VMware and SpringSource: It's All About the Cloud, Baby

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2009-08-11

VMware and SpringSource: It's All About the Cloud, Baby

Though Facebook's acquisition of FriendFeed seemed to garner most of the headlines on Aug. 10, the bigger story for the enterprise was easily VMware's announcement of its intent to acquire SpringSource for $362 million to bolster its cloud strategy against Microsoft and others.

Make no mistake, that is what's at the core of VMware's move here. With SpringSource under its wing, VMware can become the Java-based equivalent to what is expected to be Microsoft's Azure private cloud play -- which has .NET as its development platform. But rather than .NET, VMware will have the Java-based Spring Framework and its surrounding set of Eclipse-based tools as the development environment for the emerging VMware vCloud private cloud initiative.

Microsoft will likely leverage its Azure, .NET, Hyper-V, System Center, and PowerShell, as well as Windows Server and other software to deliver its private cloud play. In a blog post, Microsoft's Steven Martin talks a bit about this. More on Microsoft's plans is expected at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in November in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, VMware will likely leverage its vSphere, Spring Framework and tools, SpringSource Hyperic system management software and other secret sauce virtualization technologies to deliver the VMware private cloud solution.

In an interview with eWEEK, Mik Kersten, a Java developer, CEO of Tasktop and creator of the Eclipse Mylyn project, explained his view of the tooling part of the equation:

"In the past year Tasktop has been working closely with SpringSource on the cloud deployment tooling in the SpringSource Tool Suite (STS). That has given me a perspective on how important virtualization is about to become to a large number of Java developers. Consider how the success of the Windows client and servers followed an investment in developer tools, APIs and the programming model for deploying to physical hardware. Virtualized infrastructure is replacing that physical hardware as the new deployment target, and Spring already has the hearts and minds of the majority of Java developers. With the acquisition, Spring developers can expect to start leveraging the profound capabilities of a virtualized infrastructure, while the tool support in STS will make it easy for them to deploy and manage applications in the cloud. This marks a big step forward for enterprise Java."

Indeed, a recent Evans Data survey indicated that a majority of developers chose Java as the top language for building private cloud applications, followed by Microsoft's C#.

Meanwhile, in a separate interview with eWEEK, Rod Johnson, CEO of what will become the SpringSource division of VMware, said, "When you look at the large enterprise market, which is our bread and butter, every CIO [Chief Information Officer] is trying to figure out their cloud strategy and what they can do behind their firewall to build their private cloud. And if they're in the enterprise they're likely to be using Java. And if they're using Java they're likely to be using Spring. So you take the Java programming model with Spring and you combine it with our management offering (Hyperic) and the VMware virtualization platform. This gives the virtualization layer deep knowledge of what's happening inside the application at runtime."

Moreover, this integration builds naturally as the management software serves to promote a more "autonomic" and instrumented environment, and will enable the virtualization layer "to make decisions in real time" about things such as how many servers to add to support larger workloads, Johnson said. Other such decisions include: Which components need to be co-located on the same virtual server to minimize latency? What layer of the application or infrastructure is the bottleneck? Will increasing compute resources solve the problem, or are there other gating factors?

To the question of whether the VMware marriage with SpringSource is aimed primarily at Microsoft, Johnson told eWEEK:

"There's an industry wide shift toward cloud and the concept of Platform as a Service (PAAS). Microsoft clearly recognizes this. It's no longer about the operating system. As we said when we launched our Build/Run/Manage initiative at SpringSource a few months ago, Microsoft is one of the few companies with a credible, joined up message from developer desktop to data center and cloud. I see the relationship as one of -coopetition.' There are areas in which SpringSource works together with Microsoft right now, and will potentially work together in the future, and we're keen to continue that as a division of VMware. We'll also continue our commitment to Spring.NET, which is growing in popularity."

So not only does Microsoft have reason for concern about this VMware/SpringSource PAAS play from a Java perspective, but perhaps the software giant might also have need for a casual concern from a .NET perspective to the extent that Spring developers begin to show interest in .NET (or .NET developers to show interest in Spring).

But that is further from the focus of this deal.

Moreover, not only does this deal put VMware in more competition with Microsoft, but it puts the virtualization juggernaut in the sights of Amazon, Salesforce.com and Google as well. Microsoft has .NET, Google has Python -- and to some extent Java -- but with this move, VMware is making a power play to claim the title of being the application platform for Java-based cloud development. If nothing else, this VMware deal could serve to stall CIO decisions about which direction to take in the cloud as the various contenders continue to build out their platforms.

The Holy Grail of IT


What is closer to the focus of this deal is the process of chasing what Johnson says he sees as the Holy Grail of IT today. "Getting a unified platform between public and private clouds is the Holy Grail of IT for the next year," Johnson said. And the merger with VMware gives the combined company a "good start in getting there first," he said.

Expanding on that point, Johnson said:

"Spring provides a portable programming model that provides a sophisticated abstraction from the deployment platform, and SpringSource servers and management software complete the runtime. VMware provides a sophisticated abstraction from physical hardware. When you put those things together, you end up with the power to underpin either public or private cloud solutions. SpringSource frameworks and tooling will make the choice of those--or of a traditional data center deployment--transparent, and avoid lock-in for the user. Like Spring itself, this will help to reduce costs and empower users."

In a conference call with press and analysts, Paul Maritz, president and CEO of VMware, explained that VMware did not make SpringSource the "largest M&A transaction" in his company's history for nothing. Maritz said VMware has been moving beyond the hypervisor technology to "how one links groups of machines." Indeed, "the role of the traditional operating system is changing," he said. "There's a new layer of software generally called virtualization" that has become a requirement in the enterprise. In addition,

In short, Maritz said the SpringSource acquisition is about "making virtualization more application aware."

