Pivotal's IPO Holds Promise For The Cloud Foundry Project And The Company's Burgeoning Channel


Pivotal Software's revelation Friday of its plan to go public is almost certainly motivated by Dell Technologies' desire to start unburdening itself of the massive debt it took on when acquiring EMC.

But beyond being a valuable investment for Dell, Pivotal is also the leading corporate entity behind Cloud Foundry, an open source technology that has become pervasive in large enterprises and increasingly vital to a new breed of systems integrators.

While Pivotal was slow to embrace a channel strategy—only launching a formal program in the summer of 2016—the Cloud Foundry project has cultivated a legion of consultants focused on enabling cloud-native IT transformation.

[Related: CRN Exclusive: Accenture And Pivotal Launch New Business Unit Around Cloud Foundry]

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Nic Williams, founder and CEO of Stark & Wayne, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based Pivotal partner, said as an inaugural member of the Cloud Foundry Foundation he has no worries that Pivotal's IPO will setback the project.

"Pivotal has proven to be a remarkable steward [of Cloud Foundry] over the last half-decade," Williams told CRN.

The company has pushed a rapid release cycle, generated extensive documentation, and provided plenty of feedback on feature development. That has benefited all Cloud Foundry users—even those that are not customers of Pivotal's distribution.

Going public won't change that, according to Williams, known throughout the Cloud Foundry community as Dr. Nic.

"I don’t think you can lose that culture. I think it's hard to get that culture. It's part of their DNA," Williams said.

"We look forward to them continuing to grow so we can continue to grow," he said.

Abby Kearns, executive director of the Cloud Foundry Foundation, said she expects Pivotal to maintain its leadership role in the open source community.

"I think it’s a great opportunity for us to see what a company going public with Cloud Foundry can look like," Kearns told CRN.

Cloud Foundry, a Platform-as-a-Service offering, in recent years has become an enterprise staple. Pivotal Cloud Foundry is the leading distribution on the market with more than 300 subscribing customers.

The technology is deployed at scale across the Fortune 100, including at two of Pivotal's largest stakeholders: General Electric and Ford Motor Company.

When Pivotal was spun out of EMC and VMware in 2013, people jokingly referred to the new company as a startup, even though it had more than a thousand employees.

However, despite the unprecedented size and market influence resulting from the company's unusual origin, Pivotal did not rush to formalize a program for engaging with solution providers.

In its early days, Pivotal solutions architects would do most of the front-end work with clients through Pivotal Labs, a consulting arm, to demonstrate "the art of the possible," Nick Cayou, who lead's Pivotal's global partner ecosystem, told CRN last year.

The company eventually recognized that once some greenfield apps were deployed, clients often pointed out they had hundreds or thousands of more apps they wanted re-platformed, challenging the capacity of Pivotal Labs.

That dynamic led Pivotal to ultimately introduce a program focused less on traditional resellers, and more on fostering a network of boutique and global systems integrators. Pivotal shifted resources to training solutions architects, Cayou said, and invested in channel-building initiatives like its Platform Acceleration Lab in Boulder, CO.

Williams, of Stark & Wayne, said Pivotal came to see it needed a unique go-to-market ecosystem because of the nature of its flagship product.

With Cloud Foundry, "you're not just trying to sell them something. You're trying to change who these customers are," Williams told CRN.

At the same time, Pivotal benefitted from its powerful shareholders and the massive footprint EMC and VMware, and then Dell had in the enterprise market.

Based on the SEC filing made public Friday, those heavyweight backers will remain.

While Pivotal's stock will be publicly traded for the first time, the filing stipulates Dell will maintain controlling interest with the ability "to exercise control over all matters requiring approval by our stockholders, including the election of our directors and approval of significant corporate transactions."

The SEC filing, however, leaves blank a field that discloses what percentage of the company Dell Technologies will own after the IPO.

Pivotal will have to negotiate other complex relationships as a public company.

Microsoft is currently one of its large investors.

But last year, Pivotal partnered with Google and VMware to create Pivotal Container Service (PKS), a managed Kubernetes offering that competes directly with one offered on Microsoft's Azure cloud.