VMware – The Applications Platform Company

Virtualization of servers, the initial business of the VMware, and still the source of the lion’s share of VMware’s revenue is about injecting a layer of software between the hardware in the data center and the operating systems as a result of this additional level of layering providing a set of additional set of functions (easier backup, easier disaster recover, flexibility, etc.). This business is entirely independent of the operating systems and the applications running on those operating systems.

As a supplement to this initial business, VMware is also becoming an applications platform vendor. This started with the acquisition of SpringSource with which came a Tomcat compatible Java applications server. Subsequent to the acquisition of SpringSource VMware has made the following significant moves:

  • On April 13th of this year, SpringSource announced the acquisition of the RabbitMQ Cloud Messaging Technology. This will result in the integration of standard based messaging into the SpringSource Java platform – which will in turn greatly facilitate the development and deployment of applications that can be deployed in a location independent manner.
  • On April 27th of this year, VMware announced the strategic partnership with SalesForce which will result in SalesForce hosting a PAAS cloud based upon the Spring TC Server allowing the Force.com developer community and the Java developer community to build and easily deploy those applications on the VMforce PAAS cloud.
  • On May 6th of this year, SpringSource announced acquisition of GemStone Systems a vendor of open source in memory data management technologies. This puts VMware into direct competition with Oracle who markets the market leading memory caching technology known as Oracle Coherence.

Taken together these announcements mean that VMware is going down a path of providing a Java run time environment (a Java applications server) with a simple and inexpensive to deploy on site model (the Java run time environment glued more or less directly into a VM), and a simple and inexpensive cloud deployment model through PAAS cloud vendors (expect there to be many more examples of VMforce). These moves are in direct competition with the following vendors:

  • This move competes with Microsoft and Red Hat on two levels. The first level is that gluing the Spring TC Server more or less directly into a guest will not require any underlying OS or OS support agreement. So the extent that an enterprise places an application on the Spring TC server they are making a decision to not buy an operating system from either Microsoft or Red Hat. Microsoft is also the vendor of .Net and Red Hat is the vendor of JBoss which are competing applications platforms to SpringSource TC Server.
  • Being an applications platform company, puts VMware in competition with every other vendor of a Java application platform. The two principal vendors here are Oracle (who acquired BEA the vendor of WebLogic) and IBM who is the vendor of vSphere. Weblogic and WebSphere are both very expensive products which are the basis of huge businesses (BEA closed out 2008 with $1.5B in revenues). VMware making TC Server available as a free open source alternative is a direct threat to this revenue stream.

It is important to think of VMware as a company that now has five businesses; data center virtualization, cloud computing, desktop virtualization, management software, and applications platforms. Of these five, the application platform business may be the one with the highest long term strategic value. The upper level management team at VMware with a Microsoft background (Paul Maritz, Todd Nielson, and Richard McAniff) all built Windows into a success not by building the best OS, but by building and marketing the best applications platform. This effort is clearly an attempt on the part of these same executives to repeat this success – except this time around Java and an open source platform model.

The real impact of these moves will be felt if and when VMware makes the same bits available as a part of vSphere that are part of the VMforce cloud offering to the enterprise customers of vSphere. At that point time time enterprises will be offered a very inexpensive Java run time platform that is tuned to virtualization, that facilitates very rapid deployment of Java applications into a virtualized environment, and that offers applications portability between VMware TC-Server run time environments and Java PAAS clouds like VMforce. This may well prove to be an irresistible combination to enterprises that are used to paying millions of dollars to Oracle and IBM for an equivalent platform that is harder to manage.

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