Joyent Buys Reasonably Smart to Create Open-source Cloud

Joyent today announced it has agreed to acquire Reasonably Smart, a fledgling cloud startup based on JavaScript and Git, for an undisclosed amount. While on the surface it might look like simple industry consolidation, Reasonably Smart’s technology will in fact help Joyent compete with emerging service-centric clouds while retaining an open model that makes developers comfortable.

You might think the deal is just cloud roll-up: Reasonably Smart was a very small startup. David Young, Joyent’s CEO, said the company–whose backers include PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel– is in “a strong financial position that supports making strategic acquisitions.” Dig a bit deeper, however, and the deal is more than just a roll-up. Joyent gets an open platform with which to attract developers while preparing the company for the looming threat of Google (s goog) and Microsoft (s msft).

Joyent, along with other infrastructure-centric clouds like Amazon’s EC2 and Rackspace’s (s rax) Mosso, let subscribers see their machines. Because they virtualize at the hardware level, these clouds support a wide range of development languages. Users aren’t locked in: They can take their applications out of the cloud and run them themselves. But this model also means customers have to worry about operating their virtual infrastructure, undermining the promised scalability of cloud computing.

By contrast, service-centric cloud models like Google’s App Engine, 10Gen and Microsoft’s Azure hide the infrastructure from developers. A subscriber doesn’t worry about scaling. Instead, they fret over lock-in — the inability to leave their cloud provider when things go wrong because they’re dependent on its proprietary features.

With Reasonably Smart, Joyent can strike a balance between infrastructure and service. Developers write applications in JavaScript, using extensions for things like I/O and storage. These applications can run on a developer’s desktop, in a private data center, or in a cloud. Of course, Joyent’s betting its operational expertise will convince people to run it in their cloud. It’s a service model, but one that subscribers can leave if they want to.

Joyent CTO Jason Hoffman remarked last year at our Structure conference that he wanted an open cloud model that could scale indefinitely, independent of infrastructure concerns. “We intend to keep this new Joyent offering completely open-source,” he said of today’s acquisition.

The move toward service-based clouds is part of a trend that will shape cloud computing in 2009. This year, Google and Microsoft will roll out production-grade clouds that have features like search, mapping, licensing, social graph and authentication baked right in.

To compete, infrastructure clouds need to round out their open offerings with built-in services while trying to retain the openness of their infrastructure heritage. Amazon (s amzn), which has plenty of services, from SimpleDB to S3, continues to extend its offering with value-added services like CDNs, billing and management consoles — even at the expense of its ecosystem of existing vendors that have built similar tools atop EC2.

That makes Joyent’s acquisition look, well, reasonably smart.