CRN Exclusive: Paul Maritz's Plan To Take Over Big Data

Paul Maritz

Paul Maritz, who has successfully architected and masterminded multiple disruptive technology shifts, is shooting for the stars again. But this time the stakes are bigger and the competition tougher for the onetime mainframe programmer. Maritz has charted game-changing strategies and product sets over the past 30 years that ushered in first the PC era, then the client/server era and, finally, the cloud computing revolution. This time, though, he is not only battling IT superpowers such as IBM and Oracle in a quest for big data business applications supremacy, but consumer technology behemoths such as Amazon and Google, which already have fashioned big data networks that have changed consumer shopping and information-gathering. And if that isn't enough, venture capital-backed highfliers such as Cloudera and Hortonworks are picking up steam.

But it's Amazon, with a Web services business expected to hit $3.8 billion in sales this year, that is clearly threatening to make old-guard IT behemoths also-rans in the big data business market.

As the CEO of the new EMC-VMware-backed company Pivotal, Maritz's job is to stop Amazon in its tracks and make Pivotal the platform of choice for a new generation. To make that happen, Maritz has laid out his vision for an "open, data-centric, cloud-independent platform" that includes all the building blocks you need to construct big data applications and services. The Pivotal technology vision is not just another big data strategy-even Maritz concedes that it's not for the "faint of heart." But if he is able to turn his big data dreams into market reality, it could very well be the big bang for big data. Just as Google reinvented the search experience and Amazon reinvented the shopping experience, Pivotal is determined to reinvent the business experience.

[Related: CRN Exclusive: 20 Tough Big Data Questions For Pivotal's Paul Maritz ]

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"It is not too dramatic to say that unless businesses develop these [big data business applications] capabilities in the future, they will go out of business or they'll be rendered irrelevant," said Maritz, who recently met with CRN editors at EMC's New York office. "This isn't going to happen overnight, but I do believe this is as big a shift as the big shift from mainframe to client/server. This is a new era that is starting. If you were a VAR who was a reseller of mainframe services and you were stuck on that, you probably went out of business and missed the whole client/server revolution."

Pivotal already has released Pivotal HD, a new Apache Hadoop distribution aimed at making Hadoop queries as easy as SQL database entries. But the real test of Pivotal's mettle is likely to come later this year with a new platform as both a service and an integrated suite of products that can be purchased for on-premise use by customers. "Our goal is that you will be able to get it both ways," said Maritz. "You can buy the software or you'll be able to take it as a service from a variety of providers by the end of this year."

Maritz said the time is right to move the industry beyond the past 40 years of business information technology, which primarily has been focused on automating what were paper processes on PCs, client/server networks and, finally, the Internet. "What is really different, I think now, is that enterprises or businesses are realizing that to be competitive in the future you have to be able to reach beyond just automating existing paper-based processes," he said. That means applying the same principles that Internet era disruptors Amazon, Google and Facebook used to "deal with more data and get more value out of it," he said, and applying them to deliver what heretofore were unimaginable, new business experiences.

"We think at the end of the day, big data is not just about analytics," said the soft-spoken Maritz, who shuns technology hyperbole. "It is about data-centric applications. It is about driving some experience to a customer and causing them to do things in realtime."

NEXT: The New Age Of Business IT

In Europe, for example, Pivotal is working with a company to develop "genomic" data services for doctors that has the potential to save lives based on big data algorithms. "So helping doctors very easily get insight into genetic history and correlate that with a lot of [patient] information [and data]-that would be an example of people thinking about brand-new ways of doing things going forward," he said.

For Maritz, "brand-new ways of doing things" also means not falling prey to the high-priced lock-in that defined many different eras of computing, from IBM's mainframe dominance to the onetime Microsoft operating system monopoly or even Amazon's online shopping and Web services stronghold.

