VMware's Cloud Development Push Kicking Into Higher Gear


VMware is trying to establish itself as a leader in the application development transformation going on in the cloud and is urging channel partners to follow its lead. Cloud Foundry, the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) VMware unveiled in April, is the first major step down this path.

Cloud Foundry includes the Spring Framework, an enterprise Java programming model VMware acquired with SpringSource, and it will eventually support a variety of other development frameworks and languages. VMware is now running a pilot of a commercial multi-tenant public cloud PaaS service, and the company is also leading an open source Cloud Foundry project under the Apache 2 license.

VMware plans to launch its commercial Cloud Foundry service in the first half of next year, but developer activity is already heating up around the pilot. Jerry Chen, senior director of cloud and application services at VMware, says Cloud Foundry pilot has had four times as many sign-ups as VMware expected by this point.

"Cloud Foundry has exceeded our expectations," Chen said in an interview. "We're also been extremely successful getting developers into the open source project. People have added other languages and frameworks, including PHP, Python, Scala, Lift and Ruby."

VMware's mantra is that virtualization is just an appetizer to the feast that lies ahead in cloud computing. Its goal with Cloud Foundry is to cast a wide net for developers, a segment of the IT industry the company hasn't worked closely with in the past.

VMware's lack of experience in dealing with developers, and the still-unclear role for channel partners in the cloud, leads some virtualization industry watchers to believe the company will face a tough road with Cloud Foundry.

"VMware's biggest problem is getting momentum going with developers and holding onto it," said Daryl Plummer, managing vice president and Gartner fellow, in an interview. "VMware is well known to operations staff, but developers focus on different things."

Keith Norbie, vice president of sales at Nexus Information Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based solution provider, says the application development crowd is very fickle, and that makes it hard for any single platform to dominate. "It's going to take a while for VMware to create critical mass [with Cloud Foundry]," he predicted.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware sees deficiencies in existing PaaS offerings that are keeping developers on the sidelines, including spotty framework support, middleware complexity, and an inability to deploy applications on both public and private clouds. This last point has been a real stickler for many companies, Plummer noted. "The ability to do this as a public or private cloud is very important because IT organizations are always skittish about new things," he said.

Since acquiring SpringSource in August 2009, VMware has been urging its channel partners to weigh the benefits of development and encouraging them to view it as a vital part of their journey to the cloud. But the message hasn't yet resonated in a meaningful way with the channel partners CRN interviewed for this story. While some VARs have already begun moving to the cloud, plenty of others are alarmed by its implications and wondering what their business model is going to look like in three to five years.

VMware's Cloud Overtures To Channel Partners

"VMware has been pushing this to the channel for while now, encouraging and cajoling us to sell these platforms," said Dan Weiss, CEO and co-founder of Varrow, a virtualization solution provider in Greensboro, N.C. "But they're probably not having whole lot of success through normal channel partner programs because the channel's expertise doesn't usually extend to development."

VMware and its channel are trying to figure out how to make money in the cloud, and a critical element of this is having a technology and structure that bridges private and public cloud, said Ken Phelan, CTO of Gotham Technology Partners, a solution provider based in Montvale, N.J. However, although Cloud Foundry is built with this in mind, Phelan thinks VMware partners will remain in wait-and-see mode until their role becomes more clearly defined.

"VMware doesn't want to encourage the channel to go out and become service providers, because most partners aren't equipped to do that. For partners, the question is how to take what you have today and make it relevant," Phelan said.

VMware does have certain advantages it can bring to bear in recruiting cloud developers. VMware CEO Paul Maritz has a developer-friendly background forged during his 14-year-career with Microsoft, where he attained the role of executive vice president of the software giant's Platforms Strategy and Developer Group. VMware is also working with Google and Salesforce.com on enterprise Java clouds that are integrated with SpringSource, and this is helping VMware gain credibility with a broader swath of developers.

One thing VMware doesn't lack is channel experience, and the company’s mix of service provider and solution provider partners could work to its favor. Service providers understand the operational aspects of multi-tenant but aren't as well equipped to transition customers to the cloud.

Varrow's Weiss sees this as an opportunity for virtualization VARs. "We have the expertise to make that happen. Our struggle is trying to figure out multi-tenancy and how to make money from doing it," he said.

Weiss would also like to see VMware develop a separate channel program around Cloud Foundry, with certification and training to get partners up to speed on the ins-and-outs of selling to developers.

By fixing common PaaS problems with Cloud Foundry and getting channel partners involved, VMware hopes to lure cloud developers into its camp and keep them away from rivals. VMware's timing is also fortuitous: Of the PaaS competitors VMware faces, only Microsoft, with Windows Azure, has put its stake in the ground with a cloud development platform, according to Plummer.

"IBM and Oracle are lagging dramatically behind, and this creates a huge opportunity for someone to come in and stir things up, and that's what VMware is doing," Plummer said.