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Journey to PaaS: How Application Director Is Changing How Customers & Partners Deliver Software

Less than a year ago we announced the availability of the first vFabric Application Director release, where we took a bold new approach to provision workloads on Cloud Infrastructure.  It was an inventive solution to a problem most people hadn’t realized was an issue yet. By separating apps and infrastructure in the provisioning process, we could drastically simplify operations and actually make organizations more nimble, more agile.

This week, we announced the next major release of Application Director.  Over the course of the past year, we have seen tremendous responses from our design partners, early adopters and overall in the market to the approach we are delivering. Komal Mangtani, our engineering director who is building Application Director, first outlined this approach in her post ‘Creating Your Self-Curating Application Platform’ back in August.  Essentially, we are using a completely declarative, model-driven method for service provisioning, which means it is agnostic of the underlying configuration script or the infrastructure it is running on.

Automation for any process is expected to speed things up, and reduce errors. By abstracting this into the model-driven approach, we get a few more benefits:

  1. Support for any application, regardless of language.
  2. Support for any cloud.
  3. Self-service support for users to provision apps and infrastructure.

Given Application Director is able to store a library of building blocks (OS templates and Application Service templates) as well as the complete floor plan (Blueprints) its quickly enabled users to roll their own Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). This has had a transformational change on IT organizations, turning them into service providers and unleashing productivity from the application development teams who now have much more latitude to build, run and manage apps on their own.

A PaaS solution that is open to every app and potentially every cloud is likely a daunting idea for most IT teams at first. Corporate governance usually works to control technology proliferation to make it possible to support “in-house” technologies. Not surprisingly, we are seeing customers work this governance into their Application Director deployments.

How Customers Are Using Application Director for PaaS

Customers using Application Director to create a PaaS environment are doing so with varying degrees. First, we are seeing customers using Application Director to ease the on boarding of application teams to the cloud. From a daunting process of having to go through endless help desk tickets, users can now pick up their desired pre-configured best practice blueprint, and get to work.

Some customers are using it to standardize on applications stacks with a finite number of configurations and architectures to gain better standardization and control. These customers build a service catalog and limit the ability of application teams to add application services, such as different web servers or database management solutions, to the mix. With IT still being the gate of what is available to be deployed, they can still empower the application teams while keeping IT sprawl at an organized chaos level.

Most commonly, we have seen customers seeing Application Director along with Application Performance Manager (APM) as a way to roll their own full-scale PaaS.  Application Director provides a deep service catalog of components and ready-to-use, complete blueprints for common applications or development environments, while APM gives instant manageability to the deployed applications. Used together, these two capabilities completely empower end users to choose their own deployment, customize it as appropriate, and have enterprise grade tools to manage, tune and scale the applications as they see fit, without burdening IT unnecessarily.

Getting Partners on the VMware PaaS-train

Regardless of the extent of deployment, it is clear that Application Director has been a game-changing accelerator for application deployment. Most famously, VMware’s own IT organization reported a 90% savings in time to deploy and a 30% cost reduction.  But, we felt that populating the service catalog was still too time consuming. Given that these were standardized configurations, there was no reason we couldn’t tap into the VMware network of partners and build a library of best practice components for our customers to use as a further headstart.

So, we started reaching out to leading middleware, networking, security and application vendors to build out an ecosystem of experts that can provide content to customers heading to the cloud and are using Application Director. The result is the VMware Cloud Applications Marketplace, also released this week, with over 100 blueprints, services, scripts and plugins that users can download and use instantly, as shown in the video below.

I was really surprised by the level of traction this got from both our partners and early adopters. While we were looking at getting 5-10 partners build content for Application Director this year, within the first 5 months we got to well over 30 partners. This is because all Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) are looking to simplify how their applications are adopted. Virtual machine images were a start to solve this by creating a fully set up machine that literally just had to be started. However, it left little room for customization, so the library of machine images quickly became an enormous storage and maintenance burden. With Application Director, they could prepare their software in a way that was highly reusable and flexible enough to be inserted into any multi-tier application-provisioning plan.

Vendors like Bitnami, who specialize in creating ready-to-use distributions of popular open source software, subscribed to this partnership and published over 20 application blueprints and services. VMware also contributed many sample application services and blueprints for other vFabric products, and together with 30 other partners, customers now have access to over 100 solutions to be immediately downloaded and deployed to their environment in minutes. Solutions with content ranging from open source software like Liferay, SugarCRM, Jenkins and more through middleware components like Zend PHP server, Websphere, JBoss, and including data solutions like MongoDB, Couchbase and Hadoop as well as packaged software like Microsoft Sharepoint and many more.

For example, Zend created a blueprint for their popular PHP server that now allows PHP developers download it and push their code to a running, well configured service in minutes. Puppet Labs created a service that allows customers to dynamically download the latest, most updated version of Puppet to get access to the latest features. Radware and Riverbed both have ADC services available so users can add software-based load-balancing services to their apps. There are many such examples, of ready-to-use packages, deployment environments and application components that are more accessible and simpler to deploy that aid in creating the Software Defined Datacenter.

>> To see all the solutions available, visit the VMware Cloud Applications Marketplace.

The endorsement for this new style of application deployment and the marketplace has been overwhelming.  6 partners released their own press releases endorsing their support of this strategy this week, including Bitnami, Jaspersoft, Liferay, Radware, Riverbed, SugarCRM, and 16 ISV’s issued quotes to support the release.

Service Providers Supporting VMware’s Roll Your Own PaaS

Even more interestingly, public cloud vendors are also publicly supporting the Application Director community. 4 cloud service providers, including Savvis, Bluelock, iLand and NTT announced their commitment to extending their cloud services using Application Director and the VMware Cloud Applications Marketplace. Since Application Director is open to any cloud, this strategy opens doors to service provider’s customers to a lot of VMware applications and services. Dante Orsini, SVP Business Development, iland, a global cloud infrastructure provider, summed it up in their press release this week announcing their support of the marketplace:

“As a VMware service provider partner, we are delighted to support the VMware Cloud Applications Marketplace™. We believe it makes the sharing of innovation and ideas simple, enabling users to collaborate quickly and inexpensively while increasing the number and variety of leading-edge applications built using VMware vFabric™ Application Director™.  VMware vFabric Application Director will allow us to work closely with ISV partners looking to cloud-enable their applications at a much faster rate. In addition, this advanced technology will enable them to provision, maintain and update applications into any cloud, not just a VMware-based cloud.”

I am excited by the overwhelming support and adoption so far, and hearing more about what other opportunities, synergies and benefits Application Director, APM and the Marketplace are bringing customers.

As we are progressing into 2013, we are committed on this journey of simplifying the deployment and on going management of “any application, on any cloud”, so do expect to see a lot more new capabilities and announcements coming your way over the next months.

>> Interested in sharing your story? Contact the vFabric blog editor Stacey Schneider (sschneider_at_vmware.com) and we will be happy to work with you on presenting your story to the VMware community.
  About the Author: Shahar Erez is an experienced executive with solid R&D and product leadership background backed up by sound results. He has over 12 years in various management positions in a wide range of organizations building stellar teams and leading them to new levels of success in highly competitive markets. He Joined VMware in 2012 to establish and lead the product strategy for Application management in the cloud era.

15 thoughts on “Journey to PaaS: How Application Director Is Changing How Customers & Partners Deliver Software

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