VMware Launches Open-Source Cloud

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VMware has entered the cloud game by offering an open-source package called Cloud Foundry, a Platform-as-a-Service that should strike fear in the hearts of its competitors, especially the likes of Salesforce.com, Microsoft and Rackspace. The platform will offer developers the tools to build out applications on public clouds, private clouds and anyplace else, whether the underlying server runs VMware or not. Like last week’s Open Compute Project from Facebook or Rackspace’s OpenStack effort, Cloud Foundry is a pretty big deal.

So What Exactly Is Cloud Foundry?

The goal of Cloud Foundry is to hide complexity from developers and make it easy to deploy and run applications anywhere. This is the same marketing speak that folks toting the cloud have pitched for years, but VMware wants to make it even more simple. Instead of worrying about instances or how to support a database, you just write a few lines of code, and Cloud Foundry makes it all happen for you. From day one, the platform will support Java  thanks to VMware’s SpringSource buy back in 2009, Sinatra, Rails and node.js. However those wanting more frameworks and languages can build them, since the product is open-source.

Roger Bodamer, EVP Products and Technology at 10Gen — which supports the MongoDB NoSQL database — says it took about three months to integrate MongoDB with Cloud Foundry. 10gen is one of several launch partners that include RightScale, Joyent and Pivotal Labs.

VMware’s service has three components, illustrated by the nifty little slide above. The platform (what is called the “cloud provider interface”) can be a public cloud, such as Amazon’s EC2; a private cloud running VMware or other software; the actual Cloud Foundry platform; or what VMware calls a downloadable microcloud, which is basically a developer sandbox that looks like the Cloud Foundry platform running on a server or computer and synchs back up to any of the clouds.

The application services are items such as the existing MongoDB service already built-in, RabbitMQ messaging services, Redis, MySQL and Postgres for data, and others to come as programmers want to build it out. The shift toward open source is significant, because it runs somewhat counter to VMware’s roots, but it also shows how influential the open source world is on the cloud.

Charles Fitzgerald, a platform strategist for VMware, said in a conversation with me last Thursday, “Open source is the price of entry in the cloud world today.” So VMware will offer Cloud Foundry as a paid, supported product for customers as well as provide the underlying code so developers can build their own. The product will open for an invite-only beta in stages, with the commercial support beta coming in the second half of this year.

Who Gets Hurt

Charles Fitzgerald says Cloud Foundry will sit on top of platform plays such as OpenStack, but in truth, it’s likely to hurt that effort by obviating the need for enterprises and other developers to worry about the underlying infrastructure platform. For those who want to build out an app, electing to deploy using Cloud Foundry means the developer can choose where to host an app without ever caring if it’s using OpenStack.

Fitzgerald claims the big victim with this move will be middleware providers such as IBM, which have multi-billion businesses helping connect information in huge enterprises. While he’s aware the licensing support revenue for open-source software can be a tenth of the original value of the software, he says, “It’s new revenue to us and old revenue to them, and a billion looks pretty good to us.”

However the most immediate victims may well be the existing PaaS players such as Salesforce.com, Google and a string of startups that have been building out products in this space around specific languages. Salesforce, which works with VMware in a joint PaaS called VMforce, suddenly has some serious competition that can interoperate with apps on the Salesforce.com platform as well as any others. VMforce will still exist, but now it looks like a walled garden.

And the smaller players, such as PHP Fog; Red Hat (srht), which purchased Makara; and EngineYard, all suddenly have a multi-billion competitor that has the potential to be all clouds to all comers. Even configuration management as a service startups might see some business erode as apps hosted in a PaaS have less need for those services.

VMware’s Constant Search for Reinvention

Fitzgerald talked a lot about openness and eliminating the hurdles for developers, but this move is yet another continuation of VMware’s willingness to throw its businesses under the bus as the world of cloud computing evolves. VMware recognizes that openness is the key for delivering cloud services and that interoperability will matter to more and more companies, especially those forming today.

While the PaaS market isn’t huge at the moment, it’s clearly an area of interest with Amazon adding Elastic Beanstalk — its own PaaS product — as well as Salesforce.com talking up its Heroku buy and PaaS capabilities. Fitzgerald acknowledged that it’s early days, but says, “It’s very early and part of that is the limitations of the solutions and that are out there, so we can really make it mainsteam and legitimize it.” Flexibility is the biggest selling factor behind the cloud and with this offering that’s what VMware wants to offer. It’s pretty compelling.

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