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The Java cloud? VMforce – Quick Analysis

Austin Skyline from RedMonk Austin

The new thing is that force.com now supports an additional runtime, in addition to Apex. That new runtime uses the Java language, with the constraint that it is used via the Spring framework. Which is familiar territory to many developers. That’s it. That’s the VMforce announcement for all practical purposes from a user’s perspective.
William Vambenepe, Cloud Philosopher-at-Large, Oracle

Later this year, Salesforce will have an additional, more pure-Java friendly way to deliver applications in their cloud. The details of pricing and packaging are to be ironed out and announced later, so there’s no accounting for that. Presumably, it will be cheap-ish, esp. compared to some list price WebSphere install run on-prem with high-end hardware, storage, networking, and death-by-nines ITSM.

For developers, etc.

The key attributes from developers are the ability to use Java instead of Salesforce’s custom APEX language, access to Salesforce’s services, and easier integration and access to the Salesforce customer base.

Spring

Partnering with VMWare to use Spring is an excellent move. It brings in not only the Spring Framework, but the use of Tomcat and one of the strongest actors in the Java world at the moment. There’s still a feel of proprietariness, less than “pure” Java to the platform in the same way that Google AppEngine doesn’t feel exactly the same as an anything goes Java Virtual Machine. You can’t bring your own database, for example, and one wonders what other kinds of restrictions there would be with respect to brining any Java library you wanted – like a Java based database, web server, etc. But, we soothe our tinkering inner-gnome that, perhaps, there are trade-offs to be made, and they may be worth it.

(Indeed, in my recent talks on cloud computing for developers I try to suggest that the simplicity a PaaS brings might be worth it if it speeds up development, allowing you to deliver features more frequently and with less ongoing admin hassle to your users.)

Tools, finishing them out

The attention given to the development tool-chain is impressive and should be a good reference point for others in this area. Heroku is increasingly heralded as a good way of doing cloud development, and key to their setup is a tight integration – like, really tight – between development, deployment, and production. The Heroku way (seems to) shoot simplicity through all that, which looks to make that “good way” of cloud-development possible. The “dev/ops” shift is a big one to make – like from going to Waterfall to Agile – but so far signs show that it’s not just cowboy-coder-crap.

Throw in some VMforce integration with github and jam in some SaaS helpdesk (hello, Salesforce!), configuration management, and cloud-based dev/test labs…and you’re starting to warm the place up, addressing the “85 percent of [IT] budget [spent] just keeping the lights on” that Salesforce’s Anshu Sharma wags a finger at.

PaaS as a plugin framework, keeping partners alive

“In theory what it means for Java developers is that there’s sort of a ready marketplace community for them to develop their applications,” said RedMonk analyst Michael Cote. “Because there is that tighter integration between the Salesforce application and ecosystem, it kind of helps accelerate the market for these [applications].”

Many PaaSes are shaking out to be the new way to write plugins for an existing, large install-base. Of course, Salesfoce will protect its core revenue stream, and without any anti-trust action against Apple, the sky’s the limit when it comes to using fine print to compete on your own platform by shutting out “plugins” (or “apps”) you see as too competitive. That’s always a risk for a PaaS users, but I suspect a manageable one here and in many cases.

Intuit’s Partner Platform is another example of PaaS-as-Plugin, and I think such setups are good all around. As with the Apple App Store, the owner of the PaaS takes a cut, fee, or both, to give developers access to the ready-to-buy channel of users. Microsoft’s platform, Azure, doesn’t seem to fit this mold, but you can see where folks like IBM would take their Live product lines (Lotus and Tivoli) and slap PaaSes on the backend to build out partnering ecosystems.

There’s your “cloud destroys the partner ecosystem” problem solved. Partners just have to learn new tricks, but that’s always been the case.

Arms-dealers

You’ll be hearing a lot more about Spring and the cloud in the next few months.
Rod Johnson, VMWare/SpringSource

The first thing I found peculiar was that VMWare was “outsourcing” its Java cloud to Salesforce. The partnership seemed a little weird until I dug in deeper and realized that VMforce is more about the force part than the VM part. What VMWare brings to the table is valuable, and perhaps there’s some revenue sharing or other cash-sloshing around, but the key benefits to this PaaS (it seems) are more about existing in the Salesforce ecosystem by bringing Java to it.

Also, the idea of VMWare spending all that money to build up data-centers is a bit much. It’s millions and millions of dollars and I suspect they’d rather partner with someone and provide be a “cloud arms dealer” than run a cloud on their own. I’ve never spent the time to sit down and figure out the cost of building your own cloud and the business plan for making shareholder-approved profits fast enough – it seems dicey. Seems like that’s something Bob Warfield would have laying around scribbled on the backs of some large envelopes.

