Tag Archives: vmware

VMware Cloud on AWS: a game changer? What about Microsoft’s Azure Stack?

The biggest announcement from VMWorld in Las Vegas and then Barcelona was VMware Cloud on AWS; essentially VMware hosts on AWS servers.


A key point is that this really is VMware on AWS infrastructure; the release states “Run VMware software stack directly on metal, without nested virtualization”.

Why would you use this? Because it is hybrid cloud, allowing you to plan or move workloads between on-premises and public cloud infrastructure easily, using the same familiar tools (vCenter, vSphere, PowerCLI) as you do now, presuming you use VMware.

You also get low-latency connections to other AWS services, of which there are far too many to mention.

This strikes me as significant for VMware customers; and let’s not forget that the company dominates virtualisation in business computing.

Why would you not use VMware Cloud on AWS? Price is one consideration. Each host has 2 CPUs, 36 cores, 512GB RAM, 10.71TB local flash storage. You need a minimum of 4 hosts. Each host costs from $4.1616 to $8.3681 per hour, with the lowest price if you pay up front for a 3-year subscription (a substantial investment).

Price comparisons are always difficult. A big VM of a similar spec to one of these hosts will likely cost less. Maybe the best comparison is an EC2 Dedicated Host (where you buy a host on which you can run up VM instances without extra charge). An i3 dedicated host has 2 sockets and 36 cores, similar to a VMware host. It can run 16 xlarge VMs, each with 950GB SSD storage. Cost is from $2.323 to $5.491. Again, the lowest cost is for a 3 year subscription with payment upfront.

I may have this hasty calculation wrong; but there has to be a premium paid for VMware; but customers are used to that. The way the setup is designed (a 4-host cluster minimum) also makes it hard to be as flexible with with costs as you can be when running up individual VMs.

A few more observations. EC2 is the native citizen of AWS. By going for VMware on AWS instead of EC2 you are interposing a third party between you and AWS which intuitively seems to me a compromise. What you are getting though is smoother hybrid cloud which is no small thing.

What about Microsoft, previously the king of hybrid cloud? Microsoft’s hypervisor is Hyper-V and while there are a few features in VMware ESXi that Hyper-V lacks, they are not all that significant in my opinion. As a hypervisor, Hyper-V is solid. The pain points with Microsoft’s solution though are Cluster Shared Volumes, for high availability Hyper-V deployments, and System Center Virtual Machine Manager; VMware has better tools. There is a reason Azure uses Hyper-V but not SCVMM.

Hyper-V will always be cheaper than VMware (other than for small, free deployments) because it is a feature of Windows and not an add-on. Windows Server licenses are not cheap at all but that is another matter, and you have to suffer these anyway if you run Windows on VMware.

Thus far, Hyper-V has not been all that attractive to VMware shops, not only because of the cost of changing course, but also because of the shortcomings mentioned above.

Microsoft’s own game-changer here is Azure Stack, pre-packaged hardware which uses Azure rather than System Center technology, relieving admins of the burden of managing Cluster Shared Volumes and so forth. It is a great solution for hybrid since it really is the same (albeit with some missing features and some lag over implementing features that come to the public version) as Microsoft’s public cloud.

Azure Stack, like VMware on AWS, is new. Further, there is much more friction in migrating an existing datacenter to use Azure Stack, than in extending an existing VMware operation to use VMware Cloud on AWS.

But there is more. Is cloud computing really about running up VMs and moving them about? Arguably, not. Containers are another approach with some obvious advantages. Serverless is a big deal, and abstracts away both VMs and containers. Further, as you shift the balance of applications away from code you write and more towards use of cloud services (database, ML, BI, queuing and so on), the importance of VMs and containers lessens.

Azure Stack has an advantage here, since it gives an on-premises implementation of some Azure services, though far short of what is in Microsoft’s cloud. And VMware, of course, is not just about VMs.

Overall it seems to me that while VMware Cloud on AWS is great for VMware customers migrating towards hybrid cloud, it is unlikely to be optimal, either for cost or features, especially when you take a long view.

It remains a smart move and one that I would expect to have a rapid and significant take-up.

Microsoft Hyper-V vs VMWare: is System Center the weak point?

