Salesforce.com, VMware plan Java cloud

VMforce is to provide a ready-made, customisable environment for building and deploying 'Cloud 2' enterprise Java applications
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Salesforce.com and VMware on Tuesday announced VMforce, a cloud platform aimed at enterprise Java applications and designed to compete with on-site Java application infrastructure from IBM and Oracle.

VMforce is intended to be the first serious cloud option for deploying the types of mission-critical Java applications currently run on on-premises systems based on application servers such as IBM's WebSphere or Oracle's WebLogic, according to Salesforce.com and VMware.

VMforce will provide a ready-made deployment environment for Java applications, including a relational database, full-text search engine, reporting and analytics, and user and identity management. It also provides the services needed to build, run and manage enterprise Java applications, the companies said.

Currently, if developers want to deploy a Java application on cloud infrastructure, they need to assemble, configure, integrate and manage such elements as storage, application servers and a database, said Anshu Sharma, vice president of product management at Salesforce.com.

He compared this approach to renting an empty apartment where the basic facilities are provided, but the tenant is responsible for providing and maintaining the contents of the property.

"What you really want is a fully-furnished apartment that you can customise to meet your needs and not be responsible for every minor upgrade or fix," Sharma said in a blog post on Monday.

The platform also gives developers the ability to add advanced features, including deploying the application on mobile devices and integrating Facebook-style features such as social profiles, status updates, feeds and content sharing. The social features are provided by Salesforce.com's collaboration platform, Chatter.

"Enterprise Java developers: welcome to Cloud 2," said Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff, in a statement. "This fundamental shift incorporates cloud computing, real-time collaboration and mobile devices like the iPad to meet the new needs of the enterprise."

If a company needed an expenses reporting application, for instance, a developer would need only to create the basic database architecture and the forms for logging an expense, said Tim Barker, Salesforce.com's senior director of EMEA product marketing.

He could then tap into built-in VMforce features to deploy the application on mobile devices or to add reporting, audit and dashboard capabilities for keeping track of how the business is spending its money.

"You automatically get those kinds of features," Barker told ZDNet UK. "Developers are unlikely to build those kinds of capabilities into an application from the beginning."

Other features offered by Salesforce.com's Force.com cloud infrastructure — on which VMforce will run — include search, analysis and reporting on their applications, as well as scalability and security.

Salesforce admitted that making use of these ready-made features, while it boosts developer productivity, also creates issues around application portability.

"With these platform components, they don't exist in a standards-based environment," said Salesforce.com's Barker. "There's no open standard for the interfaces for mobile or multi-device access, or for analytics or search. These are things developers can configure quickly on our platform, and if they move away from that platform they'll have to build those in some other Java environment."

VMforce is based on vCloud from VMware, which automatically orchestrates and manages VMware's vSphere and application runtime layer. vSphere provides resource isolation, management and virtualisation for the Java applications.

Applications will run on the open-source Spring Framework and SpringSource TC server from VMware division SpringSource.

The Spring Framework is well-established, being used by about two million Java developers, and offers lightweight, open-source competition to the likes of WebSphere and WebLogic, according to VMware.

VMforce will support standard Java code, including standard Java objects, Java Server Pages and Java Servlets. The Spring Framework will run unmodified on VMforce, the companies said.

VMware and Salesforce.com belive Spring will prove attractive because of the large community of developers that have already standardised on it, but the door remains open to the deployment of other Java technologies.

"The point of the developer preview is to get feedback on what developers need. We will need to round this out to capture that entire [Java developer] market," said Barker.

An exact roll-out schedule for VMforce has not been announced. However, the companies said the platform will be available as a developer preview in the second half of this year, with pricing to be announced at that time.

In some ways VMforce is similar to SpringSource Cloud Foundry. The enterprise Java cloud offering was launched by SpringSource last August, about the same time the company was acquired by VMware. However, Cloud Foundry runs on Amazon's EC2 infrastructure and thus lacks the features provided by Force.com.

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