VMware, Virtualization… and More

Before joining VMware roughly 4 months ago I was wondering, along with many of you, what sort of company VMware was turning into and what they were doing and what they wanted to become in the long run. The more I was tracking VMware buying (supposedly) disconnected companies the more I was thinking “what does this have to do with virtualization? What (the hell) are they doing?”. Some of them are a bit less disconnected than others when it comes to virtualization but yet the full picture was not clear to me. I think that, in order to get the full picture, you need to abstract a bit from the day-to-day tactical discussions around point features such as VMotion, memory over-commitment and geek-terms like these. The way I see it, there seems to be a bigger plan here which is as simple as this: making IT and the associated user-experience better than it is right now. Period. Virtualization is really the backbone for this but, instead of being the end-goal, it should really be considered a must-have piece of technology to achieve the above plan. And, if you look at the Gartner magic quadrant regarding who is the leader in the virtualization space, well there is no question at all that VMware is the best positioned to achieve that plan. But it’s not limited to that. There are at least another couple of angles. The end-goal here is not taking the IT stack as-is and make it run, more flexibly, on software partitions. As we said that’s really the must-have backbone but, that alone is not enough. VMware is really trying to make the whole stack better focusing heavily on management, application frameworks and so forth. What I tried to speculate years ago on other posts such as this one or this other one is now becoming more clear as things materialize. Another angle relates to how end-users consume IT resources. Historically the industry thought that the only method for an organization to use IT was to buy a piece of hardware, a piece of software that they would then setup and maintain for the internal users to use these IT resources. VMware is leading the industry to change that pattern too via the vCloud initiative and via our partnerships with other visionaries and innovators such as Google and Saleseforce.

But the thing that is fascinating me most about VMware is the attitude and the people. In fact we are probably at one of those disruption points in the industry that only happen once in a while. These disruption points happen during stagnant periods in the industry where the leaders of that period impose a technology and a business model and make everything possible to maintain the status-quo. This happened for example with IBM (circa 1940-1980) where they led the market with the mainframe and have been challenged by new technologies and new business models such that of Sun Microsystems specifically (circa 1980-1995).  Sun was itself challenged by a new-comer into the datacenter segment and that was Microsoft which sort of took the lead in the last few years. Are we at the next disruption point where VMware is the new agent of change? Well, while I don’t have a crystal ball to look into the feature, I can only say that the stars are aligned  for this to be a very strong possibility. By the way, while Unix is on the decline the legacy of these deployments is very strong and the overall Unix market today is still around 20B$ a year (million more, million less). Part of this is because many Unix customers had to find yet a good Unix alternative and Microsoft has not an option for them. VMware is in a unique position with a value proposition that takes the best of both worlds and so it can address a potentially immense chunk of the market from the low-end Microsoft market all the way to the high-end Unix market: Unix-like (or even better) characteristics at low x86 prices!

And this is where the people comes in. VMware is no longer a “virtualization company” hiring “virtualization people”. VMware is (to me) becoming the agent of change in a stagnant IT industry and, as such, it is becoming the catalyst of visionaries and smart people that find in VMware the proper environment (with no business and technical legacy) to exploit their visions for a better IT without compromises. What people are  doing at VMware (or at least this is my perception) is very simple: they are taking the traditional IT stack, taking it apart, recomposing it leaving out the things that are not needed and injecting the things that are most needed (virtualization being an example). This is a very important and key point to understand and why the VMware potential is so huge. This is called the innovator’s dilemma. If you are working for a company and an organization that is leading the market and is making tons of money out of a specific business model which leverages a traditional/legacy IT stack, you’ll do very little to change the status-quo. This doesn’t mean you won’t be adding “new features” to your stack but certainly you won’t do much to reinvent everything and, in so doing, question your future leadership in a changed landscape. I really like Henry Ford’s quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses” (via vinternals.com, thanks Stu). To rephrase it, in the context of this discussion, if you are in the horses business you won’t do much to engineer and promote cars. While I don’t consider myself a visionary, this is one of the reasons I wanted to join VMware: I wanted to join a company which didn’t have technology or business legacies so that we could just think about and create new things that are useful to organizations and end-users, without compromises.

So what does virtualization has to do with this? Virtualization is not enough to accomplish our plan, however it’s the must-have foundation for it. And if I look at the Gartner magic quadrant VMware is the only company that seems to be positioned for the next disruption in the industry. We will only know in 20 years though if I was right or wrong!

Massimo.

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