As such, I wouldn’t call this the “Java in the cloud” offering I’ve been waiting for someone to really nail. There are versions of it out there, and you can always build whatever you like on-top of raw Infrastructure-as-a-Service. As Rod alludes to, there’s more to come.

Java is always teetering on entering the “legacy” phase of it’s life. With Oracle ejecting the Dynamic Language Dream Team there’s a question of how much industry will there is to keep evolving Java vs. keep sustaining it. Folks like the clojure-crew are still doing the Lord’s work of evolving on the platform, but it’s seeming more like it’s up to Spring to take the dynamic language on the VM torch – or whatever else to keep innovating Java as an ecosystem. Once a technology does become “legacy,” the hard work and innovation becomes managing it more effectively (read: cheaply) – a Java cloud would be a perfect fit for that. Call it – gulp – “Java modernization.”

Microsoft’s Azure is always another interesting dark horse here – I know, Java running on Redmond owned kit may seem crazy, but if it helps sell more Windows…

Others

Disclosure: Intuit is a customer, as is Microsoft. See the RedMonk clients list for other relevant clients, as there’s many. (And that’s not William’s real title, but it should be.)

Categories: Cloud, Development Tools, Enterprise Software, Java, Quick Analysis.

Comment Feed

8 Responses

  1. Thomas: yup, you're right of course. I was just being quick-n-lazy instead of comprehensive…and opportunistic to point to a recent make all podcast ;) I'd actually like to talk with a Scala person on make all as well – it'd be fun.

    And, the point about Java vs. JVM is well taken. "JVM cloud" is more precise and correct to be sure, but lacks that nice zing that "Java cloud" does.

  2. VMforce gives me deja vu. If force.com/VisualForce/Apex are the way to “Build and Deploy PaaS Apps in the Cloud” (http://www.salesforce.com/company/news-press/press-releases/2008/01/080117-2.jsp), what problem does VMfoce solve? Has the wholly proprietary force.com stack not panned out? Perhaps salesforce has come to the conclusion that it’s too resource-intensive, if not impossible, to achieve parity with open technologies. As a force.com and Java developer, I welcome the notion of using mainstream languages, my favorite tools, frameworks, view engines, etc., for building on force.com. But the devil is in the details. I suspect there will be lots of restrictions on freedom to choose the pieces and parts you want. E.g., as much as I love Spring, will I be forced to use it, or can I use guice, or forego DI completely? I’m looking forward to seeing the details.

  3. I know this is only addressing a very small point in your post, but I’m always confused when I see people talking about the Java platform not evolving these days and then I see reference to there being possible hope from some way out in left field player like Clojure. I won’t even mention that this is clearly about the JVM and not Java. I have a lot of respect for Clojure and, even, to some degree Jruby and Groovy. But is it just some form of blinders that keeps people from remembering Scala as a major player in this discussion? Scala has already achieved market penetration, is getting used by some very big players (I know off the top of my head of at least a half a dozen or so). Look at OSCON’s Scala Summit, the recent ScalaDays and various other Scala conferences, not to mention the exciting platforms being built on Scala, such as Akka and Lift, and tell me this is not pushing the JVM (not Java, I’ll agree) forward.

  4. Wow, quick turn around. ;~)

    I’ll keep an eye out for that podcast. I’ve got the Clojure one queued up — maybe I’ll find time for it later today. If you come out to Portland for OSCON, you could likely have your pick of Scala heavyweights to choose from.

  5. >Also, the idea of VMWare spending all that money to build up data-centers is a bit much.

    The most intriguing part of VMWare as a business is their investment in Terremark which is a great data-center network and operations play. I'm a little conflicted about how to read it other than to say that the core competency of VMWare is ridiculously easy operations and that even though they are mostly minting money through software, that seeking out similar models in networking and hardware integration seems a good fit…

Continuing the Discussion

  1. [...] Coté's People Over Process » The Java cloud? VMforce – Quick Analysis "Java is always teetering on entering the “legacy” phase of it’s life. With Oracle ejecting the Dynamic Language Dream Team there’s a question of how much industry will there is to keep evolving Java vs. keep sustaining it. Folks like the clojure-crew are still doing the Lord’s work of evolving on the platform, but it’s seeming more like it’s up to Spring to take the dynamic language on the VM torch – or whatever else to keep innovating Java as an ecosystem. Once a technology does become “legacy,” the hard work and innovation becomes managing it more effectively (read: cheaply) – a Java cloud would be a perfect fit for that. Call it – gulp – “Java modernization.”" (tags: redmonk michaelcote vmforce java paas cloud) [...]