VMware reaches for the clouds with $420 million SpringSource acquisition

It wasn't long ago when Citrix coughed up $500 million to acquire XenSource, raising its fair share of eyebrows in the virtualization community

VMware has announced it is acquiring SpringSource for a proposed $420 million -- sending a clear message to VMware's rivals. The purchase reinforces statements made throughout keynote sessions from past VMworld events that VMware wants to be more than just a virtualization platform provider. The acquisition is set to bolster the company's cloud strategy and goes directly after Microsoft and others. At the same time, the deal seems to put VMware square in the crosshairs of current cloud providers like Amazon, Salesforce.com, and Google; in addition to the SpringSource acquisition, VMware has already taken a 5 percent stake in Terramark, a hosting company based out of Miami.

The company reported that it expects this latest transaction to close by September. VMware president and CEO Paul Maritz described today's news by saying, "Today's modern computing environments are moving to an application and data-centric world powered by state of the art virtualized and cloud computing platforms." Maritz added that the acquisition places VMware right at the intersection of the most important forces in the software market today: virtualization, modern application frameworks, and cloud computing.

[ Also on InfoWorld: "Update: VMware buys SpringSource in cloud move" | InfoWorld's Randall Kennedy asks: Has VMware lost its mojo? | Is VMware making a mistake pushing VMworld Europe 2010 all the way back to October next year? ]

So just what is SpringSource? And why has it commanded such a large price tag? The company provides the Spring Framework, which is the leading enterprise Java programming model used today. The beauty of Spring is its simplicity and ease of use, as well as its vendor neutrality. Spring gained in popularity as developers turned away from J2EE because of vendor lock-in and the resulting complications. The Spring Framework also provides a lightweight programming environment that makes applications portable across open source and commercial application server environments, all of which VMware found quite compelling.

VMware recognized Spring's efforts and growth in this area and called SpringSource "an innovator and a driving force behind some of the most popular and fastest growing open source developer communities, application frameworks, runtimes, and management tools." In just five years, SpringSource had established a presence in a majority of the Global 2000 companies and is rapidly delivering a new generation of commercial products and services. During VMware's investor conference call, Maritz commented that "by some estimates, half of new Java application development work is being done in the Spring environment," making it a valuable addition to the company and adding another dominant player to a company that dominates its own market, controlling somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 percent of the virtualization market.

According to both companies, the acquisition isn't expected to change the things that make SpringSoure attractive to its users. VMware plans to continue to support the principles that have made SpringSource solutions popular: the interoperability of SpringSource software with a wide variety of middleware software, and the open source model that is important to the developer community. Rod Johnson, SpringSource's CEO, moved to reassure the various communities with his latest blog post, saying, "Community is the lifeblood of open source technologies, and we continue to respect and value the Spring community and all the communities we participate in." He added that "Spring will retain the portability between deployment environments that empowers users" to alleviate fears that future developments may be tied to VMware's offerings.

It seems that along with this sense of openness, VMware's major driving factor with this acquisition is to become the dominant player in providing the Java-based framework with a surrounding set of tools for the emerging VMware vCloud initiative. By taking the Java programming model with Spring and combining it with VMware vSphere, VMware creates a stack it can now sell to developers who want to easily write applications that can be deployed and managed on-premises, as services, or in external clouds. This stack would compete directly with Microsoft's plans to marry .Net development with the Azure cloud platform.

The move is all about the future, and I expect we'll hear more about it throughout VMworld 2009 in San Francisco. VMware has been saying for years that the OS no longer matters, and this acquisition will help VMware to validate that assertion. In a VMware future, IT will be about platform-as-a-service (PaaS). Applications will be built, deployed, and consumed via the cloud. Part of that vision was outlined by Rod Johnson:

Working together with VMware we plan on creating a single, integrated, build-run-manage solution for the data center, private clouds, and public clouds. A solution that exploits knowledge of the application structure, and collaboration with middleware and management components, to ensure optimal efficiency and resiliency of the supporting virtual environment at deployment time and during runtime. A solution that will deliver a Platform as a Service (Paas) built around technologies that you already know, which can slash cost and complexity. A solution built around open, portable middleware technologies that can run on traditional Java EE application servers in a conventional data center and on Amazon EC2 and other elastic compute environments as well as on the VMware platform.

And VMware says it will take its PaaS offering one step further than existing offerings.  They claim it will be centered on choice. Steve Herrod, VMware CTO and SVP of R&D writes in his blog:

[A] Combined SpringSource/VMware PaaS offering can be hosted at customer datacenters or at external service providers. For example, customers can achieve many of the efficiencies and developer productivity gains of PaaS without requiring the applications to be run outside of their walls. Today's PaaS offerings often force you to simultaneously commit to both a programming model and to a vendor who will host the applications written to this model. With VMware's strategy, any vendor in the vCloud ecosystem will be able to offer a SpringSource-based PaaS offering, allowing customers to select the partner that best suits their changing needs.

Maritz gave press and analysts another hint at VMware's view during a conference call saying that VMware has been moving beyond the hypervisor technology to something more in touch with how one "links groups of machines."  He said the role of the traditional operating system is changing, and that virtualization is becoming a requirement in today's enterprise. To that end, the SpringSource acquisition will give the virtualization layer deeper knowledge about what's going on inside the application at runtime, making virtualization more application aware.

Bringing SpringSource onboard will also help VMware reach its internal development goals faster by being able to tap into an army of open source developers already building out Web and enterprise applications using the Spring framework, Groovy, Grails, and Tomcat.

VMware officials said that a more detailed explanation of how SpringSource will fit into VMware's future plans will have to wait until the next company earnings call, scheduled to take place in October. But as I said, I still suspect that VMworld 2009 will answer a lot more of these questions and a lot sooner. You may have been bombarded with the vCloud message at last year's VMworld, but don't expect that message to be any less in your face this year. The difference? Expect more details about the vCloud initiative this time. There were just too many questions and too few details last year for it all to make complete sense. And it sounds like adding SpringSource may be the right piece of the puzzle to complete their story.

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