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VMware launched a unique new initiative this week called Cloud Foundry. It's a Platform as a Service with a decidedly new-school bent: You'll be able to sign up and tap into running database services like MySQL and MongoDB and login and write code directly to a Spring or Rails environment, much like Engine Yard or Heroku.
Cloud Foundry is for Java developers and IT shops that don't feel particularly invested in Microsoft; end of story.
On the other hand, you can run the platform yourself as a downloadable instance called Micro Cloud. It's packed up in a Linux-based OS built on VMware, and the whole shooting match is on Github as an open source project. Supposedly the downloadable, runnable Cloud Foundry does everything the online service arm does, including automatic provisioning of new instances as load increases and self-monitoring of the various services.
This has got a lot of tongues wagging; its being seen as a viable Platform as a Service (PaaS) alternative for the enterprise, something that can straddle the gap between easy-on cloud services and the enterprise need for control and security. If your IT shop does not like dumping the company Web app on Engine Yard but the dev team is threatening mutiny over working in a stone-age traditional Java production lifecycle ("that's so 2005, man"), Cloud Foundry can basically become the in-house option.
And if moving production onto an Amazon Web Services environment makes sense, that can be taken care of by doing all the development on your Micro Cloud and pushing it out to Cloud Foundry services when you feel like it.
If you're a Java house already using Spring, this may well represent an ideal state of affairs. It's an innovation that many people will take to like a duck to water. It's been called an evolution of the PaaS model, an "Azure killer" and many other glowing terms, most of which are at least faintly specious. One thing is for sure: from a utility and viability perspective, it knocks VMforce.com, VMware's previous PaaS venture with Salesforce.com, into a cocked hat. If Cloud Foundry is a race track, VMforce.com looks like a bumper car pavilion by comparison.
Will Cloud Foundry battle Microsoft Azure?
But the fact is, while Cloud Foundry's VMware pedigree will give it serious viability as an enterprise option, it's not going to attract the same users as Azure. Microsoft's PaaS is well on the way toward maturity and backed up by its own dedicated infrastructure.
Azure's premise is built around being a Microsoft shop first and foremost. SQL Azure or Azure CDN, the theory goes, will be a choice the developer can make, right in the middle of picking out an environment, that comes with very little functional difference between it and your own SQL box. It's also clearly aimed at the .NET crowd.
From a utility and viability perspective, [Cloud Foundry] knocks VMforce.com into a cocked hat.
Cloud Foundry is for Java developers and IT shops that don't feel particularly invested in Microsoft; end of story. While it's going to get a great deal of attention, Cloud Foundry is very much in the "Web 2.0" camp; its greatest strength will come when VMware integrates it more completely with vCloud Express and shakes out those extra PaaS services. After all, it's not like it was that hard to get going on SpringSource or Ruby to begin with.
It's nice that Cloud Foundry just made it that much easier, but it's a long way from a magic bullet. It remains to be seen how far VMware will take it: will it be a platform people take under their wing, or will it truly become a viable pipeline for highly developed infrastructure into the enterprise Java shop?
Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.