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VMware's Bitnami acquisition grows its development portfolio

VMware acquired Bitnami and added an important app-packaging tool to its development portfolio. This buy helps VMware stay current, but forces it to enter uncharted market waters.

The rise of containers and the cloud has changed the face of the IT market, and VMware must evolve with it. The vendor has moved out of its traditional data center niche and -- with its purchase of software packager Bitnami -- has made a push into the development community, a change that presents new challenges and potential. 

Historically, VMware delivered a suite of system infrastructure management tools. With the advent of cloud and digital disruption, IT departments' focus expanded from monitoring systems to developing applications. VMware has extended its management suite to accommodate this shift, and its acquisition of Bitnami adds new tools that ease application development.

Building applications presents difficulties for many organizations. Developers spend much of their time on application plumbing, writing software that performs mundane tasks -- such as storage allocation -- and linking one API to another.

Bitnami sought to simplify that work. The company created prepackaged components called installers that automate the development process. Rather than write the code themselves, developers can now download Bitnami system images and plug them into their programs. As VMware delves further into hybrid cloud market territory, Bitnami brings simplified app development to the table.

Torsten Volk, managing research director at Enterprise Management AssociatesTorsten Volk

"Bitnami's solutions were ahead of their time," said Torsten Volk, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), a computer consultant based out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. "They enable developers to bulletproof application development infrastructure in a self-service manner."

The value Bitnami adds to VMware

Released under the Apache License, Bitnami's modules contain commonly coupled software applications instead of just bare-bones images. For example, a Bitnami WordPress stack might contain WordPress, a database management system (e.g., MySQL) and a web server (e.g., Apache).

Bitnami takes care of several mundane programming chores. Its keeps all components up-to-date -- so if it finds a security problem, it patches that problem -- and updates those components' associated libraries. Bitnami makes its modules available through its Application Catalogue, which functions like an app store.

The company designed its products to run on a wide variety of systems. Bitnami supports Apple OS X, Microsoft Windows and Linux OSes. Its VM features work with VMware ESX and ESXi, VirtualBox and QEMU. Bitnami stacks also are compatible with software infrastructures such as WAMP, MAMP, LAMP, Node.js, Tomcat and Ruby. It supports cloud tools from AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform and Oracle Cloud. The installers, too, feature a wide variety of platforms, including Abante Cart, Magento, MediaWiki, PrestaShop, Redmine and WordPress. 

Bitnami seeks to help companies build applications once and run them on many different configurations.

"For enterprise IT, we intend to solve for challenges related to taking a core set of application packages and making them available consistently across teams and clouds," said Milin Desai, general manager of cloud services at VMware.

Development teams share project work among individuals, work with code from private or public repositories and deploy applications on private, hybrid and public clouds. As such, Bitnami's flexibility made it appealing to developers -- and VMware.

How Bitnami and VMware fit together

[VMware] did not pay a premium for the products, which were not generating a lot of revenue. Instead, they wanted the executives, who are all rock stars in the development community.
Torsten VolkManaging Research Director, EMA

VMware wants to extend its reach from legacy, back-end data centers and appeal to more front-end and cloud developers.

"In the last few years, VMware has gone all in on trying to build out a portfolio of management solutions for application developers," Volk said. VMware embraced Kubernetes and has acquired container startups such as Heptio to prove it.

Bitnami adds another piece to this puzzle, one that provides a curated marketplace for VMware customers who hope to emphasize rapid application development.

"Bitnami's application packaging capabilities will help our customers to simplify the consumption of applications in hybrid cloud environments, from on-premises to VMware Cloud on AWS to VMware Cloud Provider Program partner clouds, once the deal closes,” Desai said.

Facing new challenges in a new market

However, the purchase moves VMware out of its traditional virtualized enterprise data center sweet spot. VMware has little name recognition among developers, so the company must build its brand.

"Buying companies like Bitnami and Heptio is an attempt by VMware to gain instant credibility among developers," Volk said. "They did not pay a premium for the products, which were not generating a lot of revenue. Instead, they wanted the executives, who are all rock stars in the development community."  

Supporting a new breed of customer poses its challenges. Although VMware's Bitnami acquisition adds to its application development suite -- an area of increasing importance -- it also places new hurdles in front of the vendor. Merging the culture of a startup with that of an established supplier isn't always a smooth process. In addition, VMware has bought several startups recently, so consolidating its variety of entities in a cohesive manner presents a major undertaking.

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