Although the developer trial version won't be available until later in 2010, VMware and Salesforce.com pulled off an impressive demo of VMforce.
Unveiled in San Francisco on April 27 by Paul Maritz, CEO and president of VMware, and Marc Benioff, CEO and chairman of Salesforce.com, VMforce is set to be the bridge that brings enterprise Java developers to the cloud.
Whether that cloud is inside the firewall or outside, VMware and Salesforce.com want IT managers to shift their focus from maintaining, inspecting and installing plumbing to building applications that provide greater business value. If this were being put forward by two guys looking for angel funding, I'd say, "Good luck with that." But instead it's being offered by two companies with a proven track record of providing transformational technology.
Of course, we live in a world driven by competitive pressures that drive puffery and hyperbole along with real technology advances. Today I only have the word of two parties with a vested interest in showing only the strengths of VMforce. Any weaknesses of the offering were kept from view. While the overall capability of VMforce can only be vaguely determined from the broad outlines of the carefully choreographed demonstration that I saw today, it must be said that it was a good show, overall.
VMware fits into VMforce through its pervasive and category-leading virtualization platform. Abstracting application workloads from the underlying hardware is the first-and most critical-step in a process that can lead to placing that workload in the cloud. Salesforce.com fits in by providing a multitenant, business-proven infrastructure that shows how applications can be provided as a service. And Salesforce.com is no doubt hoping that the contact information and its Force.com platform will be the honey that draws customers to choose VMforce. My takeaway is that both companies have shown that it is theoretically possible for enterprise customers to leave the IT dirty work to someone else, such as VMforce.
As Benioff crowed and Maritz plain-dealed, I felt like I was watching the IT industry get pantsed. In the good old days, individual customers could be cajoled into buying massively overprovisioned systems. And as Moore's Law tramped along leading to fantastic advances in computing power, individual enterprises got pulled along, forced to keep up with the Joneses or lose out to swifter competitors. What if that cost of doing business could be socialized and paid for on a predictable, monthly basis? Could it really mean a focus on developing business apps? Could that set the stage for the beginning of what Benioff called the "mobile Internet computing" age?
And it was the possible answers to these questions that gave me pause during the presentation. A triple threat seemed to be lurking behind the sunny blue sky that permeated the intimate luxury of the Palace Hotel like a disaffected sibling skulking next to a new infant's crib. There is the small matter of all those applications and delicate business processes that are running just fine-thank-you-very-much in private data centers. Incumbent software and application makers including Microsoft and Oracle have no real love of the cloud model. And, let's face it, existing IT staff are probably less than enthused about rushing their jobs off to a multitenant data center in the middle of nowhere.
Future technology and business practices don't rise up from nothing. Successful technology gives rise to methods and other technologies that make once thriving practices obsolete. Moore's Law, ever-expanding wireless coverage, near-ubiquitous Internet service availability and the advent of powerful yet small devices are the driving factors that could make VMforce a success. When the developer trials become available it will be interesting to see if taking Java to the cloud will turn into an example of the new successfully supplanting the old.