On Cloud Foundry's first birthday, VMware CTO Steve Herrod likened it to the Linux of cloud computing. That's not quite right, but this open source platform for developers could slay worries about cloud vendor lock-in.
The more apt analogy was one derived from sitting down to talk with an old acquaintance, Tod Nielsen, former CEO of Borland Software, now co-president of VMware with Paul Maritz. The way Cloud Foundry works is to give developers a helping hand with all the middleware, messaging and other secondary systems that make their business logic work in a larger environment. In addition, what's developed in Cloud Foundry can run in Cloud Foundry. If a developer wishes to use it as a deployment environment, it can be found in the VMware partner clouds hosted by Bluelock, Terremark, Colt, Singtel, and SoftBank. It can also be found on Amazon through AppFog, a startup that hosts a beta Cloud Foundry service for development there.
As Nielsen talked, I had to stop and think. VMware hopes most of its customers stick with an ESX Server cloud, such as the set mentioned with Bluelock. But if a customer wishes, Cloud Foundry can serve as his development site and will handle deployment issues to another cloud, provided your target cloud supports the use of Cloud Foundry in its environment. For example, there's no production environment on Amazon yet, but AppFog appears to be headed in that direction. Right now, it just supports Cloud Foundry for development and PHP in production.
Depending on how many other cloud suppliers pick up on the opportunity, Cloud Foundry gives VMware customers an out from the potential lock-in that VMware rivals are always warning about. The analogy that comes to mind is not Linux but Java and the Java Virtual Machine. If there was a JVM for the target hardware, then Java would run there without alteration. Likewise, if a public cloud's APIs and other plumbing recognize Cloud Foundry, then applications built in Cloud Foundry will run there.
VMware has made a name for itself and built a respectable revenue stream as a server consolidation play. IT has adopted it with enthusiasm because it saves money in the budget and space in the data center. But this phase of VMware's success made it the consolidator of legacy systems. Those are not new, advance cloud applications going onto consolidated servers but legacy ones, for the most part. This made VMware potentially the designer of legacy cloud systems, at best, as it started its cloud product line. In addition, critics warn that VMware ESX Server is proprietary and you're getting locked in if you use it.
Cloud Foundry, on the other hand, is open source code, a pan-language and multi-cloud approach to developing applications. Yes, we're proprietary at the hypervisor level, VMware now says, but with Cloud Foundry you can develop a cloud application once on our platform and run it anywhere. Cloud Foundry will handle the underlying details, including the virtual machine format conversion, for you if you choose a non-VMware cloud.
The anywhere part still needs a lot of work. Rackspace, for example, is a primary mover behind OpenStack and it's not likely to invest lots of effort in Cloud Foundry-supporting APIs.
But to illustrate the disrupter roll VMware is starting to play on this front, Wednesday it announced BOSH, a tool chain designed to make VMware's Cloud Foundry accept and deploy code better. It is now available as open source for other clouds to adopt. BOSH is "a prescriptive way of creating releases and managing systems and services" to run on a cluster. "It's not a collection of shell scripts, or a pile of Perl."
Rather it's a defined, standard and automated way to deploy code created on Cloud Foundry into a cloud environment. In creating such a tool chain, "a work in progress," said Lucovsky, VMware is doing more than enhancing the virtualized data center or consolidating more legacy applications. It's offering a tool for deploying the applications of the future that will be created on its development platform.
If enterprise developers see Cloud Foundry as an opportunity to take what they know about VMware and extend it out into the cloud, both as a development environment and place to run a new generation of applications, then VMware will have stolen a march on principal rival Microsoft and many other would-be competitors. It's not clear yet that it will work out that way, but Cloud Foundry looks less like for-VMware-only platform and more like VMware's ticket to the coming, hybrid, private/public cloud operations of the future.
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