Why VMware's WaveMaker Acquisition Is a Smart Buy

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2011-03-10

Why VMware's WaveMaker Acquisition Is a Smart Buy

When VMware's Rod Johnson talks, people tend to listen.

One person who clearly is listening to Johnson -- general manager of VMware's SpringSource division -- is Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, who commissioned Johnson to acquire WaveMaker and its Spring-based visual development tool that enables "non-expert" programmers to build Web applications quickly and easily. The move marks another in a series of acquisitions VMware (via SpringSource) has made to elbow its way to a place at the table for leading cloud platform providers.

In fact, this move provides VMware even more elbow room, as going after non-coding, less-technical developers will expand the reach of the Spring ecosystem. Maritz and company took a bet on Spring when they acquired SpringSource back in 2009 as a wedge to bust into the Java development world in a big way, as Spring now boasts millions of developers.

Having spent formative years in the software industry at Microsoft, both Maritz and Tod Nielsen, VMware's co-president in charge of the company's application platform, know the value of developers to a platform and to a company overall. Nielsen helped devise Microsoft's blueprint for reaching out to developers and left Microsoft as a vice president of the company's platform group. At the SpringOne 2GX conference of Spring developers in October 2010 in Chicago, Nielsen told eWEEK he was there primarily to observe and gather intelligence.

"I'm really just here to watch and listen, and to see what developers want and need out of us," he said. "I'm taking note of how different people are using Spring and the other tools as we continue to put this strategy together. We're not finished by any means."

The WaveMaker acquisition is yet another move in that strategy. Some observers view the move as significant because it gives VMware more of the full stack that others such as Microsoft and Google have - that is, a stack that reaches from the infrastructure, through the programming model, to the UI widgets. And rather than acquiring a UI toolkit to match something like the Google Web Toolkit (GWT), VMware went after the non-professional developer in a move reminiscent of Microsoft with Visual Basic. And the growing number of cloud-based services will create a fertile ground for mashup type apps that combine REST-based services in a similar fashion to how the Visual Basic apps from a couple decades ago combined data sources.

The Microsoft parallels continue, as Microsoft just released a second beta of its LightSwitch tool, a new addition to the Visual Studio family that enables non-professional developers to create professional-quality business applications for the desktop, the Web and the cloud. Microsoft has long understood the need to support a continuum of developers, from deeply technical C++ developers to less technical users of tools such as VB, the aborted Popfly and now LightSwitch.

Moreover, as it appears to be running variations of plays from the classic Microsoft playbook, VMware potentially stands as an eventual landing spot for Microsoft engineers steeped in cloud computing and perhaps disenchanted by recent management moves by the software giant.

Meanwhile, as RedMonk's Michael Cote put it, "Technologically, VMware is interested in seeing wider Java-based application development, especially in the -line of business' area that the easier-to-use WaveMaker tool targets." He added, "More forward looking, WaveMaker is a good fit for a PAAS [platform as a service], having a sort of wiki approach to applications running in the cloud."

Neelan Choksi, president and chief operating officer at Tasktop Technologies, who formerly played a similar role at SpringSource, told eWEEK, "This acquisition seems completely consistent with SpringSource's history of trying to make enterprise Java development accessible to all and seems like a natural progression from Spring itself to the SpringSource Tool Suite to Roo and now to WaveMaker."

Indeed, although the Spring Framework helps eliminate much of the complexity of enterprise Java development, Spring, with its AOP (aspect-oriented programming) support is not for the squeamish. It is a professional developer's platform.

Was $340 Million Too Much?


What is more, with his history and erstwhile proximity to the Spring effort, Choksi added a bit more perspective. "For me personally, this is quite interesting because in 2007-2008 when Rod Johnson was living in Noe Valley and I was spending half my work days there, WaveMaker CEO Chris Keene also lived in Noe Valley in San Francisco. Chris started a Noe Valley geek crew that would go out and grab drinks at various local watering holes. It's quite interesting to see how those early conversations have now come full circle."

However, some say they do not see the value in the WaveMaker acquisition. Commenting on Rod Johnson's blog post announcing the WaveMaker acquisition, a responder identified as "Bob" said, "Reading between the lines, Spring (in my personal opinion) is having trouble finding a coherent strategy to make enough money to justify the $340 million that VMware paid to acquire Spring."

Following VMware's acquisition of SpringSource in 2009, Sacha Labourey, former JBoss/Red Hat executive and founder CEO of CloudBees, said:

"IMO, that is exactly what led to this acquisition. VMware had to own a middleware solution and other options were too costly. SpringSource's acquisition gives VMware several quick-wins: a foot in the middleware game, a developer community, a recognized brand in middleware and, last but not least, a seat on the JCP [Java Community Process]."

Yet, moving back to present day, for his part, Johnson lays out why VMware's WaveMaker acquisition makes sense going forward and builds on the points Labourey outlined and sniped at in his insightful post.

Indeed, Johnson said there is more to come, including more "Spring goodness." Regarding the future, Johnson said:

We're excited about the future. Some of the highlights you can expect:

??Ç         Close alignment with Spring Roo will ensure consistent architecture between Spring Roo and WaveMaker applications and enable developers to work on WaveMaker applications at three levels: in traditional code-only style; in code-oriented fashion turbo-charged by Spring Roo; and with the WaveMaker graphical environment. This will be a uniquely compelling set of choices.

??Ç         WaveMaker as a service will fit naturally with our cloud computing strategy, including Code2Cloud.

??Ç         Currently WaveMaker builds applications using as inputs database tables and Web service endpoints. We have lots more Spring goodness to work with. We will enrich this functionality through exposing many other features of Spring, such as Spring Integration and Spring Social endpoints, along with other cloud services.

Moreover, in his own post on the acquisition, WaveMaker's Keene addressed the growing popularity of the WaveMaker technology. "As WaveMaker went from 3,000 downloads a month in January, 2010 to 135,000 downloads a month in December, 2010, we realized that we had created the perfect -on ramp' for cloud computing. WaveMaker can play a big role in bringing large numbers of developers to the cloud, but only if we team with the right cloud partner," he said. "With VMware and SpringSource, we have found that partner," Keene added.

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