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Amazon Web Services vice president of infrastructure Peter DeSantis introduces Firecracker Monday evening at re:Invent 2018. (Amazon Web Services Photo)

LAS VEGAS — Early developer reaction to Amazon Web Services’ Firecracker project suggests the company has pulled off a big advancement in serverless computing while also launching an open-source project that could rehabilitate its reputation in that community.

Firecracker, revealed at the end of AWS vice president of infrastructure Peter DeSantis’s keynote address Monday evening, is a new take on virtualization technology designed with the lighter footprint required for the speed and agility of serverless computing. It was built around the open-source KVM hypervisor project and appears to represent a big step in the evolution of serverless computing, which allows developers to write code without having to know anything about the hardware that will run that code.

When AWS kicked off serverless computing on the cloud back in 2014 with the launch of AWS Lambda, it decided to use a single-tenant architecture in which customer workloads ran on servers dedicated to that customer. The idea was to provide the best performance possible and to err on the side of security while getting this new concept up and running, but multitenant architectures in which different workloads share the same hardware are way more efficient, DeSantis said.

Firecracker takes advantage of the company’s work on its Nitro architecture to create what AWS is calling “microVMs,” which allows AWS to spread serverless workloads around multiple servers and get more out of its investment in the servers behind serverless. Customers using Firecracker will be able to launch a microVM in 125 milliseconds or less, compared to the seconds it can take to launch a container or spin up a traditional virtual machine.

“You can launch lightweight micro-virtual machines (microVMs) in non-virtualized environments in a fraction of a second, taking advantage of the security and workload isolation provided by traditional VMs and the resource efficiency that comes along with containers,” wrote Jeff Barr, AWS evangelist, in a blog post.

And while the technology is interesting itself, AWS’s decision to release Firecracker under the open-source Apache 2.0 license is a huge statement about norms around open source are changing at AWS after years of criticism over its tendency to use open source projects as cloud services without contributing back to the community. In the first 24 hours, it seems like AWS is going to keep a strong hand on control of the Firecracker project for now, but that’s not surprising for a project of this size and scope in its early days.

Engineers at rival cloud companies were impressed with their early looks at Firecracker.

And Heptio CTO Joe Beda, one of the architects of the popular open-source container-orchestration project Kubernetes, weighed in with a thread summing up his early thoughts on Firecracker.

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