Q&A: VMware's Maritz Discusses Clouds And Fending Off Microsoft

Paul Maritz, president and CEO of VMware, sat down with Everything Channel Senior Editor Joseph F. Kovar at this week's VMworld 2008 conference in Las Vegas to talk about how VMware planned to stay ahead of Microsoft, how the channel fits in with cloud computing, the departure of former VMware President and CEO Diane Green, and much more.

How has the recent departure of (VMware co-founder and former President and CEO) Diane Green and (co-founder and former VMware Chief Scientist) Mendel Rosenblum impacted VMware?

There were a lot of people sorry to see them go. They founded the company, and had strong personal relationships with many people there. So that was difficult.

Paul Maritz

I have been spending a lot of my time trying to reach out and talk to people and convince them that the reasons that they came to VMware in the first place aren't going to change. I'm a strong believer that the kind of people who are at VMware bear similarities to the people I got to work with when I was at Microsoft in its heyday. People here are very intense, passionate people who like working on hard problems, and not just solving them, but solving them in the form of products that people can use. That will continue, and they will have an environment where they feel that they can get that work done. And I think if we can do that, we'll get through this transition and can go on to the very big challenges that we have laid out over this conference.

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VMware is a much larger company than it was even two years ago. Are we seeing a new stage of maturity at VMware?

Well, I certainly hope so, in the positive sense. I don't think we have to become, quote unquote, a big company. But, at the same time, our customers have told us very clearly that we're now a strategic partner of theirs. We have 70-plus CIOs sitting across the road at a parallel CIO event that we're running with VMworld. And the fact that they've take time out of their schedules to come here and be with us is a testimony to that. And when you have that kind of relationship with customers, you obviously have to behave at a new level of maturity. They've very clearly explained to us that they're gonna make decisions based on things that have to happen in their worlds three or four years from now. And those decisions will be based on decisions we're making now. So we better make them in full consultation with (the CIOs), and understand where they're coming from and where they're going to.

How big are their companies?

Pretty big. I just had lunch next door with the CIO of one of the big resort operators here in Las Vegas, and he has a pretty mind-blowing operation.

Oh, I'll bet. I shouldn't say I wanna bet in Las Vegas. Wrong place to say that. . . .

That's what he wants you to say. In fact, he knows how much you're betting.

Well, he ain't getting anything from me this trip...When Diane Greene left the company, does Joe Tucci's role in her departure signify a change in the VMware and EMC relationship?

(Editor's note: Tucci is chairman, president, and CEO of storage vendor EMC, which owns a majority stake in VMware. As chairman of VMware, Tucci was responsible for replacing Greene with Maritz.)

The answer is no. You can't get any simpler than that.

As you look over your shoulder at Microsoft Hyper-V and Citrix XenServer, how do you see the impact of those companies

We clearly take competition, particularly from Microsoft, very seriously. They're a very well-funded company, a very competitive company, and they have very deep technology and relationships with customers. So we obviously have to pay a lot of attention to them.

That being said, (VMware) has a great foundation and we intend to stay ahead. And I think that we have a different vision of the future than what Microsoft does.

Microsoft has a very Microsoft-centric vision of the future, and we believe that the benefits of this new layer of software that we're calling the Virtual Data Center Operating System can and should be developed and delivered in an application load in an independent fashion. People are not going to want to run just today's Windows applications, but future applications as well that may or may not involve Microsoft.

Given Microsoft's history in terms of targeting a market and often then steamrolling the competition, what's your strategy to prevent that?

Two things. One, you have to identify real needs that your customers want you to work on. And then you have to execute really well against [those needs]. I know enough about Microsoft to respect them on the one hand, but not be rolled over by them on the other hand. Microsoft has by no means won every battle that it went into.

Next: Maritz On What VMware Does Better Than Microsoft

What are those customer needs that you are looking at that you think VMware can handle, and Microsoft can't?

There are three needs that we are focused on. And we think we have something unique to bring to each of those needs.