The Register reports that Google now runs all its cloud apps in Docker-like containers; this is in line with what I heard at the QCon developer event earlier this year, where Docker was the hot topic. What caught my eye though was Trevor Pott’s comment comparing, not Hyper-V to VMWare, but System Center Virtual Machine Manager to VMWare’s management tools:

With VMware, I can go from "nothing at all" to "fully managed cluster with everything needed for a five nines private cloud setup" in well under an hour. With SCVMM it will take me over a week to get all the bugs knocked out, because even after you get the basics set up, there are an infinite number of stupid little nerd knobs and settings that need to be twiddled to make the goddamned thing actually usable.

VMWare guy struggling to learn a different way of doing things? There might be a little of that; but Pott makes a fair point (in another comment) about the difficulty, with Hyper-V, of isolating the hypervisor platform from the virtual machines it is hosting. For example, if your Hyper-V hosts are domain-joined, and your Active Directory (AD) servers are virtualised, and something goes wrong with AD, then you could have difficulty logging in to fix it. Pott is talking about a 15,000 node datacenter, but I have dealt with this problem at a micro level; setting up Windows to manage a non-domain joined host from a domain-joined client is challenging, even with the help of the scripts written by an enterprising Program Manager at Microsoft. Of course your enterprise AD setup should be so resilient that this cannot happen, but it is an awkward dependency.

Writing about enterprise computing is a challenge for journalists because of the difficulty of getting hands-on experience or objective insight from practitioners; vendors of course are only too willing to show off their stuff but inevitably they paint with a broad brush and with obvious self-interest. Much of IT is about the nitty-gritty. I do a little work with small businesses partly to get some kind of real-world perspective. Even the little I do is educational.

For example, recently I renewed the certificate used by a Microsoft Dynamics CRM installation. Renewing and installing the certificate was easy; but I neglected to set permissions on the private key so that the CRM service could access it, so it did not work. There was a similar step needed on the ADFS server (because this is an internet-facing deployment); it is not an intuitive process because the errors which surface in the event viewer often do not pinpoint the actual problem, but rather are a symptom of the problem. It does not help that the CRM Email Router, when things go wrong, logs an identical error event every few seconds, drowning out any other events.

In other words, I have shared some of the pain of sysadmins and know what Pott means by “stupid little nerd knobs”.

Getting back to the point, I have actually installed System Center including Virtual Machine Manager in my own lab, and it was challenging. System Center is actually a suite of products developed at different times and sometimes originating from different companies (Orchestrator, for example), and this shows in lack of consistency in the user interface, and in occasional confusing overlap in functionality.

I have a high regard for Hyper-V itself, having found it a solid and fast performer in my own use and an enormous advance over working with physical servers. The free management tool that you can install on Windows 7 or 8 is also rather good. The free Hyper-V server you can download from Microsoft is one of the best bargains in IT. Feature-wise, Hyper-V has improved rapidly with each new release and it seems to me a strong offering.

We have also seen from Microsoft’s own Azure cloud platform, which uses Hyper-V for virtualisation, that it is possible to automate provisioning and running Hyper-V at huge scale, controlled by easy to use management tools, either browser-based or using PowerShell scripts.

Talk private cloud though, and you are back with System Center with all its challenges and complexity.

Well, now you have the option of Azure Pack, which brings some of Azure’s technology (including its user-friendly portal) to enterprise or hosting provider datacenters. Microsoft needed to harmonise System Center with Azure; and the fact that it is replacing parts of System Center with what has been developed for Azure suggests recognition that it is much better; though no doubt installing and configuring Azure Pack also has challenges.

My last reflection on the above is that ease of use matters in enterprise IT just as it does in the consumer world. Yes, the users are specialists and willing to accept a certain amount of complexity; but if you have reliable tools with clearly documented steps and which help you to do things right, then there are fewer errors and greater productivity. 

Microsoft takes aim at VMware, talks cloud and mobile device management at MMS 2013

I am attending the Microsoft Management Summit in Las Vegas (between 5 and 6,000 attendees I was told), where Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Windows Server & System Center, gave the opening keynote this morning.


There was not a lot of news as such, but a few things struck me as notable.

Virtualisation rival VMware was never mentioned by name, but frequently referenced by Anderson as “the other guys”. Several case studies from companies that had switched from “the other guys” were mentioned, with improved density and lower costs claimed as you would expect. The most colourful story concerned Dominos (pizza delivery) which apparently manages 15,000 servers across 5,000 stores using System Center and has switched to Hyper-V in 750 of them. The results:

  • 28% faster hard drive writes
  • 36% faster memory speeds
  • 99% reduction in virtualisation helpdesk calls

That last figure is astonishing but needs more context before you can take it seriously. Nevertheless, there is momentum behind Hyper-V. Microsoft says it is now optimising products like Exchange and SQL Server specifically for running on virtual machines (that is, Hyper-V) and it now looks like a safe choice, as well as being conveniently built into Windows Server 2012.

