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May 6, 2020

What Is Pivotal Cloud Foundry?

Java Application Development
Enterprise Development

Pivotal Cloud Foundry, now Cloud Foundry, is a multi-language, container-based open source cloud-native platform sponsored by VMware Tanzu. Primarily community-developed, Cloud Foundry operates as a 501c6 organization.

But how did Pivotal Cloud Foundry come to be such a popular cloud-native platform, and will it continue to be a popular platform in the future? This article explores the basics of Pivotal Cloud Foundry, including an overview of Cloud Foundry, its pros and cons as a platform, available distributions and technologies, and a look at Pivotal Cloud Foundry competitors.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry Overview

According to the Cloud Foundry website, Cloud Foundry is used predominately by large enterprises operating large scale, and often multi-language, cloud applications. With a combination of frameworks, services, and clouds, Cloud Foundry is used by thousands of companies across all industries.

A Brief History of Cloud Foundry

Cloud Foundry was originally developed by VMware in 2009, and announced for public availability in 2011. Two years later, Pivotal was formed, and as steward, led Cloud Foundry into the open source era.

For a nice write-up on the history of the Pivotal Cloud Foundry era, be sure to check out this article series from IBM OSS Serverless CTO Michael Maximilien.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry Distributions

With distributions that range from government-compliant to microservices-focused, Cloud Foundry distributions run the gamut of cloud functionality.

Cloud Foundry has 7 certified distributions:

Of these distributions, IBM Cloud Foundry and SAP Cloud Platform are the most used.

4 Notable Cloud Foundry Technologies

With more and more companies making a transition to microservices, and the demand for cloud-based applications on the rise, technology and situation-specific distributions help to solve issues for developers who want to use Cloud Foundry.

1. KubeCF: Kubernetes-Native Cloud Foundry Distribution

The Cloud Foundry KubeCF distribution combines the comprehensive utility of Kubernetes, with the infrastructural simplicity of Cloud Foundry.

2. Eirini: Reuse Existing Kubernetes Cluster Infrastructure

Cloud Foundry Eirini is an incubation project based on existing Cloud Foundry efforts. Eirini makes it easy to enable scheduling for the Cloud Foundry Application Runtime, or CFAR.

3. Quarks: Package CFAR as Containers

Cloud Foundry Quarks is another incubation project based on existing Cloud Foundry efforts. Quarks is designed to help standardize the developer and operational experience — allowing for fewer infrastructure considerations.

4. BOSH: Any Cloud Compatibility for Releases and Runtime

Cloud Foundry BOSH manages runtime layers, and allows for deploying (and monitoring) complex, distributed Cloud Foundry application deployments.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry Pros and Cons

While Cloud Foundry doesn't have nearly the market share as other big cloud-based platforms, it does have some benefits that make it a good choice for some developers. This list of pros and cons goes over a few of the benefits, and common complaints, against Cloud Foundry.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry Pros and Cons
ProsCons
Open source, free platformSteep learning curve
Great for large, enterprise projectsNot suitable for many small-scale applications
Mature, full supportPlatform as a service
Multiple well-supported distributions 
Works with many languages 
Infrastructure and cloud agnostic 
Great for horizontal scaling 

Because Pivotal Cloud Foundry is open source and offers mature, specialized distributions for a variety of languages, and offers the ability to deploy on premises cloud networks, it can be a popular choice for cloud-based applications. But because other companies like AWS have such a big stake in cloud services and infrastructure, Pivotal Cloud Foundry may remain on the enterprise periphery of the overall cloud PaaS landscape.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry Competitors

Early competitors for Cloud Foundry focused on the limitations of their platform, with container orchestration technologies like Kubernetes and Docker Swarm emerging as infrastructure as a service foils to the Cloud Foundry platform as a service. While Docker Swarm isn't as talked about anymore, the Cloud Foundry foundation has put a clear focus on providing stable and user-friendly Kubernetes integrations (and distributions like KubeCF).

The true competitors to Pivotal Cloud Foundry now, especially in terms of large enterprise-scale applications, are other PaaS platforms like AWS Elastic Beanstalk and Google App Engine.

Pivotal Cloud Foundry vs. Kubernetes

In the past, there was a debate over Cloud Foundry vs. Kubernetes, as Kubernetes was developed in part to solve orchestration issues that Cloud Foundry could not. But, as Kubernetes has become the de-facto standard in container orchestration (even overtaking Docker Swarm), Cloud Foundry has developed integrations and a distributions that make using Kubernetes orchestration within Cloud Foundry easy.

Final Thoughts

For large enterprise companies, Cloud Foundry offers an easily-extensible and mature way to build and deploy large-scale cloud-based applications. With the ability to foster on-premise cloud applications, specialized distributions for enterprise niches, and integrations with popular orchestration technologies, Cloud Foundry is a powerful tool for large, enterprise companies.

Additional Resources

If you want to see how JRebel works with Pivotal Cloud Foundry, be sure to read our PCF documentation here.

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