VMware's acquisition of SpringSource this summer left many IT managers scratching their heads, wondering what an open source Java framework had to do with virtualization. In this interview, Rod Johnson, the former SpringSource CEO and now the general manager of VMware's SpringSource division, talks with SearchServerVirtualization.com about the relationship between virtualization and application frameworks, the cloud, and what, ultimately, integration of these technologies will mean for their data centers.Alex Barrett: I sat in on a call with investors on the day VMware acquired SpringSource, and [VMware Inc. CEO] Paul Maritz corrected a participant who asked whether this was about making virtualization application-aware. Maritz said it was the other way around, about making applications virtualization-aware. Can you elaborate? Rod Johnson: It works both ways. VMware has sophisticated capabilities in its virtualization layer that is figuring things out in the applications, but fundamentally, it's still looking at the application running above it and trying to figure out exactly what's happening. It would be very beneficial if -- instead of trying to figure things out -- the application could actually communicate with the virtualization layer and know more about what kind of load it's experiencing, the kind of topology that it's running in, and perhaps what some potential strategies of optimization might be. There are a range of things where, as I like to put it, having eyes and ears in the application layers and middleware layer will be very valuable to some of the decisions you will make at the virtualization layer. A.B.: How is this different from what BEA Software did with LiquidVM before it was acquired by Oracle to run as Java application server directly on the VMware hypervisor? With SpringSource, does the operating system layer eventually go away? R.J.: If you look at how organizations engage with software stacks today, the application frameworks are increasingly important. It's really that developer-led choice of application framework that dictates a lot of things, including the runtime characteristics of the application. What we are going to think about is, what is the application framework developer experience, what sorts of operational requirements do we have, and how can we administer it in our data center? Those things are really far more paramount that the specific details like what operating system it should run on. Certainly the Liquid VM offered considerable potential promise. Whether or not the only way to realize that promise is through a bare-metal approach, where the JVM sits directly on the hypervisor, or whether or not you actually have a thin layer of operating system to provide just what you need – I see that as a bit of an implementation detail. A.B.: So whether this lays the foundation for an OS-less future – that remains to be seen? R.J.: As I said, that to me is an implementation detail. There are certainly benefits to having the application -- the middleware layer-- able to interact with the virtualization layer. There are a bunch of benefits there that frankly don't require the operating system to have as big a role. AB: What does all this have to do with the cloud? R.J.: Right now, in the middleware market, our middleware sale is relatively traditional -- people are using Spring at development time and to take on certain runtime responsibilities, and they're migrating to lighter-weight Java application servers like [Apache] Tomcat and our tc Server product. But we also perceive amongst our customers a tremendous interest in formulating their own cloud strategy. For the enterprise base, this is typically internal cloud and, for smaller customers, the public cloud. We're convinced that cloud is an area where we're going to see rapid growth, and we believe that the combo of VMware and our SpringSource assets makes us extremely competitive. When you think about how cloud decisions are determined, they are to a large degree determined by developers. Developers choose frameworks, and then they look at how their organizations can operationalize those decisions. In terms of framework choice, the Spring framework is one of the most important developer frameworks on the planet, which Gartner puts at 3 million. VMware has some very compelling assets particularly for internal cloud. vSphere goes far beyond a simple hypervisor; it is a true virtualization platform that provides a lot of that scale and dynamicity [sic] required by a cloud. Joining up the Spring framework with the Spring middleware and server product and the VMware cloud virtualization infrastructure provides a very compelling implementation. AB: When all that trickles down to the data center, what does it mean for an application? Is it faster, is it cheaper, more available? What's the bottom line, so to speak? R.J.: It will be both faster and cheaper. One of the things that the move toward internal cloud will mean is that organizations will be able to operate in a more agile manner. They will be able to progress, as we like to say, from code to cloud within minutes or even seconds rather than through the degree of complexity that deploying applications typically takes today. We believe that there will be cost benefits because -- particularly when you look at the resource pooling that is inherent in cloud technologies -- enterprises will be sharing and pooling different resources across different parts of the business. Those different parts of the business will be likely to have different high-water marks in their applications, meaning that they can get away from the need to overprovision hardware and get farther with their present hardware assets. Availability will likely improve, because we have the ability to try to bring consistently best practices on our infrastructure, reducing the likelihood of organizations making errors that result in vulnerabilities. And we can provide a unified view that will simplify management. Clearly this is a path that we're just setting out on, but we believe that having that communication between the application and virtualization platform provides significant benefits for manageability and consistent policy enforcement. That's certainly an area where we're going to be putting a lot of investment.
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