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Cloud Foundry laps up attention in EMC, IBM, HP, Rackspace, SAP, VMware love-in

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The Cloud Foundry open-source project looks set to become a standard piece of technology in the thriving distributed systems ecosystem: its main backer, Pivotal, has persuaded IBM, HP, SAP and Rackspace to join a new foundation dedicated to the tech.

Today's announcement of the launch of a formal open governance model and associated Foundation for Cloud Foundry represents a major bet by the involved vendors that it will be Pivotal's Cloud Foundry – and not Rackspace's Solum nor Red Hat's OpenShift – that defines the platform layer of cloudy data centers.

Cloud Foundry is a locally deployable platform-as-a-service (PaaS). That means it lets developers lasso large amounts of computers, bind them into a pool of capacity, and then deploy applications that float on this pool of humming compute and storage, sipping or chugging from the resources as per their requirements.

Pivotal claims – as all PaaS companies do – that once a PaaS has been implemented, companies will see the time it takes to create pools of compute capacity cut from weeks and days to hours, and the time it takes to deploy applications onto it from days and hours to minutes.

Cloud Foundry is also built in such a way that companies can take the main source code distribution and tweak it to their own specific needs, adding in custom "buildpacks" to ease the deployment of non-standard software, and provide additional services on top.

The technology world isn't so different from fashion – there are a few influential people, and when they adopt something the rest of the world follows. Monday's announcement, then, is a significant one as it means that all these companies reckon there's serious money to be made out of basing their future PaaS offerings on Pivotal's idea of what a PaaS should look like.

For many of the world's top tech companies to have bet so much on Cloud Foundry is significant.

IBM, HP, Rackspace and SAP, as well as Pivotal's parents VMware and EMC, will become "platinum sponsors" of the foundation, and will pour engineering time and money into the Cloud Foundry code. We understand they will also be each pouring in $500,000 per year to the Foundation for at least three years.

Along with these backers there will be a large group of "gold" backers as well who, we understand, shall pay $250,000 a year into the foundation.

By creating an open governance model and funding a foundation to back it, Pivotal is trying to form a neutral Switzerland-like area where companies can collaborate in developing the Cloud Foundry software, while being able to hive off code and build their own products as well. Cloud Foundry is licensed under the Apache License 2.0 and has more than 750 individual contributors, Pivotal said in a press release.

As it stands, the companies will collectively work together to figure out what to spend their annual war chest of more than $3m a year on, though it's likely this will include marketing and perhaps some direct engineering as well.

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The formation of the foundation follows a year in which many top companies have made moves to bring Cloud Foundry into broader use. IBM, for instance, announced in July that it would work with Pivotal to bring Cloud Foundry into Big Blue's "open cloud architecture" – corp-speak for its general suite of cloud products.

After this, things picked up pace, with Pivotal's parent VMware stating in August that Cloud Foundry would become a central component of the virtualization's company's Amazon-killing "vCloud Hybrid Service". Also in August, cloud startup Piston announced it would work to dovetail Cloud Foundry into the OpenStack infrastructure system so it could sell cloud punters an open system built around two well-understood open-source technologies.

Following this, Ubuntu-steward Canonical publicly backed Cloud Foundry in November with the Linux distro's founder Mark Shuttleworth saying at a speech in Hong Kong it was "important to signal to our customers and to our partners who's in the lead."

CenturyLink bought Tier 3 in November – a small cloud company that had developed a .NET implementation of Cloud Foundry known as Iron Foundry.

These moves all indicate a growing enthusiasm for the technology among large companies. With Monday's formation of the foundation, we believe there's been a tectonic shift in the IT landscape.

By bringing Rackspace, HP, and SAP into the scheme Pivotal has welcomed in IT giants that all compete with aspects of it and its parents EMC and VMware's core businesses.

For the companies to bet on the Cloud Foundry technology, they must think that it's a strong enough technical proposition to be worth partially arming their competitors through its development.

This, we think, raises a number of interesting questions. For one – what does it mean for the Rackspace-sponsored "Solum" cloud project, which launched in October as an antidote to Cloud Foundry? Given its juvenile state and less sophisticated set of partners (eBay, Red Hat, dotCloud, Cloudsoft, Ubuntu, and Cumulogic) we reckon its chances of ongoing life are very slim.

The foundation also highlights the increasingly precarious position of Red Hat's "OpenShift" cloud – a Cloud Foundry competitor that has received sustained technical development by its parent, but very few contributions from outside the Red Hat community.

An inspection of the Github pages seems to confirm this view, with Solum by far the weakest, followed by Red Hat's OpenShift Origin, and with Cloud Foundry leading both in terms of code commits, contributors, and general activity. This seems to indicate a greater dynamism in the development community around the tech.

Finally, it renders the position of cloud startup Apcera more delicate, given that the secretive company has little dialogue with the wider open-source community, and has so far failed to demonstrate a large amount of public customers of its mysterious technology.

Things have changed in the cloud, and El Reg's cloud-computing desk believes that the race to the creation of a full-blooded, independent PaaS software ecosystem is now Cloud Foundry's to lose. ®

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