First, how do we enable our customers to get fundamentally more efficient and flexible usage out of their computing resources? Customers articulate this as wanting to become more cloud-like, with more self-service data centers, more automatic computing, etc. But what they're really talking about is, how can they take all of their infrastructure and gang it together, figuratively speaking, to form a giant computer where they can very rapidly and effectively provision their applications on. So they want to start behaving internally more like a hosting provider to their internal customers. That is the essence of what we're trying to achieve with this new layer of software that we're calling the Virtual Data Center Operating System.

Second, those customers want down the road, at the time of their choosing and the manner of their choosing, to be able to federate the different cloud vendors. They don't want to federate just one cloud vendor. They want to be able to federate with a collection of different cloud vendors and be able to pick and choose from amongst them. And we believe that our technology can enable that as well. We call that our vCloud initiative.

Third, we believe we can use our client-side and our server-side technologies to solve what we call the "desktop dilemma," which is, do you go thick or do you go thin? People don't want to have to make that choice. They want to be able to fundamentally equip users with the applications and the information that they need, and have that combination of applications and information be available on whatever device the user is using, be it a traditional thin client device, or a laptop which is not always connected to the net, etc. We believe we can give ultimate flexibility there, and dramatically reduce our customers' desktop provisioning costs.

So those are the three big things that we're wrapping ourselves around. And we believe that if we execute well in those areas, we'll do a lot of good for our customers and be rewarded accordingly.

I have to ask you, how many times have you said those three things this week?

You know, I can't count it. And you know what? I also know that in the next year I have to keep saying them a whole lot.

So Barack Obama and John McCain have my full sympathies. As bad as I have it, they have it even worse, to say the same three things over and over and over again. But their journeys end on November 4. Mine continues for a long time.

Would you ever suggest Microsoft acquire Citrix to build up in these areas that you are talking about? More quickly than they might be able to do on their own?

That's a decision for them to make. As my mother would say, they're big enough, bad enough, and ugly enough to make that decision.

You are talking a lot about the cloud this week. As we listen to the message from you and the folks from VMware, and this is something alluded to in one of your presentations, sometimes what VMware is doing almost looks like an operating system. In fact, during a Q&A [Tuesday], you mentioned that an operating system is something that VMware could do sometime. As you start building this infrastructure, what's the difference between it and an operating system?

There are similarities and differences. There are similarities in the sense that an operating system exists to abstract applications from the underlying infrastructure. And in some sense we are doing that with our Virtual Data Center Operating System.

In this case, we have elected to draw the line in a different place. So what we abstract away from the underlying infrastructure is what we call an application load, which is a combination of a traditional operating system and the middleware and applications and so on. We're drawing the boundary in a different way than traditional operating systems draw that boundary.

You said that VMware could, if it wanted to. . . .

We could go in that direction, but we have more important things to do in the near term.

In terms of this cloud computing, where does the channel fit in? When solution providers think about service providers, they think about companies that have the potential to take control of their customers' accounts...

I think there's two opportunities for the channel. One is that medium-sized companies will need a virtual data center operating system. We need the channel to reach those customers.

But if you go below that, down to smaller customers, there are elements to the technology that are coming out of our Virtual Data Center Operating System initiative that we think will be highly relevant to even smaller customers.

One of the things [CTO Stephen Herrod] demonstrated this morning is doing full fault tolerance without any additional hardware, just taking two standardized servers and using our software to provide what you'd normally have to buy an expensive Stratus [Technologies] box or something to do. And if you think of a small company that wants to have high reliability -- and their customers' business is just as important as anyone else's customers' business -- this would be a great opportunity for them to get a highly-reliable, non-stop data center in a box. So we think there's going to be opportunities for this functionality to be sold up and down the channel.

Another thing is, we don't see the cloud as an either-or model. We see it as a federation model where some people will use it internally, some people will use it externally, some people will use a mixture of both. And I think there'll be an opportunity for the channel to not only resell product, but also resell cloud services. So they'll be a reseller, an integrator, of traditional products as well as services that are coming from cloud operators.

vClients [for VMware's virtual desktop initiative], are there any plans to work with laptop vendors or other device vendors to embed the technology in their products?

We don't have anything to announce there. But obviously we're discussing that initiative with a lot of different partners in the industry.