"We don't want this world to be like the bad old days of the mainframe: when you wrote a COBOL CICS app you were condemned to pay IBM a tax for all eternity," said Maritz. "We don't want to make it so when you write an app in Amazon you are condemned to pay Amazon a tax for all eternity. So we think the industry has to evolve to a layer that is open and cloud-independent. That is what we are doing with Cloud Foundry, which is open and open-sourced."

Thus, Pivotal is aiming to deliver a Platform-as-a-Service on top of a wide array of Infrastructure-as-a-Service offerings from Amazon's EC2 Web Service to Microsoft's Azure and other platforms as well.

"If Infrastructure-as-a-Service is the new hardware, we are the new OS on top of it," said Maritz.

Think about the ambitiousness of that for a moment: Infrastructure-as-a-Service is the hardware. The Pivotal platform is the operating system.

No one has ever accused Maritz, who is regarded by both wizened industry veterans and young Millennials as a technology thought leader of the first order, of thinking small when it comes to tectonic technology shifts. This time around, Maritz is leading a determined group of big data super-geeks including an elite group of young hotshots from Pivotal Labs, which EMC acquired a bit more than a year ago. If you want to feel old, said Maritz, who recently gave his son the deadpan book "Dads Are The Original Hipsters," make a trip to Pivotal Labs. So how does the 58-year-old original hipster feel about climbing the technology pyramid yet again?

"Two-thirds of the time I am just amazed to have this opportunity to do what I love doing, which is working with technology and great people and working on something that really matters," said Maritz. "One-third of the time I am thinking, 'What the hell are you doing this for at age 58?' It's a hell of a deal. But at the end of the day, it is a privilege."

"Two-thirds of the time I am just amazed to have this opportunity to do what I love doing, which is working with technology and great people and working on something that really matters," said Maritz. "One-third of the time I am thinking, 'What the hell are you doing this for at age 58?' It's a hell of adeal. But at the end of the day, it is a privilege."

It's a privilege that Maritz is tackling with all of the technology smarts, chutzpah and gusto he can muster. At the heart of the Pivotal culture is a "passion" for making a bigger-than life impact on the technology landscape. "This isn't about just doing some small experiment on the side," said Maritz. "We are trying to do something that will have a huge impact on hundreds of thousands of businesses 10 years from now. There is something incredibly challenging about that but deeply satisfying as well. If that doesn't get your juices flowing, then Pivotal is not a good place for you."

NEXT: The Pivotal Plan

Maritz has his own sizable arsenal of technology assets to make his big data mark, and Pivotal is far from a pure-play startup. Maritz has gathered the best and brightest big data technology and employees from EMC and VMware, with 800 employees from EMC and 600 employees from VMware already on board. Pivotal has said it expects its current lineup of big data assets to deliver $300 million in sales this year, up an estimated 101 percent from 2012.

The company's big data technology assets include EMC's Greenplum next-generation database/analytics platform, VMware's VFabric cloud platform (including Spring and Gemfire), Cetas analytics software, the Cloud Foundry Platform-as-a-Service and, of course, the Pivotal namesake Pivotal Labs, which has a big data software development tool called Pivotal Tracker used by 240,000 developers worldwide, and a blue-ribbon big data customer list including Twitter. How many companies, by the way, get a shout-out from Twitter inventor Jack Dorsey, who has singled out Pivotal Labs for the "transformational impact" it has delivered to clients.

To make certain that "transformational impact" is brought to a much bigger business audience, EMC and VMware are investing $400 million this year and next to capture what Maritz estimates will soar from an $8 billion market opportunity today to a $20 billion market by 2017. At that point, Maritz expects Pivotal to be more than a $1 billion company.

EMC, which owns 69 percent percent of Pivotal, and VMware, which owns 31 percent, are hoping the payoff will come in the form of a lucrative initial public offering, with Pivotal dominating the big data business applications market just as VMware has dominated the server virtualization market.

The Pivotal play does, indeed, look like a replay of the server virtualization product strategy from VMware, a technology Switzerland that has worked with friend and foe of EMC to deliver what is by all accounts a blockbuster product set that reshaped the corporate virtualization and cloud computing market. Pivotal is aiming to have the same kind of volcanic market impact with its open platform.

