Monday, August 24, 2009

VMware Springs Big for SpringSource

In a blog post back in May, I described why I believed a SpringSource and Hyperic combination was a good thing. In the new world of virtualized infrastructure and cloud computing, the application delivery and management approach is going to be lightweight and lean. At the time, however, I never imagined lightweight and lean would be worth $420M to VMware. While I have no doubt that a lightweight and agile approach to application delivery and management is going to replace the outdated heavy approach of J2EE and EJB, I am not quite convinced that VMware is getting in this deal what they want us to believe they are getting – general purpose operating system irrelevance.

VMware has done an incredible job abstracting the hardware away from the general purpose operating system. Now they have moved to the other end of the stack in an attempt to abstract the application away from the operating system. If the operating system is not responsible for hardware support and it is likewise not responsible for application support, then it is irrelevant, right? It is a good theory, but it is not quite true.

While the majority of application code will certainly be written in languages that can be supported by SpringSource (java, grails), there will remain lots and lots of application utilities and services that are provided by various programs that are not, and will never be, written in Java or the related languages supported by SpringSource. All of these various programs will still need to be assembled into the system images that represent a working application. And while I absolutely believe the general purpose operating system should die an ugly death in the face of virtualized infrastructure and cloud computing, I do not believe that operating systems can be rendered irrelevant to the application. I simply believe they become lighter and more application specific. I also believe that we are going to see a proliferation of application language approaches, not a consolidation to Java alone.

Acquiring SpringSource puts VMware on the path to providing not only Infrastructure as a Service technology, but also Platform as a Service technology. From what I have seen to date in the market, PaaS lags far, far behind IaaS in acceptance and growth. I have written multiple posts praising the Amazon approach and decrying the Google and Salesforce approach for cloud because the latter requires developers to conform to the preferences of the platform provider while the former allows developers to exercise creativity in the choice of languages, libraries, data structures, etc. That's not to say that PaaS cannot be a valuable part of the application developer toolkit. It's just that the market will be much more limited in size due to the limitations in the degrees of freedom that can be exercised. And if developers love one thing more than anything else, it is freedom.

VMware's acquisition of SpringSource moves them into the very unfamiliar territory of developer tools and runtimes. It is a different sale to a different audience. Developers are notoriously fickle, and it will be interesting to see how a famously insular company like VMware manages to maintain the developer momentum built by the SpringSource team.

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