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

Maritz In The Spotlight

Paul Maritz, the CEO of Pivotal, the ambitious new big data venture from EMC and VMware, spoke with CRN Editor News Steven Burke about the company's plans to build an "open, data-centric, cloud-independent platform" for building big data applications and services. Here are 20 tough questions that Maritz tackled as the new EMC-VMware venture moves aggressively to snuff out Amazon Web Services' market momentum.

Also, check out the entire CRN exclusive interview with Maritz.

Do you see Amazon as the No. 1 competitor?

They are one of the competitors. I think there are going to be a bunch of competitors. The competition is going to come from two sources: one is we are not the only ones seeing this change happening. So you are increasingly hearing IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, all talking the Big Data talk. So they are going to try to evolve in that direction. How successful they will be history will show. But there are going to be new entrants as well.

Those new entrants some of them will be service based like Amazon. Others will be software based like Cloudera and Hortonworks and others. And there are many more. The VC community senses the continents shifting here so they are buying lottery tickets like crazy.

Is Pivotal going to supply this big data technology as an on-premise product or as a service like Google so I don't have to invest in all the infrastructure?

Our vision is both. We think, for a long time, particularly larger customers -- for regulatory reasons, privacy reasons, whatever -- are going to do the stuff on premise. So you have to have the ability to give them this layer of software on premise, but also work with service providers to make sure that 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. You shouldn't have to be bound into any particular vendor's cloud for all eternity just because you wrote one of these apps.

What distinguishes this new generation of [big data] computing?

It is a new class of applications that are characterized by needing to look at much bigger data sets, deal[ing] with real-time data, and being able to react in real time to that data -- so bigger data sets that are coming from more sources, ... from both structured and unstructured sources, ... from sources both inside your enterprise and outside your enterprise, and then data that is arriving in large quantities very quickly where you have to react to it in real time and then be able to build experiences that drive that. So it is a new class of applications where you want to be using much larger data sets and data that is constantly coming in and reacting in real time.

What does the Pivotal launch mean for the industry at large and the channel?

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. For the last 30 or 40 years, the industry has really been about replacing paper mail with email, replacing paper forms with Web forms, replacing bookkeeping with general ledger systems and ERP systems, etc. By and large, that is no longer differentiating [companies]. That is not where competitive value is going to come from in the future.

Talk about why EMC and VMware decided to create a new company to tackle big data.

EMC and VMware's messages will continue to be an extension of the messages that they have been giving to their channel partners today. That doesn't go away.

So, you will have software-defined networking, software-defined storage. That is the EMC and VMware journey. That is going to continue to be highly relevant to the channel. What we are doing is we are saying "There is this new emerging opportunity, and because it is different, we are going to create a third company to go focus on it."

So it is kind of playing the VMware play again. So, the model of this new company Pivotal is that it 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 Pivotal can work with competitors of both VMware and EMC.

What is the advantage of attacking it as a startup with EMC and VMware backing you?

We are trying to, you know, have the best of both worlds, which is to have a good base to start from. So we are starting with [a relatively] good technology base and a good people base and the backing of strong parents who have proven that they take the long view of things and are willing to be there to support us.

We are also trying to have an element of the startup culture. We are saying we are going to be our own entity, have our own DNA, our own currency to reward people, etc. So in some sense, it is an interesting experiment in corporate governance.

What is the Pivotal culture?

Passion. Passion for doing interesting and meaningful things that scale. This isn't about just doing some small experiment on the side. 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.

It is not by accident that we are taking the Pivotal name from Pivotal Labs. It is because we think they embody some very good cultural things about working as a team, working in an agile fashion, setting things up so that you can get quick feedback and adapt very quickly.

Are you going to be the VMware of big data, cloud agnostic, database agnostic and be an open approach to this market ala VMware?

We certainly hope so. This is a little more complicated than VMware was. VMware started as a very simple value proposition, which is to go from having four physical servers to one. And, nothing changed in your world. So the genius of VMware, as we like to say, is it was nondisruptive disruption.

This isn't going to be that way. This is going to have to start with applications and really understanding what businesses people are in. 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.

Who is the ideal customer?

The interesting thing is that it ranges across industries, ranging from people who want to deliver a very specific service like giving you real-time traffic information on the one hand all the way through large companies wanting to control electricity generating turbines. So it is really being able to close the loop between lots of historical information and lots of real-time information. The real-time information is what has been missing. By definition, in the paper-based world, it wasn't real time.

