VMware And salesforce.com Join Forces To Push PaaS To Mainstream Adoption With vmforce

salesforce.com and VMware announced today the development of a joint product and service offering named vmforce. Forrester had a chance to talk to executives at both companies prior to the announcement, and I am quite impressed by the bold move of the two players. Most developers in corporate environments and ISVs perceive the two stacks as two totally different alternatives when selecting a software platform. While the VMware stack, with its Tomcat-based Spring framework, reached mainstream popularity among Java developers with its more lightweight standard Java approach, salesforce.com’s Force.com stack was mostly attractive to developers who liked to extend CRM packaged apps with individual business logic or to ISVs that created new applications from scratch. In some cases, the Java standard and the more proprietary APEX language at Force.com even appeared as competitive options.

Today’s announcement will change the market perception of these two platforms significantly. The two companies promised today that they will develop a new joint product and service offering called vmforce. This is basically VMware’s vSphere and vCloud technology hosted on top of Force.com’s physical infrastructure. It is complemented by a Spring/Tomcat container for Java-based business logic. Beyond this hosting concept, the intention is to develop Java APIs to all of Force.com’s high-level shared multitenant infrastructure. This includes the Force.com database, business intelligence (BI), the recently announced BPM product, Visual Process Manager, and the collaboration functionality around Chatter. The two companies told Forrester that they will offer a developer preview later in 2010 under restricted availability. Neither general availability nor pricing have been disclosed as of today. However, Forrester believes that the pricing will be similar to the current Force.com pricing and the first set of functionality might be generally available by the beginning of 2011, based on salesforce.com’s usual six-month release practice.

What does this mean for the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) market? As Forrester is currently conducting the research for a Forrester Wave™ evaluation of PaaS providers, we are looking very carefully at the set of functionality that corporate application developers and ISVs developing packaged business apps for the cloud expect. Both vendors have had their weaknesses and gaps until now. While the Force.com environment had high-level business-related functionality like BI and BPM, it was missing a standard java runtime container. Thus, the Force.com approach was simply too disruptive for the migration of existing traditional Java-based applications into the cloud. On the other side, the Spring framework provided the stable Java container with some basic and very popular framework services, all presented through the popular Eclipse IDE. But, VMware’s Spring was missing basically all the high-level components of a business process platform. The combination of the two comes much closer to the ideal set of PaaS building blocks described in Forrester’s PaaS reference architecture

We believe that this is an attack on Microsoft’s Azure, but the adoption will be different: In both cases, the combined vmforce and the Azure offering, developers will continue to work in their favorite IDE. Microsoft’s Visual Studio offers seamless access to all .NET infrastructure assets, including, for example, the Windows workflow foundation. The deployment step simply shows two options: a traditional .NET infrastructure on-premise and the Azure services in the cloud. But, until now, Azure has offered only a subset of the full .NET functionality; it’s missing the workflow foundation, for example. The vmforce approach will offer in a similar way the well-known development of plain and Spring-based Java applications in Eclipse. The hosting on Force.com will simply appear as one deployment option in addition to local hosting. But, unlike the Microsoft approach, the deployment on Force.com will offer richer functionality through the availability of all the high-level platform components of the current Force.com infrastructure. Therefore, the adoption cycle will be totally different: .NET developers use Azure in most cases for brand-new development and restrict themselves simply to the functionality currently available at Azure. But, Java developers considering vmforce will be able to approach the cloud with a direct migration of their current Java code into this new PaaS offering. Once shifted over, they can gradually add the additionally available database, BPM, BI, and collaboration features via the promised native Java APIs. With this, the vmforce platform will be one of the very few PaaS environments to combine a straightforward migration of existing legacy (Java) code with new, disruptive cloud components.

Which market segments will this affect? Forrester predicted the development of the long-term PaaS market last year. In our opinion, both application developers doing custom development or extensions of corporate applications and ISVs of packaged cloud apps will benefit from the new offering. But the new adoption pattern will become a challenge for salesforce.com’s go-to-market strategy and ecosystem. Being successful and attractive for totally new application development is a different business from attracting large-scale migration projects, where I see a significant competitive advantage for the new, merged platform.

Please leave a comment on how you might use this new offering.