I also noticed how Microsoft is now letting drop some statistics about use of its cloud offerings, Azure and Office 365. The first few years of Azure were notable in that the company never talked about the numbers, which is reason to suppose that they were poor. Today we were told that Azure storage is doubling in capacity every six to nine months, that 420,000 domains are now managed in Azure Active Directory (also used by Office 365), and that Office 365 is now used in some measure by over 20% of enterprises worldwide. Nothing dramatic, but this is evidence of growth.

Back in October 2012 Microsoft acquired a company called StorSimple which specialises in integrating cloud and on-premise storage. There are backup and archiving services as you would expect, but the most innovative piece is called Cloud Integrated Storage (CiS) and lets you access storage via the standard iSCSI protocol that is partly on-premise and partly in the cloud. There was a short StorSimple demo this morning which showed how how you could use CiS for a standard Windows disk volume. Despite the inherent latency of cloud storage performance can be good thanks to data tiering, which puts the most active data on the fastest storage, and the least active data in the cloud. From the white paper (find it here):

CiS systems use three different types of storage: performance-oriented flash SSDs, capacity- oriented SAS disk drives and cloud storage. Data is moved from one type of storage to another according to its relative activity level and customer-chosen policies. Data that becomes more active is moved to a faster type of storage and data that becomes less active is moved to a higher capacity type of storage. 

CiS also uses compression and de-duplication for maximum efficiency.

This is a powerful concept and could be just the thing for admins coping with increased demands for storage. I can also foresee this technology becoming part of Windows server, integrated into Storage Spaces for example.

A third topic in the keynote was mobile device management. When Microsoft released service pack 1 of Configuration Manager (part of System Center) it added the ability to integrate with InTune for cloud management of mobile devices, provided that the devices are iOS, Android, Windows RT, or Windows Phone 8. A later conversation with product manager Andrew Conway confirmed that InTune rather than EAS (Exchange ActiveSync) policies is Microsoft’s strategic direction for mobile device management, though EAS is still used for Android. “Modern devices should be managed from the cloud” was the line from the keynote. InTune includes policy management as well as a company portal where users can install corporate apps.

What if you have a BlackBerry 10 device? Back to EAS. A Windows Mobile 6.x device? System Center Configuration Manager can manage those. There is still some inconsistency then, but with iOS and Android covered InTune does support a large part of what is needed.

Perfect virtualization is a threat to Windows: VMWare aims to embrace and extinguish

One advantage Microsoft Windows has in the cloud and tablet wars is that it it is, well, Windows. Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud computing product largely depends on the assumption that users want to run Office on their local PC or tablet. Windows 8 tablets will be attractive to enterprises that want to continue running custom Windows applications, though they had better be x86 tablets since applications for Windows on ARM processors will require recompilation.

On the other hand, if you can run Windows applications just as easily on a Mac, Apple iPad or Android tablet, then Microsoft’s advantage disappears. Virtualization specialist VMWare is making that point at its VMworld conference in Las Vegas this week. In a press release announcing “New Products and Services for the Post-PC Era”, VMWare VP Christopher Young says:

As our customers begin to embrace this shift to the post-PC era, we offer a simple way to deliver a better Windows-based desktop-as-a-service that empowers organizations to do more with what they already have. At the same time, we are investing in expertise and delivering the open products needed to accelerate the journey to a new way to work beyond the Windows desktop.

Good for Windows, good for what comes after Windows is the message. It is based on several products:

VMView: enables users to work on a remote Windows desktop from a machine running thick or thin client Windows, Mac, iPad or Android. Some versions let you check out a VM for offline working. Virtual desktops have advantages over local ones, in that they are more manageable, more secure, and more robust. Zapping and reinstating a virtual desktop is easier than rebuilding the OS on a physical machine. The new VMView 5.0 claims up 75 percent bandwidth improvement and better 3D graphics. Performance is always compromised to some extent, versus a local operating system, but for many business applications it is more than good enough.

