IBM and Pivotal work together to build a better PaaS

This week, IBM and Pivotal announced a strategic partnership that impacts the future of Cloud Foundry. There are two aspects to this announcement –

1)   IBM will collaborate with Pivotal to contribute to the development of Cloud Foundry. While many companies adopted Cloud Foundry, this is the first time that an enterprise platform player pledged its support. By IBM participating in the governance model, IBM will have a say in the future of Cloud Foundry.

2)   IBM will bring a subset of its flagship product, WebSphere Application Server to Cloud Foundry. WebSphere Application Server Liberty Core is a lightweight container to run Java based web applications that do not need the complete Java Enterprise Edition capabilities.

More details of this partnership will be shared at the first Cloud Foundry conference called Platform scheduled for September 8th and 9th at Santa Clara.

So, what does this mean to Pivotal, IBM, the cloud ecosystem and the developers?

Led by industry veteran Paul Maritz, Pivotal is building an open platform that frees enterprises from the potential lock-in of Amazon Web Services. Steven Burke of has some interesting analysis on why Pivotal is better positioned than AWS in the cloud landscape.  With GE as one of the key investors and also a customer, Pivotal started on a strong footing. But right from its inception Cloud Foundey lacked the strong support for an industry that preferred Java application containers. Of course, Spring is popular among Java developers but VMware never had an enterprise grade application server in its arsenal. With Red Hat, Pramati, Oracle and other traditional Java application server vendors getting into the PaaS business and competing with Pivotal, Cloud Foundry certainly needed the support for an enterprise grade application container to entice the enterprise customers. With IBM’s WebSphere Liberty Core officially supported, Cloud Foundry gets a big boost. This is an early win for Pivotal.

For IBM, this is the right move, and not a moment too soon. In 2008, while Microsoft and Google were busy developing .NET and Python based PaaSes, IBM missed the boat in building a Java PaaS powered by WebSphere.  All IBM did was provide pre-configured Amazon EC2 images to run WebSphere on the Cloud. With the SoftLayer acquisition and the newfound love for OpenStack, IBM is slowly distancing itself from Amazon. It is too late for IBM to build a PaaS from the ground up competing with nimble players like Heroku and Engine Yard. By embracing Cloud Foundry, IBM gets into the PaaS game. Once IBM figures out how to get the best out of SoftLayer and OpenStack investments, it may offer aWebSphere based PaaS powered by Cloud Foundry on its public cloud.

Through this move, IBM and Pivotal are aiming at the common competitor – Red Hat. Of late, Red Hat has upped the ante on OpenShift, which is a direct threat to Cloud Foundry. Red Hat JBoss competes with IBM WebSphere in the Java EE space.  By joining hands, IBM and Pivotal hope to offer a better PaaS combined with the credibility of WebSphere attacking both JBoss and OpenShift.

For Java developers, this is exciting news. With IBM’s blessing, Cloud Foundry turns into a credible Java PaaS.

With Pivotal in the driver’s seat steering Cloud Foundry in a different direction than was originally planned, the Cloud Foundry ecosystem is carefully watching these moves. Stay tuned for how the Cloud Foundry ecosystem reacts to this development.