|VMware's Grand Plans|
Victoria Barret, 05.21.10, 6:00 AM ET
BURLINGAME, Calif. - Paul Maritz runs virtualization giant VMware. Prior to that, he built and sold a company to EMC and spent 14 years as a leader and visionary at Microsoft. Here, in conversation with Forbes Associate Editor Victoria Barret, he talks about what's next for VMware regarding cloud computing, cooperation with Salesforce.com and competition with Microsoft.
To see the video interview, click here.
Forbes: VMware has long had a reputation as a disruptive technology company, but mainly in the sense of tremendous increases in efficiency in the data center. It seems like you're taking it further and want VMware to be a central part of the new, evolving cloud technology stack, and something that developers are working directly with. Tell us about your vision, and where you see this going.
Paul Maritz: We see the world as basically having two dimensions. One is the dimension of existing applications, which companies have a huge investment in. They really can't do a lot in terms of rewriting those applications. They have to work with them as they are. And virtualization is the only technology that can actually do something for those applications in a incremental, digestible way.
But we think that there's also a lot that we can do as to how you operationally manage those applications, that there's whole new levels of efficiency we can get by allowing you to, essentially, build a giant computer out of your commodity hardware and manage things in a fundamentally more efficient way.
The other dimension is new applications. We think if we can influence the way new applications are written, we can get even further levels of efficiency and flexibility out of the infrastructure. It's for that reason that we have started to invest in that space, most signally with the acquisition of SpringSource.
That opens VMware up to the Java developer community, right?
Yes, and it allows us to now get much more intimate with the applications. By doing that, we think that by combining that learning with what we know about the low-level infrastructure, we can make things even more efficiently in the future.
So then the importance of cloud computing goes beyond where your data and where your applications are running.
VMware recently made a big announcement with Salesforce.com, and what struck me was that the nature of data changes. It becomes more dynamic, more live, and applications really have to work with each other more so than in the past. How does your technology play a key role in that?
Well, one of the important things about the announcement with Salesforce.com is about a new generation of applications. Traditionally, enterprise applications have been about just automating existing business practices inside the enterprise. But as we move into this more connected world, where people have different expectations, enterprise applications are going to have to change as well.
People will expect to use information in a much more fluid and flexible way. So when we take applications into this new era of cloud computing, it's not just about changing where the underlying compute is being done. It's about changing how they access and interact with information.
Salesforce.com is a repository for a lot of important enterprise information already because people use it to automate their customer relationships. By combining it with our programming technology, we can unlock all of that information now to be used with inside a new generation of enterprise applications.
You spent over a decade at Microsoft. Now you're competing with Microsoft. How do you rate what they're doing in this space? Is Microsoft being disruptive right now?
Well, I never underestimate Microsoft.
You know better.
I spent nearly 15 years there. Clearly, they have a huge footprint, tremendous financial resources, as well as a lot of very smart people. They are trying to react to these same forces that everyone else in the industry sees, which is how to remove complexity, how to enable agility, but they're doing it very much within their own world.
Their response is, "We will address some of these issues, but it's going to be in a top to bottom Microsoft world."
I think that there's a need to have more open technologies. Microsoft will not be the only cloud provider in the world. So we need to have technologies that will give people a degree of cloud independence, but at the same time, the flexibility to exploit the unique goodness in each of these clouds.
Microsoft is very good at doing things at scale, and cloud computing is a scale play. So, in that sense, they're well-positioned, right?
Certainly they have a lot of assets they can bring to the table, but scale is not something that's unique to Microsoft. You know, as Marc Benioff has pointed out, Salesforce.com has one billion contacts in their cloud. They are already operating at scale, and in some senses, operating at scale with very important enterprise assets. So this is not just about whether a company can scale out, in terms of supporting consumer websites. It's really about: How do you scale in the context of what enterprises are going to expect?
Having been inside Microsoft, and watching them as a competitor, what do you think is their biggest obstacle when it comes to cloud computing?
I think one of their biggest challenges is, in some senses, cloud computing is corrosive of their existing business model.
Microsoft is a company that has built one of the world's most valuable franchises on selling operating systems that cloak a CPU, and selling white-collar productivity software that sits on every desktop. And it's one of the world's great business phenomena. But it could be that that's not the way of the future.
The way that cloud computing will deliver functionality probably embodies not just new technologies, but new business models, too.
And the one thing I've learned over my career is that often it's harder for companies to change their business model than to change technology, for very good reasons.
So the future of enterprise software, the industry, is it more fragmented than what we've been used to, where you have a pretty short list of dominant players who soak up the majority of market share?
Toward the end of these big waves of technology, the market consolidates. And the interesting thing is, by and large, the dominant players of one generation have not been the dominant players of the next.
As told to, and edited by, Victoria Barret
Follow Victoria Barret on Twitter: @VictoriaBarret.