Speculation mounts as VMforce details leak

Clues about new VMware and Salesforce.com venture say it will be a development service hosted by VMware and sold by Salesforce.com.

Salesforce.com and VMware got tongues wagging this month by slyly launching a website called VMforce.com. It's expected to be a new cloud computing development service that will be jointly offered by the two companies.

Both vendors are staying quiet until the official announcement next week, but indications are that it will be a Platform as a Service (PaaS) aimed at Java developers, powered and run by VMware and closely tied to Salesforce.com's growing ecosystem of service providers.

VMforce will be aimed at Software as a Service (SaaS) and Web services developers, not traditional software makers, although there's a strong possibility it will eventually broaden to include more computing infrastructure services.

"If you look at Zimbra, that was the first big clue that VMware wants to get into hosted services, not just hosted services, but highly customizable services," said Gregg Rosenberg, owner of IT services firm RICIS, Inc. and a long time virtualization and SaaS watcher. VMware acquired Zimbra, an email hosting and open source collaboration software company, in January.

Rosenberg did not know the details of VMforce, but said a platform makes perfect sense and lines up with VMware's recent acquisitions and position in the market.

VMware's acquisition of SpringSource gave it software that creates tidy, managed development environments for Java developers. The speculation is that SpringSource tc Server will run in a virtualized environment that users can log into to create applications and then deliver them.

Meanwhile, Salesforce.com operates Force.com, a Platform as a Service that lets users develop and run applications on Salesforce.com's infrastructure. Force.com competes with Microsoft Azure and Google App Engine in the PaaS market.

Via Force.com, Salesforce also provides tools for other SaaS providers to meld their organizations with Salesforce.com's CRM and sales tools and infrastructure. U.K. company Coda Financials (since bought by Unit 4 Aggresso, now Unit 4) developed a SaaS version of its accounting software called Coda 2go on Force.com and now sells it through Force.com. Salesforce.com liked the idea enough that it partnered with Unit 4 to launch FinancialForce.com, hosting the applications and users and sharing revenue with Unit 4.

Sources speculate that VMforce will be a similar deal, except that VMware will do the initial hosting. Salesforce.com will provide the portal to the applications. Presumably, developers who use VMforce to create Java applications will also be able to use the Force.com hosting and sales platform to deliver those applications.

Salesforce.com would not offer additional comments when asked. VMware did not respond to calls for comment but recent comments by VMware executive Raghu Raghuram indicate that VMware wants to provide infrastructure and development frameworks for SaaS applications.

A recent announcement by VMware partner and cloud startup CloudShare confirms the existence of a hosted service in advance of the announcement. CloudShare launched FastCloud on April 19 to enable easy migration of VMware environments, and according to CloudShare CEO Zvi Guterman, FastCloud's services will be "complementary to hosting services like VMforce."

Following the VMforce.com breadcrumbs
Another clue can be found in the location of the website. VMforce.com is located on an IP address (165.193.233.120) that VMware hosts with Savvis, a hosting company that provides computing and communications infrastructure for VMware.com. It's a sign that VMware intends for the VMforce.com Web portal to live on servers and infrastructure hosted by one of its vCloud hosting partners. The same infrastructure also hosts Thinstall.com (an earlier name for ThinApp), VMwaretechnologyexchange.com, VMware.com itself and other VMware services. It's also possible that Salesforce.com could provide the back end to VMforce.com.

If you look at Zimbra, that was the first big clue that VMware wants to get into...not just hosted services, but highly customizable services.

Gregg Rosenberg, owner if IT services firm RICIS, Inc.

Analysts and IT experts contacted for this story agreed that there was a strong opportunity for VMware and Salesforce.com to partner on hosting, since each has something the other lacks and each would benefit. Other PaaS offerings are either immature or of dubious utility in the enterprise world. Google App Engine, for example, is free and aimed at individual developers and Web startups, and Microsoft's Windows Azure is still a work in progress.

VMware has the lion's share of enterprise virtualization customersm and SpringSource is a relatively polished and mature development platform. Java is the most popular open development language, and Salesforce.com desperately wants the attention of these developers on its Force.com platform.

RICIS, Inc.'s Rosenberg said VMware wants to make it easy for developers to leverage all of its tools and sell applications it in turn will make money from; an ecosystem of developers making money for VMware would be right in line with their current sales model.

"They're not 100%, but they've mostly been a channel-centric company. For them to attract a pool of developers into that stream would be a great multiplier for them," added Rosenberg.

It's also worth noting that VMware CEO Paul Maritz comes from Microsoft, where he led the development and marketing of system software products (including Windows 95, Windows NT, and Windows 2000), development tools (Visual Studio), databases products (SQL Server), and the Office and Exchange product lines. In other words, he gets the power of having a huge army of developers coding to one platform.

Carl Brooks is the Technology Writer at SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at  cbrooks@techtarget.com.

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