VMware, Salesforce to unveil mystery cloud service

VMware and Salesforce.com are on the verge of redefining the entire virtualization and cloud computing market — or, at least, that’s what they want you to think.


The companies have set up a Web site called “VMforce.com,” and promise that they will unwrap the details on April 27 with “an exciting joint product announcement on the future of cloud computing.” The marketing site features a picture of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and Paul Maritz, the former Microsoft executive who became VMware’s CEO almost two years ago. But it contains zero details on what VMforce might actually be.


It’s not hard to make a few guesses, though, based on the name “VMforce.com,” and past products and strategy announcements from VMware and Salesforce.


Salesforce has a cloud service that lets businesses quickly develop applications and host them in the Salesforce infrastructure. The service is called Force.com, and is in the “platform-as-a-service” portion of the cloud computing market.


VMware, meanwhile, believes its technology should be the primary virtualization engine behind platform-as-a-service offerings. Toward that end, VMware acquired SpringSource, an enterprise Java vendor, and Rabbit Technologies, which makes an open source messaging platform which may make it easier to build cloud networks.


Add the “VM” from VMware to “Force.com” and you have, well, “VMforce.com.”


Given all that, an extension to Salesforce’s platform-as-a-service offering, powered by VMware, probably makes the most sense, says Yankee Group analyst Phil Hochmuth, who covers the cloud computing and virtualization markets. But it’s not a sure bet. “They certainly left this open to speculation by being so coy about it,” Hochmuth says.


Several news articles and blogs about VMforce have used the phrase “virtualization-as-a-service” to describe the mysterious offering, but it doesn’t appear that VMware or Salesforce have used the phrase themselves. A VMware spokeswoman declined to offer additional details beyond what appears on the VMforce Web site.


What “virtualization-as-a-service” means, if anything, is anyone’s guess. “That’s just a term people are throwing out because they don’t know what VMware and Salesforce are going to do,” Hochmuth says. “It doesn’t mean anything. That’s like saying ‘power-and-cooling-as-a-service.'”


Thinking creatively, perhaps virtualization-as-a-service could refer to offerings such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud, which gives customers access to virtual server capacity over the Web. Or it could be a Web service that lets customers manage internal virtual servers.


VMware and Salesforce offering a virtual server platform along the lines of Amazon’s EC2 would be big news, but “more of a reach” than the simpler play of extending the Force.com platform, Hochmuth says.


“The more radical move would be Salesforce getting into hosted server virtualization infrastructure,” he says.


VMware’s cloud strategy has focused heavily on helping customers build internal clouds, powered by the VMware hypervisor, and connecting those internal networks to the public clouds hosted by VMware partners, effectively allowing customers to manage internal and external computing resources from the same software interface.


According to Pund-IT analyst Charles King, VMware has “been at the forefront of defining the cloud” as the intersection between internal and public cloud networks. Salesforce partnering with VMware may thus suggest that the company is moving beyond its strategy of offering services only in the public cloud model.


“Salesforce is a great example of a company that leverages and relies exclusively on the public cloud,” King says. “That’s what they’re all about. It would make sense to see Salesforce come out as a firm supporter of VMware’s cloud initiative, and suggest some kind of relationship, maybe an optimization between VMware and cloud services that would help clients securely leverage the Salesforce public cloud.”


The bottom line is VMware and Salesforce aren’t revealing what they’re up to yet. VMforce could be an entirely new technology, or a combination of previously existing products and services. The announcement will be made by Benioff and Maritz at 1:30 p.m. EST on April 27.

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