VMware's role in Spring Framework could drive enterprises away

The partnership is meant to help you reconsider Google App Engine for Java, but it may have the opposite effect

VMware and Google recently partnered to enable Java applications based on the open source Spring Framework to run in Google App Engine for Java (GAE/J). Should enterprises now reconsider GAE/J as a deployment environment for certain Java applications?

It's fairly easy to conclude that Google has lacked credibility in the enterprise Java cohort before its VMware partnership. For instance, the GAE/J Google Groups forum had a grand total of 4,962 members as of this writing. Considering the millions of Java developers in the world, 5,000 or so interested in GAE/J is a rounding error at best.

[ See why InfoWorld's Neil McAllister thinks the Google-VMware partnership may help Java in the cloud. | Keep up on the current open source news and insights with InfoWorld's Technology: Open source newsletter. ]

Although Google is a strong supporter of open source and open Web standards, the company has chosen to take a less than pure route when it comes to Java standards. This is true with the open source Android platform, where applications are written in Java but don't compile to Java bytecode, causing consternations to the "write once, run anywhere" Java marketing proposition.

It's also true for GAE/J, where Google has decided to support only a subset of Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) specifications. I don't know of too many enterprise Java decision makers who want to check a Will it play in App Engine page to see if a Java specification or framework their company relies on will function in GAE/J. This clearly has contributed to the relative lack of attention that GAE/J has received from enterprise Java shops.

So will VMware and Google's new partnership address enterprise Java user concerns surrounding GAE/J? The overwhelming coverage of the announcement seems to suggest that VMware's SpringSource division does lend Google credibility with enterprise Java developers, administrators, and decision makers. After all, SpringSource created the open source Spring Framework and related open source projects.

Although the Spring Framework is not a standard, it is developed in the open by VMware, and the Apache 2.0 license associated with the Spring Framework has proved sufficient to set aside fears of application lock-in to a nonstandard framework. In many ways, the Spring Framework has become a de facto standard that competes against the open standards-based Java EE platform.

It's this "de facto" nature of the Spring Framework that Google appears to have been drawn to. Although the open source nature of Spring likely played a role since key parts of GAE/J are based on open source projects, as Forrester analyst Jeffrey Hammond writes:

VMWare gives Google a significant boost in enterprise developer permission. While Google is the darling of developers outside the firewall, they still struggle inside the firewall. The reality is that enterprise IT development shops are just different than Web startups or Web giants. And enterprise Java development is something that the Spring folks understand. While I question the magnitude of the adoption percentages that SpringSource general manager Rod Johnson quoted yesterday, our own research with Dr. Dobbs and Eclipse developers confirms that Spring is indeed one of the most popular frameworks among Java developers at large shops (with a fair amount of Apache Struts and homegrown frameworks as alternatives).

But will the "de facto" nature of Spring be enough to get enterprises past the sparsely supported standards on GAE/J? On one hand, Spring's "de facto" nature adds to GAE/J's issues. Like GAE/J, Spring is not compliant with Java standards. Yet you can clearly argue that a lack of open standards compliance hasn't affected Spring's adoption.

Still, as I wrote in response to SpringSource CEO Rod Johnson, VMware's involvement may change the equation in the minds of IT decision makers:

Enterprises didn't much care about lock-in to the nonstandard Spring portfolio when it was from SpringSource, a small, friendly, company. Now that it's coming from VMware, a large enterprise software vendor with well-established profit motivations, it would be wise to get behind a relevant Java spec, like Java EE 6 Web Profile.

Over the past nine months, and as recently as a WebSphere conference two weeks ago, I've heard of large enterprises using Spring that are planning on migrating to open standards. For them, being open source is no longer enough to alleviate fears of lock-in now that VMware is part of the equation.

I am in no way suggesting Spring usage in the enterprise is going to decline by half overnight or anything ludicrous like that. However, enterprises are starting to consider their future freedom of action with applications locked into a framework controlled solely by one of the largest software vendors on the planet.

On the other hand, it's true that developers selected the Spring Framework, standards be damned, well before their managers or CIOs knew or had a say. Some subset of these developers are likely to try deploying their Spring applications on GAE/J simply to see what works and what doesn't. Of these developers, some will be able to convince their management that GAE/J represents a lower-cost deployment environment than the traditional data center for Java applications. The application's business criticality and, more important, the sensitivity of data required or generated by the application will have an impact on whether an enterprise IT decision maker will approve a GAE/J deployment.

Using GAE/J for development and testing, with the actual production deployment not on GAE/J, is another potential use case for Spring with GAE/J. For its part, VMware is positioning the Spring Framework as a path toward portable Java in "any" cloud platform, as my colleague Neil McAllister has written.

Where does your company fit on the de facto versus open standards spectrum? Will you give GAE/J another look now that Spring applications are supported?

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions."

This article, "VMware's role in Spring Framework could drive developers away," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Rodrigues et al.'s Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source and cloud computing at InfoWorld.com.

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