What is your strategy with regard to working with new emerging developers and partners?

As with all [new] things, you try and work with thought leaders initially. You don't want to go to the people who have inherent resistance or inertia. You want to go to people who get it. And then nothing succeeds like success. So you want to work with people who get this and then show "Look here is the case where it is really yielding transformative benefits."

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 are stuck on that, you probably went out of business and missed the whole client server revolution. And, new people who kind of got client server rose up.

Who are the thought leader customers you are working with right now?

We are increasingly talking to a combination of customers who have internal groups who are innovative and thinking again of how to transform their technologies. We are working with divisions inside larger companies who are saying 'We need to take these types of capabilities and transform.'

Line of business is driving it, and IT [departments are] supporting it, saying this is absolutely what you need to do. The other thing is there is an emerging class of true value-added people/ISVs [independent software vendors] who are looking at building radically different solutions.

One that I know we are working with in Europe is a company that is developing genomic data services for doctors and hospitals. So helping doctors very easily get insight into genetic history and correlate that with a lot of information.

Is Pivotal more of a systems integrator or a technology provider?

At the end of the day, we intend to be a platform provider. I hesitate to use the word because it isn't a really good analogy: "We want to provide the operating system for the cloud era." If you want to reduce that: We want to provide a data-centric platform as a service capability. That is what I mean by operating system.

We have elements today. We announced Pivotal HD, which is this kind of really market-leading large data analytics technology that builds off the Hadoop and HDFS standards. So we have elements. By the end of this year, we want to pull it together into an integrated suite -- a platform.

Can you give an example of a big data customer engagement that shows how Pivotal shines?

We are having a lot of very interesting discussions. We have customers coming at us with use cases, and quite frankly I feel like the dog that caught the bus right now because there is such demand for this kind of capability.

People are coming out of the woodwork with this extraordinary interest in use cases. The reality is we have got to go make that a reality. So I hope a year from now, two years from now, there will be some really interesting stuff [we have done].

What percentage of your time are you spending on the technical vs. the marketing/sales challenges?

There are technical challenges. I don't want to minimize those, but we have good people and it is a question of time until they get it sorted out.

The marketing and sales channels are the bigger ones, quite frankly, because [as] you mentioned there [are] at least two of them: One is these are early days, so how do you help develop this market without running out of funds in the interim. As we said, this is not for the faint of heart. We announced this is going to take, over the next two years or so, at least $400 million worth of investment. So you really have got to believe in this one.

Is this the biggest bet that EMC and VMware have made?

You could argue the [acquisition of software-defined networking player] Nicera was even bigger because that was a $1.26 billion bet. It comes out of a different pocket. They are both big bets.

The other [big challenge] is the business model: this issue of software and service and how will this be priced. And we need partners to make this happen so the market development of all of this is a big challenge.

How critical is the Intel processor component for these new big applications and services?

The new generation of hardware, by that I mean the new infrastructure-level clouds, most of which are based on Intel processors, are critical. Because when you are trying to do things, as I said at a level of scale, automation and cost effectiveness, you need a new generation of infrastructure to do that. And that infrastructure is going to be cloud and x86 based.

You show me one consumer cloud that is built on [IBM] Pure or [Oracle] Exadata or [IBM] Z Series or anything else. If you want to be informed, go and look at what the consumer guys have done. They point to the future.

How big of an investment are solution providers going to need to make in big data to be successful?

You are going to have to make an investment in educating yourself. And, it is going to be a while before you see a return on that investment.

So, they are going to have to make an investment, I think, both in terms of getting to know their customers better in terms of developing vertical expertise and in terms of understanding the underlying technologies. At the end of the day, what are they going to get paid for? They are going to get paid because somebody needs to connect the customer's problem to the underlying platform. That is what the value-added channel needs to be.

Do you have the technology you need to get this done?

We certainly have all of the initial critical pieces we need and the people to do that. Will we need to make some more technology acquisitions? Probably. But right now, for the first generation, we have everything we need.

How long will it be before we see the big data business transformation?

The next one to three years are going to be the early stages. But, certainly by 10 years from now the transformation will be very profound. So the good news is you have got time [to make the big data business transformation]. But at the end of the day, if you want to stay relevant, it is not going to be optional.

How does it feel moving into this role driving this new big data initiative?

Two-thirds of the time I am just, you know, 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. One-third of the time I am thinking "What the hell are you doing this for at age 58?" It's a helluva deal. But at the end of the day, it is privilege.