VMWare Horizon: A cloud identity platform which centralizes authentication and access management. You can think of it as VMWare’s cloud-based replacement for Microsoft Active Directory. It is currently focused on access to web-based applications but at VMWorld the company announced its extension to virtual Windows applications, a capability to be in beta by the end of 2011.

Project AppBlast: Lets users run virtual Windows application in an HTML5-capable browser running on any device.

Project Octopus: a data synchronization service to enable collaboration and data-sharing, which will link to VMWare’s other services.

VMWare’s advantage is its strong technology and that Microsoft allowed its own virtualization technologies, including Hyper-V and Remote Desktop Services, to fall behind.

That said, Microsoft has made a substantial effort to catch up in the last few years. Hyper-V and System Center working together form the basis of Microsoft’s private cloud, and under the covers the Azure platform is based on Hyper-V virtual machines. Microsoft’s advantage is the notion that if you are running Windows server and Windows applications anyway, you will be better off with the built-in virtualization features rather than a third-party solution. Microsoft can also afford to undercut VMWare’s prices, because it is bundling virtualization with its operating system. Microsoft has made it easier to run mixed VMWare and Hyper-V systems by supporting VMWare with System Center.

An entrenched competitor is hard to shift though, and VMWare appears to have won the argument with Dell, which has announced the Dell Cloud based on VMWare’s vCloud multi-tenant services.

What is interesting here is not so much the question of who runs Windows applications best, in a variety of virtual scenarios, but the extent to which VMWare succeeds in establishing its own identify system as the heart of an application platform that lets enterprises move seamlessly to a non-Windows world. In other words, VMWare Horizon is now VMWare’s most strategic product. If it succeeds, then it is not only Microsoft that will need to pay attention.

Getting started with VMWare Cloud Foundry

I have been meaning to post about VMWare’s Cloud Foundry, a new cloud platform for Spring Java, Ruby on Rails and Node.js applications. Good, incidentally, to see Node.js getting increasing attention – see my post from December when I heard Ryan Dahl present on the subject. I signed up for Cloud Foundry when it was announced, since it has free participation in the current beta.

Today my account went live and I spent just a few minutes creating a first application using the steps here. Well, my first app is indistinguishable from a static web page; but having been immersed in Windows Azure for the last few days, with its accounts and subscriptions and certificates and the portal and the ServiceConfiguration.cscfg and the ServiceDefinition.csdef and all the rest of it, I admit to having a pleasant sense of “is that it?” when deploying the Cloud Foundry app.

I typed a few lines of Ruby code, saved the file to a directory, and then typed vmc push.



Let me add that I like what Microsoft is doing with Azure, and that in combination with Visual Studio it makes an impressive cloud development platform that, from what I have seen, works very well; I think it is of major importance. I also like the fact that Microsoft has pushed down the cost of entry, with its Extra Small instances and more generous offers to MSDN subscribers, partners and others. It easier to experiment a bit with Azure than it used to be.

Nevertheless, Azure lacks the delightful simplicity of getting started that you can see in Cloud Foundry. After doing my Hello World app I look forward to trying something more advanced; and while I am sure that the delightful simplicity soon disappears as the lines of Ruby code increase, and as you try to make your application scalable and transactional and secure and all those good things, the fact that it draws you in is an advantage.

Another Windows app store – but this time it is virtual. Embarcadero’s AppWave promises instant installs

Embarcadero has announced the AppWave Store, a forthcoming app store for Windows which uses application virtualization to avoid the hassles and risks of the usual Windows install process.


The idea is that purchasing apps for Windows will be as simple as installing an app on a mobile using the Apple app store or Android Market.

The underlying technology was developed to simplify deployment of Embarcadero’s tools. The All-Access subscription includes a tool box application that lets you run tools using “InstantOn”, which means no installation, just click and run. I have used this for a while now and it works well.


When you run an InstantOn tool for the first time, you are prompted to download:


There is of course a pause while the app downloads. This is not thin client technology where the app actually runs remotely. It is installed on your local machine, but isolated so there are no dependencies or conflicts.


Once downloaded, you just launch the application. No other setup, other than software agreement and registration prompt.


The download is cached, so you can launch next time without delay, and it works offline too. AppWave is a rebranded version of InstantOn, and is also available for internal deployment of Embarcadero tools.

The AppWave store takes this technology and applies to a store for the general public. Developers will pay $99 per year (though the fee is waived if you sign up now) and get AppWave Studio, which lets you convert software to run under AppWave. The conversion process is called “mastering” and only takes a few hours, according to the FAQ [pdf].

