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Cloud Foundry: VMware's Cloud Gambit

Earlier this week, VMware announced its new offering, called Cloud Foundry, which consists of several components of cloud infrastructure. The overarching theme of the announcement was VMware's new support for Platform-As-A-Service (PaaS). In this design, the VMware software stack provides services that can be snapped together quickly with simple commands and configurations. For example, a Cloud Foundry instance, can be quickly configured to host a Spring or Ruby on Rails application. The application is then uploaded to the instance of the machine on the cloud and the remaining services are specified. For example, MySQL, MongoDB, and Redis, are the persistence services that can be specified today. Bolt them on and, if you've written your app correctly, it will use the specified database to store data. So far, this does not sound terribly innovative or remarkable, although in fact it is an advance over the current state of the art.

What makes it truly different, though, is that the software to configure a cloud app this way is a downloadable client-side utility, called vmc. The developer can use vmc to start up a cloud instance, load the app, specify the services, and run the whole shebang from the command-line interface or a script on the development machine. (vmc itself is a Ruby gem.)

VMware takes this model one step further: It allows you to download the software to create a Cloud Foundry instance (that is, the server side) onto your desktop or laptop. In this way, you can host the cloud instance on your local machine. This has the benefit of greatly facilitating testing. At present, you can deploy to the cloud without leaving the IDE, such as from Eclipse with tooling for the Google App Engine (GAE). There, you can test and reload very quickly from within the dev environment. But the GAE is still remote, so connectivity is required, as is putting up with network delays.

My overall impression of the announcement is that VMware is actively courting developers again — an audience that was at one time its core customer base. In the intervening period, VMware has successfully positioned itself as an enterprise IT vendor (which it surely is), while emphasizing less on its developer connection (despite buying up Spring, Groovy, and Grails). It is now reaching out anew to us as we emerge as key gatekeepers to the cloud.

In that regard, it's important to point out that Cloud Foundry is very much a product in process, and not enterprise-ready. The site, cloudfoundry.com, clearly states that the product is in beta. The micro-cloud product will not be released until later this quarter. The remaining products will be available, according to VMware's Jerry Chen, at the end of the year at the earliest. Moreover, the services that Cloud Foundry provides do not include enterprise-capable databases, nor even VMware's own commercial cloud database, GemFire. So, before getting too excited, we'll have to wait and see.

However, it's clear that by providing both hosting and cloud management software for local deployment, VMware is injecting itself into a market in which it has previously been absent — despite having invented the core cloud technologies.

— Andrew Binstock, Dr. Dobb's Executive Editor
[email protected]

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