VMware’s Cloud Portability Promise Powered By Google

Every week the platform as a service (PaaS) market has something exciting happening. After VMware recently announced a partnership with salesforce.com to jointly develop vmforce, the virtualization expert today managed to be part of Google’s latest announcement of Google’s App Engine for Business. This is specifically important for ISVs.

Still, one of the biggest strategic concerns that ISVs have in  moving their applications into the cloud is the long term safety of an investment into a single technology stack or hosted PaaS offering. Led by IBM and other major vendors (except Google) the open cloud manifesto was launched last year along with other standard efforts to make the cloud more interoperable and portable. Actually, many cloud offerings even mean a double lock-in for ISVs – into the specific new technology stack and in many cases into the single hosting service of the PaaS vendor. The history of Java and web services teaches us that the path through standard bodies can be a solid basis to avoid these vendor lock-in situations. However, the tech industry has also learned, mainly from Microsoft, that the establishment of de-facto standards, evolved out of originally proprietary approaches, can in some cases be a faster path to market share.


Today’s surprise was Google’s joint commitment with VMware to establish such a de-facto cloud platform standard. An application developed once on VMware’s Spring Framework will be, so the vendors state, deployable in many options:

  • On Google’s App Engine for Business.
  • On salesforce.com’s Force.com data center, where the high level PaaS functionality of vmforce  is also available.
  • On premise in a customer’s own data center virtualized by VMware’s vSphere.
  • On basically any independent hosting provider which runs a vCloud environment by VMware to virtualize its hosting services to a subscriber.

This clearly addresses the problem of deployment lock-in very well. This combined with the broad acceptance of the open sourced Spring Framework means that the second lock-in momentum was never as great a concern for millions of Java developers. Thus, Forrester considers VMware’s Spring Framework an increasingly good platform choice for ISVs' application development in the cloud and on premise.

Beyond the new partnership with VMware, the Google App Engine has evolved significantly. It started on a niche path with a Python-based programming model, but finally became recognized by more developers when it started to support at least plain Java. Giving some navigation in the cloud, Forrester defines PaaS as a pre-integrated technology stack with a set of rich platform components for the development and deployment of general business applications. Compared to this, Google’s App Engine was, with its plain Java capabilities, not really a PaaS offering. It was more on the intersection between infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and PaaS.

In addition, Google was actually only able to address less than one-third of the overall PaaS market. We predicted about a year ago that platforms in the cloud will be attractive in three major use cases or major groups of buyers:

  • ISVs which migrate or re-implement their packaged software in the cloud.
  • Corporate application developers who are considering cloud alternatives to a traditional middleware stack, in public and/or in private clouds.
  • Systems integrators, outsourcers, and hosting providers, which run a PaaS to build an ecosystem of SaaS solutions from ISVs; hoping to remain attractive and competitive to their traditional customers.

Google’s App Engine was basically missing capabilities in order to serve as a migration target for ISVs with more complex Java apps. It was also failing to address corporate development purposes as, after development and testing took place in the cloud, the environment for productive deployment on premise was not available as a licensed software stack. Finally Google’s hosting approach is obviously overlapping with the hosting services of established enterprise-level hosting providers.

The game changed significantly with Google’s announcement today of the preview availability of the Google App Engine for Business. Please see Google’s detailed roadmap here.

First of all, a couple of basic key features were added to move a bit closer to a real PaaS stack. Most important is the announcement of an SQL database service and a block storage service. Support of Google’s Web Toolkit (GWT) also provides some offline functionality to web-centric applications deployed on the new App Engine. This is the same offline approach that Google’s applications took after Google Gears was retired. Beyond the technical capabilities, Google’s commitment to provide a 99.9% SLA finally justifies the “for Business” name tag, and makes the risk more predictable for ISVs deploying their apps here.

Forrester had the chance to talk to Google and VMware in advance of today’s Google IO conference and is confident that the current preview availability will be followed by general availability by the end of 2010. The pricing is, by the way, very competitive, based on an $8/named user/month basis. ISVs that develop consumer facing applications will welcome Google’s statement to Forrester that only named users that use an application at least once in a calendar month will be counted. So, thousands of registered users will not be charged to an ISV if they are not actively using a deployed application (war-file). Like with other PaaS offerings, Google takes care of the scalability, and despite simple IaaS offerings, nobody has to manually manage virtual instances.

Finally, despite all the euphoria, everybody considering a major application implementation on this basis should recall that:

  • Spring does by no means provide high level business process platform components, such as a BPM service. If this is required, the announced vmforce stack is a better partner to VMware than Google. Maybe Google or even VMware itself will close this gap by acquiring a BPM engine similar to salesforce.com’s acquisition of Informavores, now (vm)force.com’s BPM component.
  • There are still tons of reasons why an enterprise-class Java application should be deployed on a tradition Oracle or IBM middleware stack. Nevertheless, the traditional middleware vendors should speed up their multi-tenant hosting ecosystem to defend their market share now.
  • In addition to the pure technology decision, the marketing momentum of a platform is a major decision aspect in ISV’s platform selection process. Explore recent Forrester market data here.

Let us know if you register for the preview of the new App Engine for Business and share your experiences in a comment. Also see other Forrester analysts like Frank Gillett sharing their assessment.