Windows XP, Vista and 7 are supported clients, availability will be worldwide at launch, and Embarcadero takes 30% of your sale price. No launch date has been announced.

I guess the first big issue is whether developers will feel that the 30% fee is good value bearing in mind that there are many other ways to sell and deploy software.

Second, there are other app stores out there or coming, not least Microsoft’s own which is likely to be part of Windows 8. Will AppWave compete effectively?

Third, does Embarcadero have what it takes to market AppWave and make a destination for Windows users looking for apps?

App virtualization is a neat trick though, and could save significant support costs as well as being appealing for customers. Deploying apps using runtimes like Silverlight or Adobe AIR can be equally seamless, but apps have to be written specifically for those runtimes, whereas AppWave works with apps written for the full Windows API.

It is surprising that Embarcadero is not also marketing the AppWave technology for developers for general purpose use. Possibly this is coming; or maybe the company will try to keep it as an exclusive benefit for the AppWave store. There are alternatives, including Microsoft App-V and VMWare ThinApp.

See also Marco Cantu’s post Understanding Embarcadero AppWave, which is what alerted me to the AppWave store.

Gadgets, gadgets: 5.1 headphones, and a multitude of iPod docks and USB drives

It’s the time of year when hopeful gadget manufacturers lay out their shiny new wares in the hope of a bumper Christmas season; so this evening I attended a multi-vendor press event for that purpose.

What I found both interesting and disappointing was the lack of innovation in what is on offer. There was table after table of iPod docks and USB drives. On the iPod side, it shows I guess the extent to which Apple has taken over the home hi-fi market as well as the portable market. Although Apple does not make the docks, it gets a royalty for use of its proprietary connector, as well as enhancing the value of its iTunes/iPod/iPhone ecosystem.

It is not quite all iPod. I did have a lengthy discussion with the man from Arcam about its new rDAC digital audio converter. “Don’t all DACs sound the same?” I asked him, whereupon he drew diagrams to convince me that there are still challenges in making a high fidelity DAC, that CD-quality sounds better and high resolution 24/96 audio better still through an rDAC. I am hoping to get a review sample in order to test his claims.

Another item that caught my eye was the 5.1 headphone set from Roccat, a Hamburg-based company you most likely have not heard of. The headphones are called Kave, are aimed at gamers – though I imagine they should also be fun for movies – and are not too bulky considering their six drives. They also include a microphone for live gaming, though they cannot connect to an Xbox without an adapter. I will be reviewing these – if they work as advertised, it is rather a good idea. Roccat also offers a range of gaming mice with extra switches and customisable lighting effects (honest). If you have the patience to set up commands and macros for the additional button combinations that are available I guess these can be productive for a variety of computing tasks, not just for gaming. Sorry Mac people; this one is Windows only.

I am not sure what FileMaker was doing at a predominantly consumer event; but I was glad to catch up a little with this Mac database business (owned by Apple). With both the Mac and the iPad increasingly making their way into business computing, FileMaker has the opportunity to grow its market share a little. FileMaker 11 has been out since March, and in the summer the company released FileMaker Go for iPhone and iPad. FileMaker Go is a client for FileMaker applications, and one of the things that intrigues me is that it does apparently run scripts that are part of the application. Doesn’t this breach Apple’s guidelines which prohibit runtime interpreters? It is a moot point, and  I suppose you can argue that FileMaker scripts are so specific to FileMaker database applications that it does not count as general-purpose scripting. Still, it strikes me as a sign of flexibility in Apple’s restrictions – unless it is only because FileMaker is owned by Apple and gets a special pass, which the man from FileMaker denied.

I took a quick look at the latest SSD (solid state drive) drives from Kingston and Buffalo. I would like to fit one of these in my netbook, for improved speed and battery life, but for a typical netbook, installing a 128GB SSD will more than double the price, so they are still a little expensive.

So what about all the USB and network attached storage, is there anything to say about it? Some of the portable USB devices have built-in encryption, which may be handy for businesses. “Try 10 times with the wrong password and the data is wiped,” one vendor told me proudly; I’m afraid I immediately thought of the case when it is your data and you have that forgotten the password.

I did like the storage solutions that offer access to files over the internet. Pogoplug is one; just attach a drive to the Pogoplug, connect the Pogoplug to your router, and then you can access your stuff from anywhere via the company’s web site. The innovation this year is a wi-fi model that no longer has to sit next to your router. There is even an iOS app for mobile access. You can also give access to specified external users.

