SAN FRANCISCO -- VMware and Salesforce.com officially launched VMforce, a Java-based Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering, prompting mixed reactions from users but a thumbs up overall.
The aim of the service is to attract the six million or so Java developers and two million SpringSource developers to build applications on Force.com. Until now, application developers using Force.com were locked into Salesforce.com's proprietary programming language, APEX, which limited interest in the platform. Support for Java opens it up to a much wider community.
"This helps us take advantage of our existing investment in Java," said Dave Smoley, CIO of Flextronics. "We've been experimenting with Force.com, but it's much more compelling now that we can bring in more developers."
As previously reported by SearchCloudComputing.com, VMforce is a joint service from the two companies that uses the Force.com physical infrastructure to run VMware vSphere. Added to this is a customized VMware vCloud layer that runs SpringSource tc Server, a virtual Java stack that runs on VMforce. At the press conference Tuesday, the companies showed a demo in which a developer created a "Hello World" app called "Hello Cloud" in Spring and, in a simple drag-and-drop move, spun up the app on a server within the VMforce environment on Force.com.
The advantages of running applications in a cloud like VMforce are well documented. Principally, it's about speed of deployment as compared to purchasing and setting up new servers in-house, which can takes weeks or sometimes months.
"We have a lot of pain in that area, refreshing our environment and creating it more dynamically, as well as sharing projects more efficiently," said Terry Woods, director of IT at GT Nexus, a logistics company based in Oakland, CA. GT Nexus has about a hundred users on Salesforce.com CRM and about 200 or so virtual machines (VMs) in its VMware environment.
GT Nexus is looking to move its test and development out to a co-lo facility, but hasn't made any decisions yet. VMforce might be an option, but Woods didn't feel the company was ready for it yet.
"We're moving in that direction, but taking it slow; nobody wants to be first or to put their career on the line," he said.
Another user at the event was more eager for the service. Zebra Enterprise Solutions, also a logistics company, has 250 seats on Salesforce and hosts its customer support portal on Salesforce.com, taking the burden off its internal infrastructure. It has 300 VMware virtual machines running on 25 physical servers.
Dave McCandless, director of IT at Zebra, said he could envision using VMforce for demo environments.
"We could instantiate 10 VMs in the Force.com platform and the database is all set up and ready, and we only pay for it while we run the demo," he said.
No VMforce pricing or availability -- yet
Hopefully that's the case. VMware and Salesforce did not release pricing, and VMforce does not go into "developer preview" until later this year.
"We want an [Amazon] EC2-like model where you pay for what you use and that's it," said McCandless.
"When can I actually push apps to [VMforce]?" he added. "That's unlikely until next year, which will position us for 2012 and beyond."
We've been experimenting with Force.com, but it's much more compelling now that we can bring in [Java] developers.
Dave Smoley, CIO of Flextronics
Of his $3 million a year IT budget, a tiny percentage currently goes to cloud services, but he sees this changing over the next 18 months. Zebra has saved a chunk of money virtualizing servers internally, and McCandless hopes it will save as much again by provisioning servers in the cloud.
That said, his biggest concern with provisioning apps in the cloud is network latency when the data is not local.
"When the box is several thousand miles away, maybe in a country that does not have good infrastructure, and we lose data access, what does that do to my business?" he said. "What if that data is real-time and I need to make decisions based on it?"
Other users were concerned about change control and governance.
"When a developer can drag and drop an application into the cloud so easily, that creates a governance problem," said an IT director for a large bank.
Despite the concerns, users were happy to hear some real news versus all the cloud hype.
"We can talk about [cloud] until the cows some home, but what we need is usable tools and to drive openness, and VMforce is a step in that direction," said Smoley at Flextronics.
VMforce will face competition from Microsoft's Windows Azure PaaS once Redmond mobilizes its huge army of developers. Other competitive forces to be reckoned with include Google App Engine and Amazon Web Services, which is adding more developer-like services to its infrastructure offering.
Jo Maitland is the Executive Editor of SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.