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Pivotal CEO Maritz Denies Any Knowledge Of VMware's Project Zephyr

Pivotal Initiative CEO says he has "no idea" what VMware's Project Zephyr IaaS is, but according to sources, he was the main driver of the VMware-run IaaS initiative.

Remember Project Zephyr, the VMware-managed public cloud infrastructure-as-a-service that was said to have been one of former CEO Paul Maritz's pet projects? Maritz, now CEO of the VMware-EMC joint venture called the Pivotal Initiative, apparently doesn't have any recollection of it.

"I have no idea what Project Zephyr is," Maritz told CRN in a recent interview when asked for an update on Project Zephyr.

Project Zephyr, which first came to light last August, was supposed to mark VMware's entry to the public cloud IaaS space. It was also seen as a warning shot to VMware service provider partners that had been dragging their feet on deploying vCloud Director.

[Related: Maritz: Pivotal Platform Will Sidestep Amazon 'Tax' For Big Data Apps ]

VMware has never commented publicly on Project Zephyr or confirmed that it exists. But, sources told CRN it runs on VMware-owned and managed infrastructure at SuperNAP, the gargantuan 400,000-square-foot data center in Las Vegas. SuperNAP is also home to Cloud Foundry, the platform-as-a-service that's now part of the Pivotal Initiative.

As CEO of VMware, Maritz drove the vendor's cloud services efforts at SuperNAP, sources told CRN. At VMware Partner Exchange in 2012, Maritz joked with partners about the cloak of secrecy surrounding Project Zephyr.

"He was very proud of that site -- he even referred to the links coming in and out as 'to Area 51' and 'from Area 51'," said the source who was at the event, who requested anonymity. Area 51 is a top secret Air Force base in Nevada where conspiracy theorists believe the government is hiding evidence of UFOs.

Built on VMware's vCloud Director and vCenter Operations management software, EMC storage gear and Cisco's Unified Computing System (UCS), Project Zephyr was once considered a major strategy shift for VMware, which had previously stayed out of the public cloud and yielded the market to service provider partners.

Partners were alarmed by the prospect of competing directly with VMware, but their fears turned out to be unfounded, as Project Zephyr has morphed into something different from existing public cloud offerings.

VMware has rolled Project Zephyr into its Hybrid Cloud Evaluation, sources familiar with the matter told CRN. The service, formerly known as the vCloud Service Evaluation, lets customers take a "test drive" on a VMware-powered public cloud, which VMware says is run by an anonymous service provider partner.

NEXT: VMware's New Hybrid Cloud Campaign

VMware last month launched a free 90-day trial of the Hybrid Cloud Evaluation but ran into account provisioning delays due to high demand. Despite the glitches, VMware needs a horse in the public cloud race as it works on its Hybrid Cloud Service, one partner told CRN.

"If VMware shuts down Zephyr, they won't have a place in public cloud, and that would lead to a perception that they are behind," said the source, who requested anonymity because he's not allowed to comment on confidential VMware projects. "With the Hybrid Cloud Evaluation, VMware is showing they have the capability to compete and build an audience."

VMware is also working on vCloud Hybrid Service, an offering slated to arrive in the second quarter that extends its on-premise management, orchestration, networking and security model to the public cloud. VMware says vCloud Hybrid Service and the Hybrid Cloud Evaluation are two different projects, though both are clearly aimed at giving the vendor a larger presence in the public cloud IaaS market.

Maritz often talks about taking calculated risks to establish a foothold in an emerging market, but Project Zephyr looks like a classic case of VMware playing catch-up. As CEO of the Pivotal Initiative, Maritz's goals are very different and much more future-looking.

Maritz is now looking to build an open cloud platform for big data and other emerging applications, which will sit on top of IaaS offerings like Project Zephyr and others.

So even if Maritz did remember Project Zephyr, he probably wouldn't have any spare cycles to spend thinking about it. "We think of infrastructure-as-a-service as the new hardware," he told CRN in the recent interview. "If infrastructure-as-a-service is the new hardware, we are the new OS on top of it."


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