Another variation on this theme is Hitachi’s LifeStudio, which supports backup to cloud storage. You get 3GB cloud storage free, with an option to purchase additional space by subscription.

Nuance was showing its Mac speech input application called Dragon Dictate. I have been trying Dragon NaturallySpeaking 11, which is most impressive, and spoke to Nuance about the difference between the two. According to the folk at the event, the Windows version is still a little ahead technically, but it is getting close.

Finally, VMWare and Parallels were there showing their desktop emulation solutions for running Windows on the Mac. VMWare showed me its physical-to-virtual utility, which lets you migrate your old PC to a virtual machine on your Mac. It is an excellent solution if you need to run Windows apps on a Mac.

The Salesforce.com platform: what’s new, what’s coming

I’m attending the Cloudforce conference in London to catch up on what’s new with the Salesforce.com platform. CEO Marc Benioff was on good form, with a fun slide in his keynote presentation saying “Beware of the false cloud” – this was a jab at private clouds which he considers lack the advantages of a multi-tenanted public cloud platform like, you know, Salesforce.com. He has some justification – operating your own cloud is clearly a significant IT burden to carry – but that is the price of freedom. His company continues to report impressive growth.  The theme this year is Salesforce.com Chatter, a Twitter-like service embedded into the platform, for which there are just-announced mobile clients (Apple iOS, Blackberry, Android coming) as well as integration with the web UI and programmable platform.

Chatter is reducing email usage for adopters, apparently; Benioff says by 40% in his own company. Another of its advantages (aside from general social media goodness) is that users cannot attach documents directly, but only links to documents – pass by reference not by value – which is a better approach to collaboration. Of course you can do this in emails as well, but people habitually do not. It makes you think – maybe the likes of Outlook should do this by default, saving no end of space in corporate mailboxes. Or perhaps we should just use Chatter instead.

But what about the developer angle, the Force.com platform that lets you build custom applications? I attended a session on the subject. There was a comment from partner Nimbus which caught my ear – the speaker said that they avoid writing custom Apex code wherever possible, and generally find ways to use the platform’s built-in features instead. His rationale: “You will have to live with that code for ever”. It is another angle on declarative programming, in which you declare your intentions and let some underlying engine transform them into actual code. The advantage is not only ease of development, but also that improvements in the engine can enhance the application without any need to rewrite code.

I asked what is new and what is coming in the Force.com platform. Chatter is one element; one of its key features is that applications can “chat” as well as individuals. Another theme is workflow tools, and integrating the technology acquired with Informavores, which is being rebuilt on the Salesforce.com platform as Visual Process Manager. In tune with the remarks from Nimbus, there is also an effort to reduce the need for Apex code and to offer guided steps that business users can apply without the need of a development specialist. Another focus is scalability – “people are starting to use the platform in ways that we didn’t think of” – which mean back end work to handle their demands. Finally, there is the joint development with VMWare called VMForce that lets you run Java with full access to the Force.com API.

Google advances its platform – or should that be advances the Web?

Yesterday Google presented its latest platform innovations at the Google I/O conference in San Francisco. Its strategy is relatively clear: to improve web applications so that you can do everything you need in the browser. The client pieces are HTML 5 – though bear in mind that this is not yet a fixed standard – and especially the Chrome browser, whether installed on a traditional operating system or delivered on a Chrome OS device.

Chrome has always had lightning-fast JavaScript. We’re now seeing other pieces in the Chrome-as-application-platform story, including:

Integrated Adobe Flash

The  Native Client for secure native code, typically coded in C/C++, running in the browser

Announced yesterday, the WebM video and audio format. This includes VP8, acquired with On2 Technologies and now open source, as well as Vorbis audio and the Matroska multimedia container.

The Chrome Web Store, also announced yesterday, which will be an App Store equivalent for web applications.


Web Store apps are “installable” which may mean little more than a shortcut in the browser, similar to a bookmark or favourite link. However, there will be a payment infrastructure as well as ratings and user reviews.

Serverless apps. This is another aspect to the Web Store. A Web Store app can be designed to run offline, with all the necessary HTML and JavaScript bundled into the .crx format used by the store. Google calls these Serverless apps, and in many ways the concept is similar to that in Palm’s WebOS – HTML and JavaScript applications that run locally. This is interesting for Chrome OS as it makes it easy to create applications that work offline.

