Gelsinger Taking Over VMware As Storage, Virtualization Come To A Crossroads

Pat Gelsinger's move to take over as head of VMware comes at a time when both VMware and its parent company, storage king EMC, are both taking major steps to bring the two companies' technologies, if not their strategies, closer together.

Gelsinger's appointment as CEO of VMware, first reported by CRN Monday night, appears to serve the dual purpose of helping VMware expand its footprint in the storage industry while ensuring Gelsinger remains a contender for eventually taking over the reins at EMC.

Gelsinger brings to VMware arguably one of the most solid IT technology resumes available.

[Related: VMware Blockbuster: Maritz Out As CEO After Four-Year Tenure ]

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This is a well-deserved opportunity for Gelsinger to take a role at the top, said Steve Kaplan, vice president of virtualization and cloud at Presidio, a Houston-based solution provider and partner to EMC and VMware. "It's a great opportunity for him. And a great opportunity for VMware. Not only that, he's a down-to-earth guy. That's not common in this industry. Pat Gelsinger is unusual in his accessibility and in helping the channel."

During his tenure as COO and president of EMC's Information Infrastructure Products division, Gelsinger became known as one of the most technically-astute executives in the storage industry. His on-stage presence at EMC customer and channel events was second to that only of his boss, EMC Chairman and CEO Joe Tucci.

Prior to joining EMC in late 2009, Gelsinger was senior vice president and co-general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, a group that accounted for over half of Intel's annual revenue and was responsible for Intel's enterprise products including products for PCs, servers, embedded systems, communications, visualization and storage. Gelsinger had been widely expected to be in line to succeed Paul Otellini as president and CEO of Intel.

EMC declined to comment.

Gelsinger brings those two backgrounds together at VMware, a company that in many ways is at the center of an IT industry in the early phase of a massive shift towards cloud computing.

Gelsinger in May at EMC World said that the company will have virtual versions of all its arrays in the future, including for Isilon and VNX, as well as virtual versions of storage-related appliances such as RecoverPoint and Vplex, with the first versions starting to appear in 2013.

NEXT: Bringing Storage, Virtualization Together In The Cloud

Gelsinger also told CRN in an interview shortly before his move to VMware became known that EMC plans eventually to offer virtual machine versions of all its storage systems that can be run on industry-standard servers. Such a move would make it easier to run applications in a cloud instead of moving the data to the application.

EMC plans to start demonstrating capabilities next year that allow customers to run virtual machines inside of storage arrays, Gelsinger said.

"This allows you to say, 'Hey, the data is, like, really big and really hard to move around," he said. "So why don't I move that comparatively light application right over to the big heavy data, and run it as close as I can to the data.'"

As EMC in 2013 starts introducing those capabilities in its arrays, it will be pushing the industry to question whether such devices are storage arrays or app arrays with a lot of storage next to them, Gelsinger said. "And we'll redefine how we'll start thinking about the components in the data center in the process," he said.

EMC will start supporting this capability next year, and in the next two years will have it generally available across all of its product lines, he said.

The move to bring Gelsinger into the top role at VMware also raises the profile of Gelsinger at a time when EMC is considering who will eventually replace Tucci as chairman and CEO of the parent company.

Gelsinger was one of four EMC executives often mentioned as heirs-apparent when Tucci resigns, perhaps at the end of 2013. With the move to head VMware, his profile rises at the same time as that of a couple of other key EMC executives, including Vice Chairman William "Bill" Teuber and President of Global Sales and Customer Operations Bill Scannell. Teuber and Scannell, along with several other executives, were promoted by EMC last week.

Solution providers close to EMC and VMware praised the move and said that Gelsinger deserves the opportunity to lead VMware.

One solution provider, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the Gelsinger move could be seen either as EMC reeling VMware back into the company or as EMC giving VMware more freedom to expand its technology.

"Putting EMC's former high priest in VMware, what does it mean?," the solution provider said. "Is EMC integrating further into VMware? Or is it showing Gelsinger making VMware more independent?"

Presidio's Kaplan thinks it's the latter.

"Remember that [former VMware CEO Paul] Maritz came from EMC," Kaplan said. "I don't see anything ominous in the new guy coming from EMC to replace the old guy."

NEXT: Making VMware Stronger With Gelsinger

EMC will still be hands-off with VMware, Presidio's Kaplan said. "I don't see EMC making VMware captive of EMC," he said. "EMC of course wants to leverage VMware's technology, just like all companies do. But I suspect VMware will stay independent. It has to stay agnostic to storage."

By moving Gelsinger to run VMware, EMC is letting VMware continue to develop its technology in a storage-agnostic fashion, said Jamie Shepard, executive vice president of technology solutions at ICI, a Marlborough, Mass.-based partner of both EMC and VMware.

"I like Gelsinger," Shepard said. "I like his attitude. Where he has been, what he was exposed to at EMC, will be good for VMware. While on the road, Gelsinger is comfortable talking technology roadmaps, and has gotten a lot of attention at EMC. And that's all good for VMware."