"What we are doing is we are saying there is this new emerging opportunity and because it is different, we created a third company to go focus on it," said Maritz of the launch of Pivotal, slated for April 24. "So it is kind of playing the VMware play again. The model of this new company is Pivotal that will be wholly owned by EMC and VMware, but it will be an independent company. It will be focused on enabling these new applications. And just like VMware could work with EMC's competitors so too Pivotal can work with competitors of both VMware and EMC."

Maritz said that one of the big differences between VMware and Pivotal is that the "genius" of the VMware virtualization revolution is that it was "nondisruptive disruption" with information technology executives bringing the software in the back door to reduce the number of physical servers in an organization. Pivotal does not have that same luxury.

"This is going to have to start with applications and really understanding what businesses people are in," said Maritz, noting the importance of line-of business executives in the big data revolution. "You can't just go slide some big data [solution] in there and not tell anybody about it. So this will be a slower burn than VMware. We are not going to have the privileges that VMware had. On the other hand, in the long run, it could be even more transformative to people's real businesses in terms of really how people [do business]."

Sure, some customers for security or regulatory reasons will want to build on-premise solutions. But the true power of Pivotal is likely to be seen in a new wave of service providers building big data services for businesses. Pivotal, in fact, wants to make sure there are a "wide variety of people who are offering these capabilities as a service because one of our tenets is that these new classes of applications, these new data-centric applications we are talking about, should be cloud-independent," said Maritz. "You shouldn't have to be bound into any particular vendor's cloud for all eternity just because you wrote one of these apps."

NEXT: The Channel Challenge

Maritz has only been directing Pivotal for barely more than four months, but he is already making believers of the big data cognoscenti.

Ron Bodkin, founder and CEO of Think Big Analytics, a three-year-old Mountain View, Calif., solution provider that has an established big data solutions track record including work with Nasdaq on an Amazon public cloud project, said a number of large customers already are adopting the Pivotal technology for big data solutions. "It's resonating with companies that are looking to have a large trusted supplier stand behind big data with an end-to-end solution," said Bodkin. "We have seen a number of large enterprises that have made major decisions to move with it, but there is certainly a lot of adoption with alternatives that have been on the market longer [too]."

EMC and VMware's decision to create a separate company with a huge investment has allowed Pivotal to move faster to capture the big data opportunity than other old-guard IT infrastructure giants, said Bodkin. "It's a good business strategy," he said. "It's a response to the innovator's dilemma in large companies where the field sales teams know traditional technologies and they make more money selling them so they tend to emphasize that even if there is a new product like an Hadoop distribution or an [Hadoop] appliance. Pivotal is a whole business focused on this new opportunity. It's important to have focus in this new market to be successful. It's definitely a situation where you need to have that kind of bold sponsorship to create value. The challenge is that the laser-focused, innovative startups are moving really fast. You've got an interesting fight between companies with more resources and bigger organizations versus nimble, laser-focused startups. The winner here is ultimately the customers, which are going to get the best results from the innovation that comes from the competition."

EMC and VMware partners that up until now have looked at the big data opportunity as a holy grail of sorts are putting in place strategies to win in what is being hailed as the next major paradigm shift in information technology. To make sure that the Pivotal partner initiative gets traction, the company has brought over Scott Aronson, a 10-year VMware veteran and the driving force behind building out the VMware channel during an unprecedented era of partner sales growth, into the top Pivotal channel sales role.

Ron Dupler, CEO of GreenPages Technology Solutions, a Kittery, Maine-based national cloud computing solution provider and onetime VMware Partner of the Year, said he views Pivotal as a "logical extension" of the GreenPages business strategy. "This is an extension of the revolution under way from product-centric or infrastructure-centric business models, moving up the value layer of information technology, which is about applications, data and businesses processes. In my opinion, this is the transformation that everyone in our channel is ultimately going to have to make. From our standpoint, Pivotal is a really good bet. They have proven technology coming from VMware and EMC, and Paul is a great steward for this initiative. He is a brilliant business strategist, a thought leader in a new, very exciting space with lots of opportunity. Hopefully, he can do for big data what he did for virtualization and cloud computing at VMware."

