Can VMware draw developers, developers, developers?

Virtualization kingpin VMware(s vmw) keeps working its plan to become a bona fide application development powerhouse. The company’s acquisition of Springsource and its Java framework three years ago was just the beginning. VMware’s Springsource-based vFabric Suite 5.1, announced Tuesday, adds application deployment automation, a version of the Postgres database optimized for vSphere as well as the SQLFire in-memory distributed database to the advanced vFabric Suite. Those perks are geared to make vFabric more attractive to web scale developers.

In this quest for developer love, VMware must again lock horns with Microsoft(s msft) which — for all its problems moving to the cloud — remains the lodestone for developers with its wildly successful .NET franchise. And it also takes on Amazon(s amzn) Web Services, already a fan favorite among developers who have used this pay-as-you go infrastructure as an application building and testing ground for years. Of late, Amazon has added more enterprise-class development capabilities, most recently by providing .NET support to its Elastic Beanstalk platform as well as managed SQL Server database services. This is quite the battle royale brewing.

Springsource, with its Java framework and stack (including the Apache HTTP Server, Tomcat Java application server) is popular among open-source oriented Java developers, but compared to the Microsoft lineup of tools, it comes up short. It also has to contend with Java development stacks from Oracle(s orcl) and the Eclipse open-source Java crowd. The Advanced Suite with all the database goodies, vFabric RabbitMQ message broker and vFabrid Application Director for deployment automation lists for $2,500 per VM. The standard suite is $1,500 per VM.

VMware’s plusses and minuses

On the plus side, Paul Maritz, VMware CEO and Tod Neilsen, co-president of the company’s application division, are both Microsoft veterans, and ran big development organizations for years. They have credibility.

More important, according to Interarbor Solutions analyst Dana Gardner, VMware has been building out the infrastructure for the operational side of the cloud for years — VMware is the defacto virtualization standard inside enterprises and  hundreds of  cloud service providers and managed service providers are using vSphere to build their clouds. “For developers that want fungibility — to be able to develop and implement apps once and then move them without a lot of grief from on premises to cloud and back again, this is a big deal,” Gardner said.

Still, compared to Microsoft and the open-source Java Eclipse ecosystem, vFabric still has a lot to prove. There are just not that many people are using it, says Don Jones, senior partner with Concentrated Technology, an IT consultancy

VMware is not known for its “developer love,” the devotion that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer popularized in his infamous developers, developers, developers rant more than a decade ago.

“Microsoft, if nothing else, knows about toolsets and developers and VMware still has to show that it does,” said Jones. Microsoft really knows how to package up toolsets in a way that makes developers productive very fast. “There’s no Java developer in the world that can compete with a .Net developer  — the Microsoft tools are that good,” he said

So while VMware’s application development stack looks good on paper, and the promise of a distributed data layer atop it could be a boon for mobile and web application developers, people need to try it out.

The in-memory database card

David McJannet, director of VMware cloud and application services group, said the inclusion of SQLFire data layer is critical in making vFabric a go-to stack for web developers because it will let them provide fast response time to queries from potentially millions of end users. “It used to be that the canonical application was a few 100 users accessing something like SAP. Today the canonical application is different…it could be 100 people today and 5 million next week. For [the application] to scale the real pressure is on the data tier. There’s lots of buzz around big data but there is also the need for fast data. Getting data into memory really fast so end points — which are probably mobile devices — can get their answer back quickly.”

Gartner (s IT) VP Massimo Pezzini stressed the importance of SQLFire to VMware’s plan. Pezzini said via email:

“In-memory technologies like SQLFire (an in-memory DBMS) and GemFire (an in-memory data grid, which is also part of vFabric) enable developers to build applications that can dynamically scale up to hundreds of servers and run extremely fast, by keeping data in the computer central memory rather than on disk. In principle these technologies enable the implementation of applications that are simply “unthinkable” in traditional, disk-based data architectures.”

He also said VMware, with its emphasis on this in-memory technology is also taking on enterprise software giants like SAP — which is pushing its HANA in-memory database appliance hard, and Oracle(s orcl) which bought TimesTen for its in-memory database capability a few years ago. VMWare’s argument is that the SQLFire data layer in its suite, applies this technology in a modern scale-out way while SAP and Oracle remain focused on the more old-school scale up world view in which pricey, high-end appliances ae built specifically to attack a problem.

Given these players — Amazon, Microsoft, VMware, SAP, Oracle — it’s going to be an interesting journey.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nick, Programmerman