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Google and VMware: Unlikely bedfellows?[5/28/2010]
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Google and VMware jumped into bed this week, outlining a partnership that will allow Java developers to build applications on Google App Engine.

The news, unveiled during a keynote at Google's I/O conference, piqued the interest of some developers in attendance but many others couldn't wait to leave for the free snacks and soda.

The collaboration will allow Java developers to build and run Spring-based Java applications on Google App Engine. Perhaps it was the choice of demo material -- the two companies built an expense reporting app on stage -- that sent developers out in droves. What a snoozer!

Still, VMware and Google have something important in common. Both face increasing competition from Microsoft and with that in mind, the partnership makes sense.

Developers will be able to write apps using Java development tools VMware obtained through its acquistion of SpringSource (including the SpringSource Tool Suite and Spring Roo) as well as Google's Web Toolkit. These applications can be launched on Google App Engine for Business (a new, souped up version of App Engine with SSL security), or on any VMware vCloud service, or on VMforce, the previously announced Platform as a Service (PaaS) partnership between VMware and Salesforce.com.

"By working with VMware to bring cloud portability to the enterprise, we are making it easy for developers to deploy rich Java applications in the environments of their choice," said Vic Gundotra, Google vice president of developer platforms.

The idea behind application portability across clouds is a good one, especially when competing with the likes of the nascent Microsoft Azure cloud, as it offers developers more choice. However developers were not completely convinced it will work.

"How long will it take to export data from App Engine into VMforce?" said Matthew Heidemann, web developer and consultant for Parity Creative. "Each cloud has unique services, App Engine uses Google Big Table, you can't replicate that in a VMware private cloud; VMforce uses the Chatter APIs from Salesforce, these are not portable," he said.

Google-VMware cloud faces continued skepticism
Moreover, not all developers are convinced that cloud -- any cloud-- is the way to go for their business.

"It's important for us to have our infrastructure inhouse," said Marcel Lanz, senior developer at Auktionshaus-Zofingen, a Swiss online auction site built on Java. "If the internet fails our business goes down." The auction house does, however, use Amazon Cloudfront to distribute its catalogue. "There is less risk to our business if this is not available than the whole service going down," Lanz noted.

It's a classic example of how companies all over the world are figuring out which applications and data are safe to run in the cloud, versus those they will keep inhouse.

Parity Creative's Heidemann said he doesn't think companies are going to put their data in App Engine. "It's not PCI compliant, it's not HIPAA compliant, the security is not there," he said.

Others are more bullish.

The Google-VMware partnership "makes Java much more appealing," said Justin Fields, a Ruby developer at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. He said he needs to be able to develop quickly and change direction fast and if Spring Java apps on Google App Engine would enable him that flexibility, "I'd be into it," he said.

Java developer Andrew Denyes, tech lead at Rhapsody International Inc. said the partnership definitely makes the Google toolkit more interesting. He also recently signed up with VMforce. "I'm not totally clear what we will do yet though," he said. "We're experimenting."

Analysts say the application development platform wars are reigniting; only now the infrastructure is in the cloud. "You can bet the Microsoft Azure team stood up and took notice today," said Jeffrey Hammond, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Google/VMware and VMforce: Compare and contrast
Broadly speaking, VMware is trying to do three things with respect to cloud computing, according to VMware CTO Steve Herrod: It wants to help IT build private clouds; to enable "differentiated but compatible public clouds," and to provide management capabilities that bridge between the two.

Herrod said the Google/VMware joint initiative caters to a different set of users than VMforce. "This gets back to the "differentiated but compatible story," he said. Salesforce.com is a strong enterprise company, has a terrific customer database technology, and a huge customer base that wants to extend that database with custom applications.

"Google is a completely different story," Herrod said. "It's an extremely developer-focused cloud, and it integrates well with Google Docs and identities." Thus, VMware Spring applications that run on Google App Engine will likely have less of an enterprise focus than those running on VMforce.com.

But the two partnerships share a common thread. "As a developer I should be able to write my Java code and run it in my data center, or upload it to VMforce or Google App Engine," Herrod said. In the future, developers working in the Eclipse IDE will have the option to publish their Spring applications directly to Google App Engine.

Before VMware and SpringSource came around, both Salesforce.com and Google App Engine required developers to write in their own proprietary languages. "Paul Maritz refers to this as the Hotel California effect -- you can check in but you can never leave," Herrod said.

VMware's CEO, Paul Maritz addressed this directly during his keynote. VMware is creating an "open source layer to cloak the clouds," he said. "The more choice you give developers to deploy their technology, the greater the motivation and the greater the resulting apps."