VMware and SpringSource: New deal or old battle?

VMware's SpringSource acquistion looks like old-fashioned strength through consolidation. It needs to be much more to matter

With the $420m acquisition of SpringSource, VMware will become a full enterprise platform company. It has no choice.

In a market shared with Oracle, Microsoft and Red Hat, it either competes head-on or gives its customers no option but to consort with the enemy — at least, that's the accepted truth.

Put aside all caveats about whether VMware paid too much, or whether it can successfully merge SpringSource's enterprise Java skills and VMware's enterprise infrastructure nous. They're good questions, but not the most important. Assume that, for now, all goes well.

That leaves the question of what such a success will do to the industry and VMware's competitors.

Microsoft will hope that the new breed of hybrid enterprise vendors, those characterised by a blend of open and proprietary, will fight so fiercely between themselves that they have no energy left to storm Redmond.

Oracle will hope that by VMware moving away from platform agnosticism, it will create new battlegrounds that the database company's Sun warriors are well equipped to dominate.

And Red Hat will hope for the best.

These may not be the best outcomes for enterprise. Stoutly defended borders encourage the biggest threat to enterprise IT — balkanisation. When a territory breaks down into mutually antagonistic regions, it is rarely good news for civilians, no matter whose flag is on your local fortress.

Just because a company has an answer for everything, it doesn't guarantee the best answer for anything. Ally yourself to one vendor for too much of your enterprise DNA, and your tactical and strategic freedom to innovate will be restricted — and the cost of changing sides becomes overwhelming.

This is precisely the problem that the cloud should solve, but is deepening. It's also playing a game that Microsoft has played and won many times before. Good luck with that.

There is an alternative to balkanisation: federation. When a large company buys into a major open-source strategy, it gets more than just a set of skills, a set of components and a set of customers. It's getting membership of the biggest, most successful and most radical alliance in the history of software.

It is dangerously foolish to see 21st century open source as merely a supply of useful components to slot into 20th century business strategies. Hybrid enterprise means playing each part to its strengths, and that includes making the best of open source's inherent freedom from lock-in and a fortress mentality.

That counts for vendors just as much as for their customers: doubly so, when you consider it a strength that others cannot or will not use.

The true strength of the consolidation between open-source and proprietary enterprise platforms will only be there for those who dare to use it. That's for customers to demand.

Life in a peaceful federation or a wartime battlezone: as the face of the industry changes, now is the time to choose.


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