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Beyond the macro jockies: Salesforce lures devs with Java juggle

Serious enough in an Amazon world?

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Java unjammed

The outlook for Java is brighter under Oracle than it was under Sun Microsystems, with Java daddy James Gosling giving Larry Ellison’s database giant a nod of approval. High-performance Java Virtual Machine (JVM) Azul Systems, which once butted heads with deceased Java steward Sun, is also on board. Those days are long gone and Azul is firmly back in from the cold, and has even been elected to the Java Community Process executive committee overseeing Java Standard Edition and Enterprise Edition.

“We’ve been very, very pleased with how Oracle is re-invigorating the Java roadmap and overall awareness of Java in the community," Azul’s chief executive Scott Sellers told The Reg.

“In the later days of Sun there were serious questionmarks about where Java was headed. Sun had lost its innovation and vision on where to take Java. What we’ve seen from Oracle is they have stepped up and assumed the leadership of Java. It needed a big company to step up and take the reins.

“A couple of years ago we heard a lot more concern over the long term about whether Java is still the right language for us as an enterprise to use. We don’t hear that much anymore,” Sellers said.

Oracle has some grand plans for the language with Object Orientation in Java 10 in 2017. But is it too much? “I don’t think so at all,” Sellers says. “Developers are an aggressive tribe in general, and features in Java 10 don’t break anything so it’s not forcing developers to use these new capabilities.”

As far as Sebastian is concerned, Java is already in the cloud. He’s bullish about the JVM as the place where languages converge on Heroku. The JVM is becoming a runtime platform for other languages, languages like Scala – that is supported on Heroku.

“The JVM has been hardened over many, many years: Scala and closure run on the JVM... We’re bullish on Java and it will only continue to get better. There’s an opportunity to rethink what your Java platform is and how you deploy your Java apps to the cloud,” Sebastian says.

Sebastian talks like a newcomer but he’s a coder's coder from the old skool; long before he joined Heroku, Sebastian worked in world where the beset way to put Java apps on the web was buying or downloading a free app server. In his past, he worked at WebLogic shop BEA Systems as vice president and general manager of the Workshop development environment.

Cloud means you no longer need to worry about something like app server, he says. “We... think cloud computing abstracts away the server - automate, configure, reboot, patching, versioning - that’s completely automated in the Salesforce platform.

“We have been pushing the notion of containerless development and deployment of Java apps – it’s a new way of thinking to people who think you can fork lift the entire J2EE stack to the cloud. We spent lot of time thinking about the power of the cloud.”

According to Sebastian, Heroku – or rather Salesforce – can keep things simple for the coders coming to its platform. “We have a track record of boiling down the problem to the simplest possible constraints and requirements. We did that at Heroku with Ruby and web apps... We are saying now we can deliver that value to developers in the language of their choice.”

Heroku runs on Amazon, and part of its secret has been to shield coders from that raw infrastructure nuts and bolts by making Amazon easier to use. Among other things, Heroku has dressed underlying Amazon with UI for deployment and management while also providing simplified pricing and packaging options.

Sensitive position

Things aren’t that clear-cut for Salesforce's sales pitch: it has Heroku, VMforce and – to a lesser extent – Force.com, and Sebastian has to juggle these at events like Cloudstock. He must justify each platform and promote each without detracting from the other – especially not the one Salesforce has invested in the most – Force.com and Apex.

Here's how that pitch breaks down, according to Sebastian: Force.com is a “very high production environment for developers and business analysts who want to build data-intensive apps for data retrieval and workflow”. Heroku has “a lower level of abstraction for developers who want maximum power.”

Heroku has more for the developers whom Salesforce is targeting, but it must convince existing legions of Java devs that Salesforce really is a serious option, and no longer something just for the macro jockies. But it must also explain why it's a better option than Amazon and why even serious coders don't need to get their hands dirty in the guts of a system just to float their apps. ®

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