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VMware Reaches for the Clouds with Deal to Acquire SpringSource

In a move intended at furthering its push into the burgeoning market of private cloud-based infrastructures, virtualization market leader VMware will acquire SpringSource, the chief commercial sponsor of the open-source Spring Framework project. The deal, already agreed upon by shareholders of closely-held SpringSource, is valued at approximately $362 million in cash and equity.

The two companies plan to combine their technologies to create an integrated, build-run-mange solution for the data center and private and public clouds, VMware's president and CEO Paul Maritz said during a conference call announcing the deal late Monday.

"The phrase that is being used for this these days is 'Platform as a Service' (PaaS)," Maritz said. "We expect to be a very strong player in this emerging market."

The plan, according to Maritz, is to bring together the virtualization layer, which touches and controls the hardware, with the application framework layer, which touches the applications. Allowing "those two layers to cooperate," he said, provides a much more seamless, automatic, lower cost environment.

"Virtualization these days is really about coordination and management," Maritz said. "Allowing customers to run applications more seamlessly and automatically will be the wave of the future."

VMware views SpringSource as a major player in the app server market, Maritz said, pointing to the company's "very big following in the open source developer world." Maritz cited analyst estimates that half of all new Java application development work is being done in the Spring environment, and that 2 million developers "have been touched by Spring."

Spring is a layered Java/J2EE framework based on code published in the book Expert One-on-One Java EE Design and Development (Wrox Press, October 2002), by Rod Johnson, CEO and co-founder of SpringSource. Johnson also wrote the first version of the framework.

"Both of these companies grew up around great technology," Johnson said in a separate interview Monday evening. "We believe that the technology synergies are very, very strong, and that they will allow us to do incredibly exciting things with Platform as a Service and Java cloud technologies." Johnson posted a long blog about the acquisition Monday at the time of the announcement.

The feedback from the open source Spring community about the acquisition has, so far, been positive, Johnson said. "The reality is that SpringSource is a business," he said. "And fundamentally there has to be a successful business someplace, or you're not going to get that level of investment that we've made in open source. VMware has deeper pockets than SpringSource, and can potentially bring greater resources where appropriate. That's gotta be a good thing."

Ovum analyst Tony Baer agreed "You can't always be David," Baer said. "At some point you have make peace with Goliath, to decide whether you are going to take your business to the next level. Now SpringSource has access to VMware's considerable resources. That's very likely to be good for the framework."

VMware and SpringSource have actually been working together for about nine months "on a technical basis," said Raghu Raghuram, vice president and GM of VMware's Server Business Unit. VMware invested about $2 million in the company in April. "As we worked together it just became clear to everyone that this would become one company," Raghuram said.

"The Spring Framework has been around for a while now, and it's been very successful and continuously evolving," he added. "As these cloud architectures and cloud-type infrastructures evolve, the framework can take advantage of those infrastructures and target applications to run on them."

VMware sparked a virtualization grass fire about a decade ago when it revived interest in virtualization technology once relegated to mainframes, and introduced the idea of implementing it on the x86 architecture. But the emergence of competitors and the commoditization of that original hypervisor technology have lead to a shift in the virtualization space, said Forrester analyst John Rymer. Today, it's "a race up the stack," Rymer said.

"VMware has stated its intention to move up the stack and provide a platform," Rymer added. "And here they are. These technologies are disconnected right now, but there's no doubt that this acquisition provides the missing piece of a complete platform. The trick is bringing those two things together without diluting the value that they have separately."

The acquisition also strengthens the open source alternatives for Java developers, Rymer said. "It has been just JBoss and Sun," he said. "Sun has probably gone away with the Oracle acquisition. This raises the profile of SpringSource significantly in the Java world."

Although SpringSource has been a Java-focused operation, the company has ported its framework to .NET. "We are seeing significant adoption of Spring.NET, but generally in one area," Johnson said in a previous interview (see SpringSource Releases New App Server). "In the Java space, most of our customers are companies developing business applications; with .NET, a lot of our customers are software vendors using Spring.NET for shrink-wrap software."

SpringSource has a big footprint among developers, and the company has been expanding its offerings to provide management, runtimes, and development tools. The merger gives them the resources they need to pursue that agenda more effectively. Rymer said.

The deal is set to close in the third quarter of this year.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance journalist and author based in Mountain View, CA.

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