalists like ATMs. Butterfield said raising money is generally harder now. Investors are skittish about an imminent plunge in the public markets, which could drag down the private markets, he said.

But Butterfield doesn’t expect carnage. “There will definitely be a shift in venture capitalist behavior, dependent on what’s going on in the public markets, but it takes a while,” he said. VCs still have plenty of cash sitting around in funds. They probably won’t give the money back, and it’s their job to invest it. “They might pull back temporarily, and I think we’ve seen that over the past couple months,” Butterfield said. “But they’re not going to pull back forever, because they can’t.”

For Slack, the free-flowing capital has enabled it to spend on advertising and other ways to keep it growing. The company has posted billboards in several cities and aired commercials on television.

Butterfield, who also co-founded photo-sharing site Flickr and sold it to Yahoo! Inc. in 2005, acknowledges that he’s benefited from a bit of luck in his career. “We are clever, and we work hard, but every time there was a coin toss, it came up in our favor, over and over again,” Butterfield said. “I’m enjoying this, and I will never have another opportunity again like this in my lifetime.”


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Apple looks to Google’s Cloud Platform as it diversifies its infrastructure

google data center Rumors are flying today that Apple is moving part of its cloud business from AWS to Google’s Cloud Platform. We did some asking around and yes, it does appear that Apple has made some moves to diversify its iCloud storage, tapping Google for some of that business. This is another huge win for Google and a — at the very least perceived — loss of ground for AWS, which… Read More


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Additional Failover Control for Amazon Aurora

Amazon Aurora is a fully-managed, MySQL-compatible, relational database engine that combines the speed and availability of high-end commercial databases with the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of open source database (read my post, Amazon Aurora – New Cost-Effective MySQL-Compatible Database Engine for Amazon RDS, to learn more).

Aurora allows you create up to 15 read replicas to increase read throughput and for use as failover targets. The replicas share storage with the primary instance and provide lightweight, fine-grained replication that is almost synchronous, with a replication delay on the order of 10 to 20 milliseconds.

Additional Failover Control
Today we are making Aurora even more flexible by giving you control over the failover priority of each read replica. Each read replica is now associated with a priority tier (0-15).  In the event of a failover, Amazon RDS will promote the read replica that has the highest priority (the lowest numbered tier). If two or more replicas have the same priority, RDS will promote the one that is the same size as the previous primary instance.

You can set the priority when you create the Aurora DB instance:

This feature is available now and you can start using it today. To learn more, read about Fault Tolerance for an Aurora DB Cluster.


Jeff;


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