You've probably heard by now that VMware has acquired GemStone via another recent acquisition SpringSource. Although the SpringSource acquisition was a while back and there have been numerous attempts at explaining the acquisition, it may still remain vague to some in the IT community. The GemStone acquisition is a little more obvious in that the company builds cloud computing applications. You also know that I usually dive pretty deep into cloud computing topics on this blog, so I will try to paint my perception as to why VMware has made these acquisitions.
For a while now, I have said that VMware has enjoyed the success (and purpose) it has for so long because of Microsoft. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, many businesses have a mixed platform environment where Microsoft servers and Linux or Unix servers work in monolithic application silos. In the Microsoft world, it is not usually recommended to run multiple applications on the same server. This resulted in many disparate servers running all sorts of applications from domain controllers to .NET application servers to SharePoint servers. If your business had an environment like this and you wanted to consolidate onto less hardware with better overall resource utilization, VMware was the only game in town. This is especially true in the beginning when there was no Hyper-V server from Microsoft and to this day, Hyper-V does a poor job virtualizing Linux and Unix workloads. Those enterprises who had migrated to an all Linux or Unix platform did not need VMware as Linux has had virtualization built in for years and Unix has had virtualization built in since the 1960s. While these types of virtualization were a little different than VMware's version, they were around none the less. Now you see why Microsoft has been the reason for the purpose and success of VMware for businesses that want to consolidate and increase efficiency. This is not to take away anything from the great things VMware has done nor belittle the platform. VMware has an excellent line of products whose management applications are second to none. In a world without Microsoft (or diverse operating system landscapes at the very least), there would be no need for VMware.
Looking at today's landscape in the IT sector, some major acquisitions have forced VMware to take a look at their relevance going forward. When Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, many reasons flew around the media blogs, but the core reason for the purchase was the Solaris, Java and Java Application Server platform. Here's why. Solaris has a nifty virtualization feature called Zones. Zones are like little virtual machines running atop the Solaris OS. Each zone is also running Solaris and functions as an independent 'system' on the network. There are network interfaces, application stacks and users within each zone. Each zone operates independently of other zones and can not impact other zones' performance. If a zone crashes, only that zone is affected. You can cluster Solaris and Zones as well to ensure high availability. You can also 'migrate' zones 'live' from one box to another. So what you essentially have is an all Solaris stack representing what VMware accomplishes with different OS virtual machines. The Solaris zones will also run faster than most VMs will run on VMware.
Now as I said earlier, each zone is a container with full application stacks residing within. Inside, you can run a full blown java application server, web server, etc. This allows a business to write all of their applications in Java, which is a multi-platform language, and then install the applications on a java application server inside a zone. Create several of these zone containers and cluster them across different servers and you have a fully redundant, highly available virtualized application server farm. With a little more logic and code, you can turn this architecture into a cloud computing platform. Sun Microsystems has always had the technology, they just never had the sales and marketing staff to do anything with it. Oracle saw this and snatched them when the valuation of Sun was at its lowest. Now Oracle owns the stack from the hardware (Sun Server) up through the OS (Solaris) the application server (Java Application Server) to the programming language (Java.) Integrate this with a solid storage platform (Sun StorageTek) and enterprise database (Oracle) and you've got an unstoppable force in the market.
So if you look at what Oracle purchased with the Sun acquisition (and what it means in the virtualization and cloud computing space) and you also take into account that Microsoft has been hard on the heels of VMware with the Hyper-V product, VMware had to make a move or face an almost certain collapse. Cloud computing was becoming a major threat to VMware as companies have been looking to offload many projects to the cloud and not purchase any more hardware (and accompanying VMware licenses.) In addition, most if not all of the cloud computing virtualization cores are built on open source hypervisor technologies like xen and kvm. This boxes VMware out from the cloud computing space as they have no play down at the hardware, hypervisor or OS level. While their virtualization technology could be leveraged, the question is why? The open source technologies used today are plenty robust and allow for automation and orchestration. There is no need to put an expensive product like VMware in production in these environments. Couple this with the fact that most of the applications being developed in the cloud today are being written in languages like Ruby (on Rails) and Java, and these reside on Linux or Unix instances. There is absolutely no need for VMware in this space.
So if you are VMware looking at the landscape, which doesn't look promising at all, how do you make a play at the cloud computing market? About the only value you can deliver is a complete stack that is tightly integrated and easy to deploy. The easiest way for VMware to do this is to drop a java application server into a VM 'appliance' and provide a framework for developers to write Java applications that can run on and interact with the platform. This, in my opinion, is why they purchased SpringSource and now GemStone. They wanted the Java and Cloud Computing application pieces of the complete stack in order to deliver an integrated product to customers. Now the have everything they need to deliver this. They can deliver the SpringSource tc Server as an 'appliance' running on their VMware platform which developers can develop applications for using the Spring framework. Integrate this with the Hyperic management platform, vCenter management platform and the GemStone management platform, and you have a combination that is pretty hard to beat. The only thing that can hold VMware back as far as adoption and success in the cloud computing arena is price. They are competing with excellent open source technologies that have very low TCO, so if VMware can keep the costs down while delivering excellent value, they will succeed in this market as they did in the virtualization market for so long. I am eager to see what they end up with as a packaged product, what it costs, and how it will impact the industry.