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IBM pours WebSphere tech into Cloud Foundry cauldron

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After months of big bets on open source and cloud computing technologies, IBM just can't stay away from the gambling table, and on Wednesday came back to slam down a ton of chips on Cloud Foundry, a platform cloud technology developed by VMware spinoff Pivotal.

The partnership will see IBM work with Pivotal on developing technologies for Cloud Foundry that let the platform-as-a-service work with Big Blue's own tech, along with open source IaaS cloud OpenStack.

IBM got involved with Cloud Foundry several months ago after receiving customer interest in the technology, Cloud Foundry's head of product James Watters told El Reg. "[IBM] realized they have to refresh their tech stack, and this is an important step along that way," he says. "They bring a lot of experience from enterprise."

The partnership follows IBM executives saying in March that they were going to put OpenStack at the heart of future SmartCloud technology, and the company's buy of SoftLayer for a rumored $2bn and its blessing of the MongoDB query language within DB2 in June.

These three moves represent changes within the company as it turns away from developing a monolithic cloud software stack, and instead puts its technical efforts into community technologies and its dosh into a well-regarded infrastructure underlay. We imagine that IBM is making nice with the community because its earlier incarnation of SmartCloud failed to generate much enthusiasm about the telcos it was being sold to, and the manifest lack of any credible IBM-armed Amazon competitors.

With Cloud Foundry, the company has achieved its stated goal of involving itself with a PaaS at a time when the cloud technology is receiving renewed development from proprietary backers such as Microsoft (Azure), Google (App Engine), and Amazon (Elastic Beanstalk).

The Cloud Foundry technology is an open source platform-as-a-service that can be deployed either on third-party infrastructure or inside the firewall. It is intended to work in a modular way with users able to access a variety of developer frameworks and services.

With IBM's involvement, Big Blue is going to bring Cloud Foundry into its "open cloud architecture", which is a catch-all term for IBM's efforts around putting OpenStack at the heart of its future cloud technologies. A first fruit from this pairing is IBM making WebSphere available on Cloud Foundry via a preview tech named WebSphere Application Server Liberty Core, a cut-down version of the WebSphere Application Server.

"That means we can allow Cloud Foundry's mechanisms to deploy a profile of WebSphere and provision the app that way," IBM's chief technology officer of Cloud Interoperability, Chris Ferris, says. "What it does is it takes the whole administrative aspect of standing up a WebSphere server and delegates that to the buildpack and Cloud Foundry, [which] makes it easier for a developer to rapidly integrate through an environment."

In the future, IBM hopes to add in other applications and services, and turn Cloud Foundry into a central broker for application access, management, and control.

"Cloud Foundry is a very good foundation, but what's really interesting to us are the frameworks and services we weave into this," Ferris says. "We have a lot of plans around those things – optimizing from a Java perspective [and] certainly from a services perspective to make a lot of our middleware capabilities available as a service through Cloud Foundry [such as] caching as a service, rules engine as a service".

The love-in between the companies will be consummated at a Cloud Foundry conference co-run by IBM and Pivotal in Santa Clara, California, in September.

IBM is one of the few tech companies that has any experience adapting to massive technological transitions, and when Big Blue combines Cloud Foundry with OpenStack and its recently-acquired SoftLayer hosting expertise, we think we can discern a strategy that will see IBM first become familiar with, and then develop products for, the new wave of cloud technologies.

Perhaps "no one ever got fired for buying IBM" could be replaced by "no one ever got fired for consuming IBM"? ®

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