It was only a matter of time before VMware decided that if it was going to be an applications platform company, and really take on Microsoft, that it would need a presence in the business of building applications, and in providing the run-time infrastructure for applications. Acquiring SpringSource is a brilliant move because it leverages the open source community to devalue and dilute Microsoft’s standing in the applications tools and platform markets. The need for VMware to take this step was articulated and predicted in this post about VMware as a Platform Company.
In his blog post, VMware to acquire SpringSource VMware CTO Steve Herrod lays out a compelling vision for how the SpringSource acquisition will allow VMware to deliver applications aware virtualization to the market. This is not only a compelling acquisition because it brings serious applications development tools (Spring Enterprise, Groovy, Grails, SpringSource Tool Suite) into the VMware portfolio, but because it does so via open source. Open source is a brilliant strategy on the part of VMware in this arena because open source is really the only way that VMware can achieve enough critical mass in this area to counter the massive footprint that Microsoft has in the development tools and application run time markets. This is a direct attack on the Windows franchise, which is built upon the dual foundations of control of the Windows API’s by Microsoft and the control of the development tools for Windows by Microsoft.
An open source applications development strategy and applications infrastructure strategy allows VMware to rapidly marshal a community much larger than itself towards the goal of commoditizing and devaluing one of Microsoft’s core franchises. There was frankly no way that VMware was going to be able to build its own tool set and compete with Microsoft Visual Studio and the entire .Net initiative. This acquisition gives VMware strong products and credentials in the business of building and running virtualization aware enterprise Java applications on the VMware platform. If VMware succeeds in getting enterprises to build applications to these forthcoming interfaces with these new tools then VMware will have succeeded in providing two layers of “sticky” infrastructure; the first being the device driver layer to the data center and the second being a set of applications interfaces and the tools that use them. Successfully providing these two layers is what make Microsoft such a long term franchise in the systems software business and the senior management at VMware has clearly updated the playbook and is using it to their advantage.
To get an idea of how far VMware can do with this, it is useful to read Rod Johnson’s blog post a portion of which says, “Working together with VMware we plan on creating a single, integrated, build-run-manage solution for the data center, private clouds, and public clouds. A solution that exploits knowledge of the application structure, and collaboration with middleware and management components, to ensure optimal efficiency and resiliency of the supporting virtual environment at deployment time and during runtime. A solution that will deliver a Platform as a Service (PaaS) built around technologies that you already know, which can slash cost and complexity. A solution built around open, portable middleware technologies that can run on traditional Java EE application servers in a conventional data center and on Amazon EC2 and other elastic compute environments as well as on the VMware platform”.
With this acquisition, the impact of virtualization has now reached up into the application stack with the ideas of virtualization aware applications encapsulated in vApps and stored as an open OVF image for portability across Platform as a Service virtual infrastructures. The acquisition also means that VMware has formally signaled open warfare with Microsoft as it means that VMware intends to compete at every layer of the system software stack – including those that were previously thought of belonging to the OS vendor whose product ran in the guest. Both Microsoft and Red Hat need to now be very worried that if VMware succeeds that VMware indeed represents a threat to their very existence.
As for Microsoft’s response, here is a prediction. Just as VMware has turned to open source to attack a layer in the Microsoft stack where Microsoft has an otherwise insurmountable lead, Microsoft will return the favor by leveraging open source to attack VMware at the level of the hardware interface to the OS. Look for Microsoft and Red Hat to make peace and to coalesce around an open source hypervisor that Microsoft, Red Hat, Novell, Citrix, and maybe even Oracle can get behind. Only a combined effort by these companies stands a chance of creating an alternative standard to VMware in the data center. Only an open source based initiative stands a chance of being acceptable to all of the required parties, and of creating the critical mass and the momentum required to create this alternative standard.