Why it's Pivotal EMC & VMware refuse to PaaS up the opportunity

If you were to ask EMC or VMware whom they consider their major threat and competition you’d be easily forgiven for being mistaken to think it was NetApp, HP or offerings such as Hyper-V. With many terming us to now be in the third era of corporate computing, with mainframe and the client/server being the first two, the current cloud era has undoubtedly been spearheaded by the likes of Google, Amazon and Facebook. It is here where EMC and VMware face their biggest challenge of remaining relevant and cutting edge in a market that demands automation, simplicity and speed of deployment. Despite major marketing campaigns of “Big Data” and “Clouds” that have seen airports littered with exorbitant amounts of posters and adverts, as well as numerous acquisitions of various companies that have extended already huge product portfolios, both EMC and VMware have struggled to release themselves from the shackles of being deemed just a Storage and Hypervisor company. So in light of this it’s no surprise to see both companies spin off a new and independent venture that will address this very challenge, namely the Pivotal Initiative.

With a promise of $400 million in investments and a 69 / 31 % split in ownership between EMC and VMware respectively, the Pivotal Initiative will be headed by none other than VMware’s ex-CEO Paul Maritz. At the time his stepping down from that position raised a few eyebrows and questions as to whether he was being demoted, prepped for early retirement or was just being pushed to make way for VMware’s current CEO, Pat Gelsinger. In hindsight one could easily see this now as a move that maybe Maritz himself initiated from his own recognition that VMware as a company was failing to transition yet alone be recognized as a PaaS organisation.

Maritz like most in the industry would have recognised that with ever increasing data sets and ever increasing scale, the need for automation, rapid application development and deployment is quickly breaking beyond the capabilities of traditional man managed infrastructures that have previously been offered by EMC and VMware.  Moreover both VMware and EMC know it’s all about applications and specifically big data applications. For VMware and EMC to succeed in having the de facto platform of the IT industry, it’s key they win the war to host these new and integral applications. To address this EMC and VMware went about acquiring just about every relevant start up or product that could possibly address this challenge from GemStone, GreenPlum to SpringSource. Despite this huge purchasing spree and VMware’s push to develop vFabric and create the PaaS initiative Cloud Foundry both EMC and VMware have struggled to gain market recognition as true Cloud and PaaS players.

One of the key aspects challenging EMC and VMware’s recognition as a Cloud and PaaS offering has ironically been the very thing they drove to try and solve it i.e. the incredible rate of acquisitions and consequent increase in product portfolios. With sales and presales teams that had been accustomed for years to successfully pitching and selling storage arrays and hypervisor licenses, the demand on them was now to understand new and alien concepts of Big Data analytics, PaaS, application development, SaaS etc and also address a customer base they were not accustomed to. Now by having Maritz head up a brand new and independent company that can essentially take the appropriate products from those portfolios, the opportunity is to establish brand new and focused sales, technical and post sales teams that understand applications, big data etc. as well as have the right level of existing relations within their potential client base.

So what is the Pivotal Initiative actually bringing new to the table in terms of products? Well not much actually. In fact what it does bring is a much needed cohesion between what have now been a multitude of disparate acquisitions and products that have failed to gain the market share their technical and business benefits certainly deserve.

Firstly there’s the platform that will be based on EMC’s Greenplum appliance integrated with Pivotal HD, the data querying system that works with Hadoop. The Greenplum appliance is based on the open source PostgreSQL, which is a full ANSI-standard relational database system and has performance benchmarks with Hadoop’s parallel system that are already impressive. With the soon to be released Pivotal HD product from the Pivotal Labs group, the aim is to conduct even more queries against even larger data sets.

Pivotal Initiative: The products may look familiar but only this time there's cohesion and focus 
From a VMware perspective, there’s the inclusion of Gemfire to serve as the caching layer with its capability of quickly ingesting events via its in-memory data management system. Then there’s Cetas that provides rapid analytics atop the Hadoop platform and is designed for the elasticity of virtual resources with specific focus on not only vSphere but also Amazon Web Services. Additionally and most interestingly is the addition of the Cloud Foundry PaaS, which was initially built to run on VMware’s proprietary system. This time it comes with the promise that it will be an abstraction layer with application automation for cross clouds enabling Pivotal to be hosted on the likes of Amazon Web Services' EC2. Coupling this with SpringSource’s Java application development framework to enable integration with legacy data sources and applications and the Pivotal Labs’ ability for facilitating rapid coding, the objective is a focused approach and aim at the jugular of online and enterprise analytics.

The Pivotal Initiative will aim to deliver the market a data analysis platform capable of capturing large volumes of data, quickly addressing and querying it and then producing near real time answers that can be stored in a large scale-out storage system. It would be naïve to think this is an initiative aimed just at existing VMware customers. This is an attempt to not only enter but also become relevant in the software led infrastructure arena that competes with the likes of Amazon.

In essence the Pivotal Initiative is a brave yet necessary move from both EMC and VMware to embrace the challenge of change as the legacy of traditional infrastructure faces the daunting prospect of new software paradigms. Whether the Pivotal Initiative can be successful and achieve it’s $1bn rate in its projected five years depends on a number of factors. One thing is certain is that the first challenge to remaining relevant in the IT industry is to acknowledge and adapt to change. The masters behind the Pivotal Initiative have already achieved that.