JQuery

OK, that one doesn't exactly match my sayings in the preamble. John Resig actually gets an awful lot of well deserved credit for his javascript framework JQuery. He's not exactly what I call anonymous, but there's something in his JQuery work that is exceptional. I do not know if you reader(s) -yeah, S between brackets, because I have doubts on my painful writing being very interesting to average blog readers- have always felt like me about javascript, but it has always horrified me. An interpreted language, with the interpreter in your browser, very often no real means of debugging except throwing dummy variables inside... The list is endless in my mind although I might depict it way worse than what it is and has been in the past: barely object oriented, very loose in the grammar, untyped, well I never found anything appealing about Javascript. What this man did (and I usually don't like too much abstraction over one already existing language) is that he made it simple. He brought brillant concepts on top of it.
Just think about it, if we needed explain what Jquery is in the shortest way, we would just say it is a javascript selector $().
There is so much you can do using it that I won't go over it, but amongst over, it makes DOM traversing sooooooooo simple that you can focus on what you do with it, instead of how you are going to do it. This includes selecting and filtering families of DOM objects in the simplest manner, applying batch treatments to them without actually looping, chaining treatments, playing with their attributes.... the list is endless. And the resulting code is smoooooooth and compact.
The community is rich, the plugins are numerous, and it does evolve insanely quickly. Trying to compare it with any other JS lib in the place is really a waste of time: Prototype/Scriptaculous, MooTools, Dojo, YUI, Spry, and some even more funky ones here.
Please take some time and go play with it. At first you get disoriented and don't really see what it brings, but it comes quickly. And then it really gets you addicted.

ZXTM

This one piece of software here is really one of its kind, and a true jewel. That software from ZEUS cannot be described in a simple way. What I could say to only incent you to go and look for what it does is that it is basically a "Multi-purpose application load-balancer, request router and application traffic controller". It comes as a software license, or can be bought within an appliance, and it will sort pretty much any very high leve traffic loadbalancing issues you have, which I would never have thought possible before I saw it in action. It comes in with its own TrafficScript, Java development guides, and control APIs. It can be setup as a cluster and scale straight forward, does request shaping... well the possibilities with this baby is endless.
As a former Network Engineer, nothing has ever pleased me more than Load Balancing being covered by the Systems Guys without them having to disturb me when slacking (yeah, lots of network engineers tend to slack, that is a fact), and thanks a load for that Mr ZXTM !
Basically, each time I speak with someone who's been using ZXTM, I hear the same speech: "now that I have it, there is no way I can imagine any Tiered architecture without it", and I guess that has to mean something. If I was to conclude on Zeus, I'd say it can as much allow you to scale at moderate cost and gain broader control on how your Tiered architecture scales. A must have.

Amazon's Mechanical Turk

Although I have very little faith in Amazon's EC2 cloud offering, I must admit they are very smart people, with an extremely sound approach of what tomorrow's Internet will be made of. I love the way they they have managed their turn from being just an online shop to a technical institution. Amazon Web Services started with something that seemed very simple: Online Storage (namely S3, over the internet). To whoever has been trying to scale up a storage mutualized storage solution, the word "simple" is not the first that comes in mind. Efficient shared storage is very difficult to achieve, and even though I don't have the technical skills to confirm that, I'll stick to the opinions of my fellow Systems Architects when they mention that it was the most touchy part of any large scale hosting project they had ever gone through. When AWS mastered storage, they sprinkled a little bit of Cloud Computing on top of it with EC2. Once this was dealt with and considered stable and adopted by users, they leaned on the delivery stage to finish covering the whole scope of web applications.
What is important here, is not the quality of the product they deliver (it is supposedly decent, but this is not my main concern here, I'll go over that in my next item). What is important here is the methodology they followed to manage the risk in successfully taking their turn in being a turnkey internet solutions provider, that is the big lesson we should learn from them.
OK, I got a bit far away from the initial item I wanted to write about :)
I had been on Amazon's Web Services page many times before, and I never noticed Mechanical Turk. It seems so fresh as a concept that I'm not even sure I can explain what it is without missing a crucial part. The way I get it is that it is an APIzed Workforce Marketplace. Weird eh ? Not that much, the concept behind all that is CrowSourcing, which is to contract idling crowds to perform mostly simple human-only-doable tasks.
To get an idea of what Mechanical Turk aka AMT allows, just go and have a look at this blog post here.
It is of course being copiously criticized (for some very valid reasons, main one is it basically being turned into a sweatshop), but what really surprises me here is: the initiative - it is something that has never been offered before (I just found out Amazon initially used it internally since 2005 !), and the fact that within a highly advanced and technological offering, AWS raises a significantly important point: "There are still some highly repetitive tasks, that machines however advanced they are can't process without any human intervention" together with the huge contradiction of "Humans being piloted by computers" (sounds like Terminator's Skynet to me) . More info, especially the reason why it is being called Mechanical Turk, can be found on this wikipedia article. One thing is for sure: very few internet related projects lead to as much love or hate as AMT did - and I assume this is the true essence of genius.