The Google Font API and Directory. This is big news. Most of us stick to the same old web fonts, or use images, or a plug-in like Flash or PDF, for going beyond the standard browser fonts. Using Google’s API, it is easy to include any font in the new directory, with nothing more than a specially crafted CSS link.

The Google Font API hides a lot of complexity behind the scenes. Google’s serving infrastructure takes care of converting the font into a format compatible with any modern browser (including Internet Explorer 6 and up), sends just the styles and weights you select, and the font files and CSS are tuned and optimized for web serving.

On the server side, there is Google App Engine for Business. Google is cooperating with VMware so that you can host Spring applications on its web application platform, App Engine. Spring Roo, a rapid application development tool for Spring, has been integrated with Google Web Toolkit (GWT) to make it easy to build browser-hosted clients for Spring applications. GWT lets you code in Java, but run in JavaScript. Using Spring gives you a choice of where to host your application: on-premise, on App Engine, on the Salesforce.com platform with VMforce, or on another platform such as Amazon EC2.

Spring’s Rod Johnson explains the goals here:

Until the announcement of VMforce and today’s announcement, Java developers lacked a PaaS destination to which they could easily deploy their applications. This was an important gap that threatened to become a danger to the long-term future of Java. I’m delighted that VMware/SpringSource is leading the charge to fill this gap.

Another feature worth highlighting is SQL for App Engine:

SQL database support on App Engine gives enterprise developers access to the full capabilities of a dedicated relational database, without the headache of managing it.

though Google adds that this is a “premium service” which may come at extra cost. According to the roadmap, this is coming in Q3 2010.

While there is a lot to take in, there is a consistent theme: making the web and browser platform more capable, and making desktop applications and on-premise servers less necessary.

Whereas Apple aims to lock us into its devices and App Store, Google’s approach is more open. It is happy to give away stuff like the WebM multimedia project and the Font API in order to improve the Web overall; though of course every time we use the Font API Google can record the traffic on our site and mine that data if it chooses to do so. It is in line with the strategy unveiled at the Mobile World Congress in February: a little bit of everything you do. Google will take its cut of any Web Store sales. What is Web and what is Google is deliberately blurred.

I still think that the forthcoming Chrome OS is an amazing experiment, and the new offline application support announced yesterday makes sense as an alternative to traditional local applications.

A good day for Adobe and Flash, or a bad one? Adobe’s Kevin Lynch demonstrated new HTML 5 capabilities in Dreamweaver, via an add-on pack. As expected, Adobe is becoming a little less Flash-focused in its PR. Google’s emerging platform is a tool opportunity for Adobe. Still, that is a lesser role than establishing Flash as the universal client, a possibility which Apple seems to have killed. Google is supporting Flash, of course, by building it into Chrome, but at the same time things like WebM, Font API, HTML5, and Native Client (shown as the natural client platform for browser-hosted games) undermine the need for Flash.

Apple is a problem for Google too. Will native client ever work on iPhone or iPad? WebM? The big question – who will marginalise whom?

VMforce: Salesforce partners VMware to run Java in the cloud

Salesforce and VMware have announced VMforce, a new cloud platform for enterprise applications. You will be able to deploy Java applications to VMforce, where they will run on a virtual platform provided by VMware. There will be no direct JDBC database access on the platform itself, but it will support the Java persistence API, with objects stored on Force.com. Applications will have full access to the Salesforce CRM platform, including new collaboration features such as Chatter, as well as standard Java Enterprise Edition features provided by Tomcat and the Spring framework. Springsource is a division of VMware.

A developer preview will be available in the second half of 2010; no date is yet announced for the final release.

There are a couple of different ways to look at this announcement. From the perspective of a Force.com developer, it means that full Java is now available alongside the existing Apex language. That will make it easier to port code and use existing skills. From the perspective of a Java developer looking for a hosted deployment platform, it means another strong contender alongside others such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2).

The trade-off is that with Amazon EC2 you have pretty much full control over what you deploy on Amazon’s servers. VMforce is a more restricted platform; you will not be able to install what you like, but have to run on what is provided. The advantage is that more of the management burden is lifted; VMforce will even handle backup.

I could not get any information about pricing or even how the new platform will be charged. I suspect it will compete more on quality than on price. However I was told that smooth scalability is a key goal.

More information here.