3168 Last week, VMware and Salesforce.com announced a new partnership around VMforce, a Platform as a Service (PaaS) offering aimed at enterprise Java developers. The companies’ CEOs Paul Maritz (VMware) and Marc Benioff (Salesforce) described VMforce as an enterprise cloud designed to serve the needs of more than six million enterprise Java developers, including some two million who are using the Spring framework VMware acquired last August when it purchased SpringSource.

According to Maritz and Benioff, by harnessing the VMforce cloud, enterprises and developers can dramatically simplify Java development “without compromising the flexibility, control and choice they require.” In plain English, VMforce is a for-pay service whose cloud-based elements are designed to attract Java-loving enterprises and vendors.

Seems clear enough, but let’s consider three relevant issues: 1) where this announcement fits in the greater IT industry scheme of things; 2) what it aims to do for the respective partners; and 3) how likely it is to succeed.

As to the first point, the deal qualifies as a classic example of one of the two basic strategies — partner-up or pay-out — IT vendors follow to develop new products and services. Partnering, as in the VMforce effort, holds numerous attractions, including reducing overall risks and upfront costs, and allowing the partners to exploit their known strengths and achieve faster time to market than any single vendor might achieve alone.

What is it the two hope to achieve? Clearly, VMforce represents both a leveraging of existing company assets — the Spring framework for VMware and Salesforce.com’s service-centric datacenter infrastructure — and an indicator of the pair’s future aspirations.

While VMware has been forcefully eloquent in its promotion of cloud computing, both alone and with other partners including EMC and Cisco, this new effort offers the company an opportunity to deepen the use of cloud dynamics for its own commercial benefit.

In contrast, while Salesforce has done quite well with traditional customer relationship management (CRM) offerings, VMforce should allow it to broaden its clients’ perception of its service capabilities and further monetize its IT infrastructure investments.

What are this effort’s chances? Overall, pretty good. Despite the fact that it’s an essentially new offering, VMforce falls well within the comfort zone of both VMware and Salesforce, as well as their existing respective enterprise client bases — no small thing.

For another, the two million developers already leveraging the Spring framework and working with VMware should have a natural affinity for the service, simplifying the process of gaining a sustainable client base.

Finally, VMforce provides flexible answers to some continuing problems plaguing Java developers, including the costly maintenance of development infrastructures and assets. Embracing a scalable, flexible, pay as you go cloud-based service should allow them to better focus their efforts on emerging opportunities in mobile and social Java application development.

Bottom line: Though their heads are thoroughly in the (Java) cloud, VMware and Salesforce.com’s VMforce partnership seems to be as sure a bet as one is likely to ever find in the fickle and ever-changing marketplace for IT services.