VMware launches open-source cloud platform

Cloud Foundry is aimed squarely at Microsoft's Azure

VMware is launching into the space pioneered by NASA with an open-source cloud-computing platform designed to reduce the cost and complications of getting into the cloud, expanding VMware's own market in the process.

The product, Cloud Foundry, is designed as platform as a service (PaaS) software for either internal corporate networks or public clouds being run as a service.

Not coincidentally, the main features VMware touts for Cloud Foundry are those it criticizes in Microsoft's Azure PaaS offering: the need to use a specific set of application development tools and operating systems within the cloud.

"Non-standard development frameworks, a limited set of application services or a single, vendor-operated cloud service...inhibit application portability, locking developers intoa particular offering and restricting movement of applications across cloud providers or even into the enterprise's own data center," the announcement read.

Microsoft's Azure runs applications built with Microsoft tools – primarily its .NET framework, ASP.net, and Visual Studio, with SQL Server as the database – but has also added support for PHP and Java. It has also added more granular control of the virtual-machine instances underneath a particular application, giving the developer that much more control.

Cloud foundry also supports micro-instances, but allows apps to be written using Spring for Java, Ruby on Rails, Sinatra for Ruby and Node.js and other Java Virtual Machine-based frameworks.

Data services come from MongoDB, MySQL and Redis databases and, eventually, VMware vFabric services, the app-management framework within VMware's vCloud products.

Open-source PaaS is a departure for VMware, which has always pushed its hypervisor and management environment as the basis of both internal and external clouds.

Cloud Foundry is an adaptation of products from SpringSource, the Java development-framework maker it bought in August, 2009.

Along with SpringSource, it got a host of other open-source products and communities: Apache Tomcat, Apache HTTP Server, Hyperic, Groovy and Grails.

It also bought RabbitMQ, which makes message-oriented middleware designed to simplify integration of applications by letting them send requests as messages rather than more complex coding.

And it launched VMForce, a Java-based PaaS, which it operates along with Salesforce.com.

Cloud Foundry will be available directly as a PaaS product from VMware, free while the beta is going on, but at full fee later on at CloudFoundry.com. CloudFoundry.org is an open-source developer community in which VMware invites developers to participate, at no cost.

Cloud Foundry Micro Cloud is a desktop cloud, also free, based on VMware Fusion or VMware player desktop virtualization products, that allow developers to run the Cloud Foundry environment on their desktops, then migrate apps to the cloud later.

It will be available in a few weeks, according to VMware.

The Cloud Foundry name isn't new, however. It's been a SpringSource-based service that ran on top of Amazon Web Services. That service is still available at classic.cloudfoundry.com.

Why launch another open-source cloud platform when OpenStack – the cloud platform developed by RackSpace and Cloud.com, used by NASA as open source and sold commercially by the other two? Especially when they're both PaaS rather than diversifying a bit into infrastructure as a service?

To pull in companies interested in cloud but unwilling to put any corporate data or apps on a public cloud, and unwilling to be locked in to just one vendor for an infrastructure decision that is supposed to be all about choice. Make cloud widely available as open source, and a lot more people will use cloud, the reasoning goes.

Once they see how hard it can be to build and run your own, a lot will hire it out to service providers, or buy VMware software for the internal version.

Even if all the open-source CloudFoundry customers swear off VMware on principle, CloudFoundry apps and infrastructure will still be a lot easier to integrate with VMware networks than with something random and proprietary – Azure or Amazon's EC2, for example.

A December InfoWorld test of five private-cloud products made it clear building your own cloud isn't for the faint of heart.

It may improve after a few more years, but analysts all pretty much agree that cloud technology is so immature right now that making a bet on one format, platform or even set of development tools – let alone a single product – is short sighted.

That doesn't bode well in the short term for products created out of open source. In the long term, it's the only way to go.

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