NEXT: From Presales to Delivery

Dupler said he has seen firsthand just what kind of impact Maritz had at VMware after he took the helm in 2008. "At that point, virtualization had become a really important strategic technology but it was very much about server consolidation, what I would call tactical infrastructure management imperatives reducing costs, improving IT efficiency and driving server consolidation," he said. "Paul provided incredible thought leadership on the power and potential of virtualization to power IT and drive a hybrid cloud architecture and what that means to businesses. He's a very creative strategic thinker who I am sure will do a great job at Pivotal."

The key to success for solution providers is to continue to invest heavily in top technologists. Dupler has often said that GreenPages' true product is its technical talent-from presales to delivery. That talent now makes up about 50 percent of the company's employee population, compared with only 20 percent four years ago. The trend toward a higher percentage of channel talent focused on consulting and professional services will continue in the big data era, said Dupler.

"We see ourselves becoming a pure-play cloud services company," he said. "We have actually structured the organization to drive in that direction behind LogicsOne [a cloud computing consulting organization GreenPages acquired in 2012]. We understand how to run a successful professional services and consulting organization. We have those business processes down. For us, making the move into big data is an investment in new talent. For anybody going to enter this market they have to realize they are going to have to invest in some really critical talent. Technology is one component, but integrating and using technology properly with an expertise to achieve business goals is the key. That takes smart people."

The challenge for solution providers is going to be investing in the big data opportunity even as they are still making the cloud computing shift. Those still heavily focused on infrastructure plays with traditional IT vendors could have a hard time. Said one CEO for a large national solution provider, who did not want to be identified for fear of ranking his solution provider colleagues: "This is too complex for a lot of companies in this space today unless they really specialize and rally around the opportunity. This is another layer of complexity. You are going to see a new channel arise, and not everyone is going to make it."

NEXT: The Coming Battle With Amazon

If there is any doubt as to just how big an impact Amazon is having in the corporate market, it came through loud and clear at the VMware partner conference earlier this year when VMware President and COO Carl Eschenbach rallied partners to take the fight to Amazon. "I look at this audience and I look at VMware and the brand reputation that we have in the enterprise, and I find it really hard to believe that we cannot collectively beat a company that sells books," taunted Eschenbach. "That is our challenge." It is, of course, now the challenge for Pivotal, which is grappling with a growing Amazon Web Services presence in corporate America.

Chris Lynch, a big data entrepreneur and now a partner in the technology group of Boston-based venture capital firm Atlas Venture, credits Maritz for a "bold" and "big" vision, but points out that Amazon is already executing in the big data market with a "proprietary" Web services technology. "Amazon is clearly ahead from a business model technology standpoint," said Lynch, the former CEO of Vertica Systems, which was acquired by Hewlett-Packard two years ago. "I have had experience with Amazon in my Vertica life. They have got one of the top three computer science departments in the world inside their company. I would not underestimate them."

Lynch points out that EMC failed to stop Amazon with its Atmos object-based Web storage service and Greenplum has not exactly set the world on fire. "The question is, is Pivotal able to execute on this big disruptive [Pivotal] cloud OS vision?" he asked. "I agree with that vision. Someone is going to do it, but is the accumulation of Greenplum and the other [Pivotal] technologies the equivalent of the land of misfit toys? I know what Amazon can do. They are off-the-charts smart. They have already done what these guys are talking about."

All that said, Lynch, whose venture capital bets include next-generation big data upstarts including Sqrrl, a multitenant big data cloud database rumored to be used by the National Security Agency to track down Osama bin Laden, applauds EMC and VMware for establishing Pivotal as a beachhead in the big data war. "What they are saying is they are going to cannabilize traditional IT infrastructure and deliver a product in the cloud," he said. "They are going to eat their own before Amazon and Google do. That strategy is spot on. The stand that EMC and VMware are taking is smart. Amazon and Google are the new competition for enterprise IT. I like what they are doing, rolling the dice on 33 black and trying to win. I'm not saying they can't do it. The question is, how are they going to execute and what lessons have they learned when they went after the cloud business with Atmos a couple of years ago?"

