VMware (previous CloudAve coverage) today announced Cloud Foundry, its Open Platform as a Service product, at a special event in Palo Alto. Cloud Foundry is both hosted and available as open source. More interestingly, it can run on your laptop or a single server or 1000s of VMs or, even, hundreds of dedicated servers. Apart from their hosted offering, their open source version can run on any public cloud or private cloud or traditional datacenters. In short, VMware has completely disrupted the PaaS space with this announcement.
Cloud Foundry And Its Implications
Before we go into the discussion on Cloud Foundry, let us take a step back and discuss the current state of PaaS and VMware’s position on the cloud. So far, PaaS is dominated by public cloud offerings like Google App Engine, Force.com, Heroku, Engine Yard, Cloud Bees, etc.. With the widespread reluctance towards public clouds from the enterprise side and the emergence of federated cloud ecosystem, there is a clear need for PaaS on top of a federated ecosystem. Cumulogic was the first company to play in the federated cloud ecosystem with a full Java PaaS. However, they are still in the early stages and not widely known in the industry.
Ever since the world moved in the direction of cloud computing, VMware has been trying to position themselves as a strong cloud player. In spite of their efforts to push vCloud Express and vCloud Director, the traction in the cloud computing space is relatively slow. However, I have been saying to my peers during conversations that VMware can be a huge PaaS player if they play to the strengths of their acquisitions: Spring Source, RabbitMQ and GemStone. In fact, I have been jokingly calling VMware as that little PaaS player to highlight their relative difficulty in the cloud infrastructure space and tremendous potential in the PaaS space. VMware has been consistently moving in the right direction with their “Open PaaS” strategy as well as their application strategy based on vFabric. But, they were still lagging behind others in offering a serious PaaS play.
VMware changed this situation upside down with their Cloud Foundry announcement today. Cloud Foundry is a self service application engine which when slapped on top of infrastructure, will offer the platform as a service allowing developers to deploy their applications and cloud scale in a matter of seconds. Some of the features of Cloud Foundry are:
- It can be deployed on any cloud. Whether it is public cloud providers like AWS or Rackspace or GoGrid or private cloud platforms, Cloud Foundry can sit on top of them and offer platform as a service.
- Any industry standard programming framework can be used. Even though it is initially offered with Spring Java, Rails, Sinatra and Node.JS, any programming framework can be added to the platform. I suppose VMware will support other frameworks based on market demand but since it is open source, there is no need to rely on VMware for the support.
- The architecture is messaging based and extensible, so any future cloud innovation can be added easily. However, the first release is still in beta. It has some features missing and they should be available in the future releases. For example, even though the platform can be run on more than one cloud provider simultaneously, the application that is deployed can be run only on one instance of it at a time. This is because PaaS kernel doesn’t have long distance federation baked into it yet. But it will change as the platform matures out of beta.
- It is completely open source. Right now they offer a hosted version which is one of the ways VMware will commercialize the platform. However, I could see them using commercial support for the platform as a way to monetize with enterprise customers. It will be interesting to see how their business model evolves around this platform, which is very critical for the future success of VMware.
- It is Github based rather than IDE based.
Why it is exciting?
I am really excited by the Cloud Foundry announcement for many reasons. I will try to list out the reasons below and explain how it fits in my vision for future cloud computing.
- Cloud Foundry is for federated clouds: Two of the biggest concerns regarding PaaS are vendor lock-in and issues associated with moving large data to/from cloud providers (data gravity, a term used by some in the Clouderati). One of the reasons I push the idea of federated clouds is to avoid monopoly by a handful of providers and the associated lock-in issues. Cloud Foundry is well suited for such a federated ecosystem and it also negates the arguments put forward by some in favor of consolidation over federation with regards to having Platform Services.
- Cloud Foundry is Open Source: Even though some, including Internet Philosopher Tim O’ Reilly, advocate open standards over open source in a cloud based world, I am a strong proponent of the importance of open source in the cloud computing era. One of the reasons why I think open source is important is because it is crucial in enabling a federated cloud ecosystem. By keeping Cloud Foundry as open source, VMware is strengthening the federated cloud ecosystems.
- Cloud Foundry confirms PaaS Is the future of Cloud Services: I have been long arguing that PaaS is the future of Cloud Services. The Cloud Foundry announcement will accelerate this trend and ensure that there is stronger adoption of PaaS on the enterprise side. Offerings like Cloud Foundry and Cumulogic are going to get enterprises excited about PaaS and will motivate them to develop applications designed for the cloud.
VMware has their task cut out. They have to ensure a strong adoption and the key to ensuring such an adoption lies in how well they develop a community around this offering. They have a few partners for Cloud Foundry already but they need to convince more and more service providers that their future in a PaaS based world lies with VMware. More importantly, they have to prove that they can effectively monetize Cloud Foundry in the enterprise market, either by selling their hosted version or by selling support services around the open source version (which is more likely the case). The coming year is going to be crucial for VMware in establishing their PaaS game.
What does it mean to Salesforce?
Another interesting part of today’s announcement is the impact on VMware-Salesforce marriage. When Salesforce partnered with VMware to announce VMForce, I thought it was a marriage of convenience between two players waiting to get their PaaS strategy sorted out. At that time, Salesforce didn’t have a PaaS strategy that really attracted developers and VMware was not clear about where they will be going with their SpringSource acquisition. But they both needed some buzz around their respective companies in the PaaS space. The net result was a marriage which appeared to be a short term one from the very first day.
Since then, Salesforce.com has acquired Heroku, a Ruby on Rails PaaS provider, and have talked about their plans to go deep in PaaS. VMware is supporting Java and Rails on Cloud Foundry just out the gate competing for the same developer-share as Salesforce. I am pretty sure VMware has updated Salesforce.com on their Cloud Foundry plans but I don’t see a future for their marriage. In my opinion, their marriage is headed for a speedy divorce. However, we will have to wait and see how it plays out.
Cloud Foundry is a brilliant move by VMware and has the potential to completely disrupt the PaaS market giving VMware a big boost. They have done something which Microsoft failed to do with Azure. They have a PaaS ready for enterprise and just out of the box. This announcement is also a big win for open source. Their announcement today exactly matches my expectations on how they will put SpringSource acquisition to use in the cloud world. Overall, this is a great move by VMware and their success now rests on how well they execute it in the coming two years.
(Disclosure: VMware covered my travel expenses for the event.)
- VMware Changes the Game with Launch of Open Platform (readwriteweb.com)
- VMware’s Cloud Platform- The New Developer Wars (blogs.forbes.com)
- VMware Launches Open Source Cloud (gigaom.com)
- VMware launches Node.js, Rails and Spring PaaS (cloudfoundry.com)
- VMware open sources Microsoft Azure killer (go.theregister.com)
- VMWare Cloud Foundry – Quick Analysis and Press Pass (redmonk.com)