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VMware taps Google ethos with Cloud Foundry

One admin for every thousand machines

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Structure Two years ago, VMware boss Paul Maritz recruited a pair of Google infrastructure engineers to help build what would become Cloud Foundry, the company's open source answer to "platform clouds" such as Google App Engine and Microsoft Azure. At one point, Maritz asked the pair – Derek Collison and Mark Lucovsky –  how many admins Google needed to oversee its more than a million physical servers, and they estimated the ratio was about one admin for every 1,000 machines.

At VMware, Maritz said today during on-stage chat at the cloud-obsessed GigaOM Structure conference in San Francisco, the ratio was closer to one admin to every 20 to 50 servers. And this was the world's biggest virtualization company.

With efforts such as Cloud Foundry, VMware is working to reduce that ratio to Google levels – not only for itself, but for its myriad customers. "[Google's ratio] is really what has to happen," Maritz said. "You talk about the cloud. We're got to get to the point where enterprises, whether they're handling their infrastructure internally or externally, are reaching similar levels of efficiency."

According to Javier Soltero – VMware's CTO of SaaS and application services – Collison and Lucovsky built and maintained Google's API services, and they were personally recruited by Maritz to work on Cloud Foundry. Maritz knew Lucovsky from Microsoft, where the engineer helped create the original Windows NT. Famously, Google runs its web services atop a distributed infrastructure that hides much of the underlying resources from developers, and this infrastructure is now available to outside developers in the form of Google App Engine.

At VMware, the idea was to fashion a similar service for building, deploying, and readily scaling applications, but also to open source the code behind this service so that companies could easily move applications into their own data centers – or onto other cloud services. "This is kind of our evil master plan," Soltero says. "We want [Cloud Foundry] to be the standard way of running apps in the cloud."

With Google App Engine and the similar Microsoft Azure, the underlying technology is decidedly proprietary.

Speaking with The Register this afternoon following Maritz's talk, Soltero said that the Collison and Lucovsky arrived at VMware well before the company acquired open-source Java framework specialist SpringSource. In part, he explained, SpringSource was borged because it served an army of over 3 million developers who would appreciate what VMware was trying to do with Cloud Foundry. But SpringSource – along with other VMware acquisitions such as RabbitMQ and GemFire – also provides a kind of bridge between today's way of doing things and, at least in theory, tomorrow's.

Today, Soltero said, so many enterprises are still intent on running applications in their own data centers, on their own infrastructure, and that's why the company offers its vFabric platform, a loose collection of development platforms that includes everything from the SpringSource tc server to RabbitMQ messaging to GemFire's distributed data management. But many of these tools can also be used in tandem with Cloud Foundry.

SpringSource, RabbitMQ, and GemFire also brought some open source know-how to VMware, which had never really run a major open source project prior to the release of Cloud Foundry. The company should be applauded for the move – it has gone a step beyond Google and Microsoft – but it has yet to been seen how well the platform plays with hypervisors other than VMWare.

"The day we take VMware seriously as an open source company is the day they open source vSphere," Scott Crenshaw, the vice president and general manager of Red Hat's cloud computing unit, told The Reg later in the day.

Soltero made it clear that VMware has no intention of doing so, indicating that open-sourcing the hypervisor wouldn't benefit customers in the same way that open-sourcing Cloud Foundry does. Cloud Foundry is open so that you can readily move your application from place to place. With vSphere, he indicated, application portability isn't an issue. Earlier in the day, ex-MySQL boss Marten Mickos asked Soltero if the rise of Cloud Foundry meant vSphere would be open-sourced. "I hope he was joking," Soltero told us. ®

Bootnote

While discussing Collison and Lucovsky's move from Google to VMware, Paul Maritz proved that his Microsoft DNA is still intact. At one point, he mistakenly referred to his current employer as Google. Then, he corrected himself and called it Microsoft. Only on the third try did he correctly say that he works for VMware.

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