Lynch is one of many big data entrepreneurs who credits Amazon with delivering a game-changing platform. One top executive for a big data startup that uses Amazon Web Services said Amazon has made it extremely easy to spin up big data services, especially with the February release of Amazon Redshift, a data warehousing service being touted as a lower-cost big-data-ready alternative to traditional enterprise data warehouses. "I think at the very least Pivotal and others are playing fast followers, and that is being generous," said the executive, who asked not to be named. "Amazon has a full stack in the cloud, which requires you to only log in and start spinning things up."

The big data executive credits Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for building out a "mind-blowing" platform by insisting early on that the company's programmers open up the company's Web services platform with APIs. That put Amazon in the position to deliver the Web services platform of choice. "That was brilliant," said the executive. "That laid the foundation for the Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure. That changed the game. The results speak for them themselves. It was a brilliant move, and now Amazon is reaping the benefits."

NEXT: The Maritz Factor

Whatever benefits Amazon has reaped from its early Web services innovation, all the big data participants acknowledge that it is only the first inning of the big data game. What's more, they say, the ability to rally service providers and corporate customers to build big data business services and applications on a new platform should not be underestimated. Maritz has, in fact, already proved he can make it happen multiple times-with independent software developers building applications on Microsoft's Windows and Windows Server and then at VMware getting service providers to deploy VMware clouds.

"Maritz is a change agent brought in to literally attack the new decentralized business leader model and provide business units with an open choice on how to consume and manage their data," said Jamie Shepard, regional vice president, North America for Lumenate, a Dallas-based national solution provider making a significant investment in the big data arena. "Maritz is not a hardware person. He grew up as a Burroughs COBOL programmer. The first keyboard he touched was to write custom code to help an end user. He's all about creating something end users need to run their business. He's all about end-user experience, ease of use and producing business results. At Pivotal he is going back to his roots, which is helping end users make money.

"Customers want choice," said Shepard. "And business unit leaders demand choice. At Lumenate we call it 'business model flexibility.' That is what Pivotal and Maritz are going to bring to big data applications. Maritz knows the only way he will be successful is if the business leader is successful. Maritz grew up in a consumer-driven IT world. Now he's providing new consumer-like experiences for businesses as if they are consumers, which they are."

John Thompson, a 41-year industry veteran who was formerly the CEO of Symantec and now is at the helm of Virtual Instruments, a San Jose, Calif.-based infrastructure performance management company, said anyone betting against Maritz is going to come up a loser. He credited Maritz with an uncanny ability to craft a technology vision and get it executed with "real product, real service and people capable of articulating and making it happen. People love to follow a winner, and Paul is a winner. He is going to get a lot of people who want to be on his team.

"He is one brilliant, brilliant guy," continued Thompson. "If he has an idea I wouldn't bet against him. Look at the track record. He put Microsoft on the map with all the work he did around Windows Server and all the enterprise stuff Microsoft has now. By the way, that is the strongest and fastest-growing part of Microsoft's business today. That is the legacy of Paul Maritz today. Look at VMware. [VMware co-founders] Diane Green and her husband Mendel [Rosenblum] were brilliant people. But the real afterburners that got VMware going was when Paul Maritz went in and said, 'This is how we are going to focus and drive growth in this company.' He did a brilliant job. Odds are he is going to be pretty doggone good at Pivotal given his track record. I would never bet against Paul Maritz."

Maritz, ever the humble technologist, doesn't hesitate when asked if Pivotal represents a so-called pivotal moment in the computer industry. "I would like to think that 10 years from now, we could look back and you and I could rub our bellies," he said. "But nothing is guaranteed in life. That is one of the hardest things I have learned: It takes a lot of hard work."