Joyent

For the past two years Cloud Computing has really been hype, everyone offering their own variably reliable flavor of that technology: Google App Engine, Amazon's EC2, Rackspace's Mosso, MediaTemple's (gs).
One thing I noticed is that the overall quality of Grid Hosting, or Cloud Computing is very variable, and often offered as-is, without any true explanation of what the value proposition there is in using Cloud Computing instead of traditional mutualised hosting. The folks from Joyent have been very succesfull in making a true product offering with it. From what I hear, they are basically the most technically knowledgeable on the topic and the most advanced. Interestingly enough, the whole solution runs on Sun's Open Solaris, Sun Opteron computers and other major technologies from Sun, empowering efficient (and the word is not to be used loosely) virtualization and scaliing tools.
To get a better feeling on how much the folks out there are involved in Cloud Computing, I strongly suggest you read their company blog, and especially this article.That article here mostly translates what I've always thought about grids/clouds/mutualized architectures without having been able to make it that crystal clear - basically if I needed to be convinced about the real reasons that these architectures are a real necessity for the future, it is exactly the speech I would like to get: brilliant technology, brilliant marketing, brilliant minds. Oh and by the way, it seems that Joyent just enabled ZXTM Application LoadBalancers/Routers in their offering, considering I mentioned Zeus earlier in this post, no wonder why I'm impressed by their service !

SUN

With the recent rumors of Sun being on sale, more specifically IBM being interested in purchasing them, I needed to write a few lines about them. First of all, I must admit I've always been fascinated by this company. Since I've been working, there hasn't been a single year where I've not heard someone telling me "Yeah right, this year is finally the year Sun will file for bankruptcy". There also hasn't been a single year where I haven't seen Sun be reborn with a life-changing innovation. Sun it the internet phoenix_. Sun can't die. Sun is meant to lead and serve as an example for future generations of technical gurus, even if this means not being understood at first. Along the years, Sun has demonstrated excellence in manufacturing the finest and most inventive hardware, proven a mentor in leading edge computing technologies and developments. Besides being the pretty much sole defenders of SPARC based architectures, they also push one of the most reliable OSes (and one of the last and most secure/powerful UNIXes), namely Solaris, and have the very good taste of giving back to the Open Source community through Open Solaris, and MySQL, amongst others.
I wouldn't succeed in listing the numerous initiatives that Sun has been originating lately, so please take some time and pay them an online visit. Here are two tiny elements that I'd like to highlight amongst the many things Sun do: I've always been extremely suspicious about Blade hardware. Basically because it used to be a 1/2 Cabinet chassis that consumed the whole power of two cabinets, which no one ever admitted it was ridiculous. Although it is now a mature concept, Sun has pushed the concept farther, offering to mix and match UltraSPARC blades, AMD blades and INTEL blades into a single chassis, which is available nowhere else, and allows you to completely tailor your resulting chassis to your most complex needs: given the difference of characteristics of those 3 aforementioned CPU Manufacturers, I find it very innovative and smart. Add to those their Virtualized and/or Dedicated 10Gbps Eth Express Modules, and you'll get an infinity of variations.
Lastly, I would also like to mention the recent announcement of Sun stepping firmly into the Cloud Computing Business. From what I read here, they position themselves as a leading provider of cloud computing technologies. From hardware to software, storage and network, they cover the whole range of required elements to provide a single vendor Cloud offer, which is a 1st in this industry. On top of that, if you consider the substantial experience they have gained in supporting Joyent since their early stages, I don't see any reason why they would fail in delivering again a great reliable and inventive solution.

The obvious/forgotten ones

There are many more companies and/or projects that I would like to list, but the interesting part of the exercise was to come up with a short list of players. Amongst others, some names which I would/should certainly have quoted: Arista fka Arastra, Memcached, Hadoop, MogileFS.

To close this post, I'll just say hi and thanks to my usual beer/whisky buddies who very often share their highly valuable technical opinions with me at the bar (I'm just the collector here), they'll certainly recognize themselves through their (former) hostnames: scuderia, bar, daffy, lexomil, floyd, Ambivalence, marmotte...

Also, I would highly recommend that you take a look at those guys here. They have been working on amazing Elastic Hosting offer, owned an excellent and well deserved reputation of experts in that area, and are about to release some insanely sexy features on top of it! I've been using them for their professionalism for ages, and have always been delighted to hear about them releasing new products and/or features, have always heard the most superlatives about their flawless support, so hats-off to you folks at Gandi, what you do is awesome !