Bungee jumping into rich application development


SAN FRANCISCO – One of the oft told cautionary tales of capitalism is the one about the California Gold Rush. You know — how just a handful of the hundreds of thousands of hopefuls who streamed into the state actually discovered gold, but many thousands of others got rich supplying them with housing, materials and the like. Think “Levi-Strauss & Co.” and you get the picture.

As Martin Plaehn, CEO of Utah-based startup Bungee Labs sees it, a similar dynamic may well be developing in the Web 2.0 space, into which thousands of tech hopefuls are pouring, heads filled with dreams of being the next Salesforce.com or YouTube. Like the miners who found that their thin cotton trousers were ill suited for hard work in the hills of California, today’s Web developers who want to create rich Internet applications (or RIA, in the parlance of the community) are hampered by countless obstacles.

Those obstacles include the cost of development — anywhere from US$200,000 to $1 million for a commercially deployable RIA, Plaehn estimates. Even with the money to create an application, there’s the dizzying variety of platforms, development frameworks, and toolkits to choose from — Bungee integrates for AJAX alone.

Then there’s the question of tying your application to third-party Web services, and deploying it so that it can scale to meet customer demand. Needless to say, those obstacles are enough to dissuade all but the largest and wealthiest companies from diving too deep into RIA development.

But like the enterprising pick, shovel, and blue jean salesmen before them, the folks at Bungee see the current complexity of Web application development and deployment as an opportunity, not a problem. In April, the Salt Lake City, Utah-based startup launched Bungee Connect, an on-demand development environment for SMBs (small to medium businesses).

The company calls its model “software development and deployment as a service” (SDDaaS?) and it was all the rage at last month’s Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

What Bungee offers is a professional quality, Web-based application development environment that combines development, testing, and deployment through a single, Web-browser-based interface. Developers can do layout and Web page design, create interactive Web applications with AJAX features such as drag-and-drop and right-mouse clicking without complex coding. Bungee Connect also allows developers to quickly integrate multiple Web services to create whole new applications.

Bungee Connect can speed development from five to fifty times by automating typically time consuming tasks like importing and automating Web services and Ajax controls, state management and deployment and provisioning, says product manager Brad Hintze.

After applications have been developed and tested, Bungee operates a high availability grid computing environment on which to deploy them, Plaehn said.

Even better, Bungee Connect — which is about to enter a limited beta — will be free for all developers when it launches. Rather than make money from use fees for developers, Bungee’s founders are pursuing a utility pricing model: companies that develop and launch their applications on Bungee’s grid will pay a fee of $1 per computer-network-interaction-hour.

“SMBs are empowered by that,” Plaehn says. “We take an enormous amount of the up-front costs of building an RIA and put it on the side.”

The company also plans to stay agnostic about what business models its customers pursue — subscription, free, public, private. “We’re like the electric company. We don’t care whether you’re running an air conditioner or a lightbulb,” Plaehn said.

Bungee is just wrapping up a five-month alpha program involving approximately 100 developers. It will launch its beta this month. The company already has a long queue of developers pulled from the scrum that formed around its booth at the Web 2.0 Expo last month and plans to gradually expand the beta from a few dozen developers to several thousand partners.

Bungee has also attracted attention from some big name companies: Amazon, eBay and Google had representatives in the Bungee booth at Web 2.0 Expo. PayPal, Amazon.com, RealNetworks Salesforce.com and Yahoo! contributed to Bungee’s early access beta program.

Friends like that make Bungee a company to watch.

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