How RIM, Salesforce, Red Hat, And VMware Are Building Developer Ecosystems

Each faces different hurdles. Their continued growth depends in part on how well they get third-party developers building around their platforms.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

December 7, 2007

3 Min Read

VMwareTheoretically, VMware should be on the defensive. Open source code supplier XenSource has been bought by Citrix, Microsoft's coming, and Xen adopters such as Virtual Iron, Sun Microsystems, and Oracle are taking aim at the market with an open source approach.

It's not hurting, though, in part because of how well it has attracted a powerful following of third-party developers adding value to its core product line. VMware shows the value of being a clear market leader in a hot field; third parties flock to produce software around you.

Virtual Power


"Community source code" and APIs for building around hypervisor


VMware hosts virtual appliances, prepackaged with an optimized OS in a single virtual machine, for easy download and testing


Can its ecosystem outpace an open source Xen community?

VMware's Web site is rich in developer resources, and it devotes about 90 engineers to testing and certification, including helping partners use VMware testing tools to check compatibility. Owned by EMC, and flush with $1.035 billion for an IPO this year for 13% of the company, VMware's fourth annual user meeting this year was a blowout, with about 8,000 attendees and 130 exhibiting partners.

Can VMware's proprietary developer ecosystem stay ahead of the likes of an open source Xen community? The company devotes about 30 engineers to what it calls "community source code," which it makes available to partners and third-party firms. Its APIs let companies such as system management vendors extract information from virtual machines. VMware also makes its ESX Server hypervisor code available to selected third parties, who both critique and make suggested additions to it, and develop applications that are compatible. "It gives partners the benefit they would get out of open source, but it's done in a more assured manner," says Parag Patel, VMware's VP of alliances. Read "restricted" for "assured." There are advantages to coding for the proprietary world, since partners know whatever they cook up won't be posted for competitors to seize and try to match.

Emulex is one of those partners, using VMware's Community Source program to link ESX Server to its host bus adapters that link servers to storage over Fibre Channel networks. Through access to the code, Emulex virtualizes its HBA, a hardware device on the server, so virtual machines see a slice of a storage pool as if it were a physical resource dedicated to it. That makes for easier management.

But the most innovative way VMware encourages a VMware-oriented ecosystem is its online marketplace for virtual appliances. Virtual machines need an operating system and application to run within their software boundaries. VMware believes software suppliers increasingly will distribute prepackaged applications with an operating system optimized to run it in a single virtual machine file, so would-be buyers can easily download the combination for a test drive. VMware chief scientist Mendel Rosenblum goes so far as to predict the majority of software will someday be distributed as a file ready to run in this virtual appliance format. VMware has made itself the leading host of virtual appliances, establishing a marketplace on its site where more than 600 appliances are now available, from 75 vendors, since it was established eight months ago.

Momentum can be fickle, though, and there's nothing stopping those vendors from offering virtual appliances elsewhere. Developers go where the action is. For these companies to stay on a roll, they'll need to keep developers, and all their bright ideas, behind them.

Editor's note: On Dec. 27, we corrected the amount of money VMware raised in its IPO and the number of vendors selling virtual appliances on VMware's marketplace.

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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