While cognizant of the threat posed by traditional enterprise foes like Oracle, Microsoft and IBM, VMware CEO Paul Maritz is just as concerned with competitors that aren't yet on his radar. This is one of the main motivations behind VMware's Cloud Foundry platform-as-a-service, which the Palo Alto, Calif.-based firm launched in April.
According to Maritz, many enterprises are sitting on older application code that's impeding their ability to serve customers and migrate to the cloud. Cloud Foundry provides a way for developers to rewrite apps in Java so that they'll run well on private clouds, and it's VMware's bid to make this easier to achieve than on competitors' PaaS offerings.
"There has been a developer-led revolt against complexity, and developers have been moving to new frameworks," Maritz said in a Wednesday session at Structure 2011 in San Francisco. "Developers no longer want to deal with wiring middleware infrastructure together, and they don't want to think about how to make apps scale."
Cloud Foundry represents VMware's belief that PaaS offerings currently on the market are hamstrung by limited framework support, a lack of variety in application services and an inability for apps to be deployed in both public and private clouds.
Cloud Foundry was also built with help from Mark Lucovsky, technical director at VMware, and Derek Collison, chief architect of VMware's Cloud Services division, both of whom VMware recruited from Google.
Maritz said in many ways, cloud infrastructure today is similar to the mainframe era, in the sense that developers are being compelled to choose between proprietary architectures. Linux rose to prominence as a way for developers to shed proprietary shackles back then, and VMware envisions the same happening in cloud infrastructure.
One of the guiding principles behind Cloud Foundry is that "Developers will come out with the moral, if not technical equivalent of Linux for the cloud," Maritz said.
Cloud Foundry includes the Spring Framework, an enterprise Java programming model VMware gained in its 2009 acquisition of SpringSource, and it includes a set of interfaces on top that allow developers to make plug-ins for additional programming frameworks.
This, Maritz said, makes Cloud Foundry more than just a VMware product. "We're happy to see Cloud Foundry go everywhere, and by definition we want it to be something that's used by the industry, as opposed to being controlled by VMware," he said.
VMware is now running a pilot of a commercial Cloud Foundry service it plans to launch in the first half of next year. It's also leading an open source Cloud Foundry project under the Apache 2 license.
VMware certainly faces some challenges in getting developers on board with Cloud Foundry, and it may take a while for a critical mass of developers to flock to the platform.
However, Maritz suggested that launching Cloud Foundry is the sort of calculated risk a company like VMware must take in order to maintain its competitive advantage over traditional foes, as well as ones it doesn't yet know about.