Maritz also noted that in the software development arena, frameworks have emerged as key platforms for developers to write to. "Developers have voted with their feet and applications are increasingly being written to these frameworks," Maritz said, noting that the Spring Framework is a hot property in the Java world, with more than two million developers having adopted it.

"To go where we need to get in the long run, and to make the deployment of applications truly autonomic we need to have deeper instantiation of the application context," and this acquisition enables that, Maritz said. "This is an essential step if we're going to take complexity out of the equation."

Maritz explained that VMware came to know SpringSource over the last nine months or so. The two companies launched an initiative last December at the SpringSource SpringOne conference where SpringSource announced a strategic partnership with VMware aimed at helping enterprises to develop and deploy Spring applications to virtualized environments.

Johnson said that over the last six months the two companies had begun to work in earnest on technical integration based on a partnering roadmap laid out in December, but with no intentions for a merger. However, Maritz said VMware made an investment of "a couple million" in the privately held SpringSource in April. Yet, acquisition talks only "started over the last several weeks," Johnson said.

As for the SpringSource technology and its road map, nothing changes, Johnson said. That includes Spring, Tomcat, Groovy, Grails and other technology in the company's portfolio.

"We're largely going to allow SpringSource to do what it has done so well," Maritz said.

"The core technology will remain both open source and portable," Johnson said. "People can run Spring on other platforms. And our commitment to open source will remain the same. The Spring Framework is very core to SpringSource, but it is driven by the community. In terms of Spring, I don't think things change at all, except that if we need resources we're backed by a bigger company. And remember that at the end of the day I'm just a member of the SpringSource community, too."

A Midas Touch


Just a member, but a newly wealthy member. Do not think that seeing SpringSource acquired in a deal with an overall value of $420 million is not a little bit extra satisfying to Johnson and his SpringSource crew. There was more than a slight rivalry between SpringSource and JBoss in the enterprise Java, open source community. And seeing SpringSource go for an asking price of $362 million and $420 million overall -- well, let's just say for more than the $350 million JBoss commanded -- was quite a feat in a down economy. It also is clearly a source of pride for Johnson and his crew of Java "heretics" as he called them.

And word is not only did Johnson insist on maintaining an open source focus for SpringSource, he also "opened" the process of cashing in on the sale of the company. Word is he took care of his people so that a lot of folks will get paid and paid well off the deal.

In addition, the deal shows that Benchmark Capital partner Peter Fenton continues to have a Midas Touch (having two acquisitions on Aug. 10 with FriendFeed), in that he invested in SpringSource and had also invested in JBoss. Other Fenton investments include Hyperic, Wily, Xensource, and Zimbra, as well as EngineYard, FriendFeed, New Relic, Terracotta and Twitter.

In its 8-K filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, VMware said:

"In connection with the merger, VMware has also agreed to establish a retention pool of approximately $60 million in VMware stock options and restricted stock units from the VMware 2007 Equity and Incentive Plan to be issued to employees of SpringSource following the closing of the merger."

On the VMware conference call, Mark Peek, VMware's chief financial officer, said this move was aimed at keeping the SpringSource development talent in the fold.

Neelan Choksi, former chief operating officer (COO) at SpringSource and current member of the SpringSource board, said, "I think the acquisition of SpringSource by VMware is awesome. It is a great result foremost for the community. The complementary nature of the two companies' respective technologies presents an incredibly compelling soup-to-nuts opportunity. Additionally, I am thrilled for the employees... I know first hand how much effort so many people put into making SpringSource successful and I am so glad that their passion has had a great tangible result but am also excited because their work will continue for the betterment of technologists around the world."

Salil Deshpande, a partner with the venture capital firm Bay Partners, which helped broker SpringSource's acquisition of G2One, said, "I'm pleased with the acquisition, not only for financial reasons, but also because it's a good home for the technology... This was important for VMware. I don't think VMware can remain simply a virtualization vendor. Virtualization is just table-stakes, at this point. Cloud computing will be too pervasive and too important for VMware to remain only a virtualization vendor. It needs to do more. It needs to make many moves such as the SpringSource one."

Analyst Tony Baer takes that thought a bit further:

"VMware isn't finished however. The most glaring omission is need for Java object distributed caching to provide yet another alternative to scalability. If you only rely on spinning out more VMs [virtual machines], you get a highly rigid one-dimensional cloud that will not provide the economies of scale and flexibility that clouds are supposed to provide. So we wouldn't be surprised if GigaSpaces or Terracotta might be next in VMware's acquisition plans."

Finally, there's a bit of irony in this whole VMware/SpringSource deal. Paul Maritz, VMware's COO Tod Nielsen, and Charles Fitzgerald, vice president of product management at Decho, another company in the VMware family under EMC upon which Maritz is a board member, all had key roles, as former Microsoft executives, in the software giant's landmark antitrust battle with the government. In that case, Microsoft was said to have maintained an applications barrier to entry against Java. And Maritz, Nielsen and Fitzgerald were tasked with defending Microsoft's position against Java and Sun Microsystems. Maritz served as a key witness in the case and Nielsen and Fitzgerald served as key Microsoft strategists who often sat in court observing the proceedings.

Now these fellows are on the other side supporting Java. Though, to be fair, Nielsen did a stint at BEA Systems where he also was a Java supporter. Maritz essentially led the early .NET thrust at Microsoft, Nielsen helped build the Microsoft developer community, and Fitzgerald worked as a fixer behind the scenes. Now, on the other side, these guys will be formidable, and fun to watch. 

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