Pivotal's ambitious plan promises next-generation cloud computing, big data, application-development and analytics capabilities. Can it succeed?
Pivotal, the company spun out of EMC and VMware on April 1, formally announced its launch on Wednesday, unveiling a truly grand plan. In fact, if you consider all the components and ambitions, you might conclude the plan is either brilliant or crazy.
The need for Pivotal's promised "next-generation enterprise computing platform" starts with the premise that there has been a fundamental shift in IT, with Internet consumer giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon pioneering large-scale data-management approaches and rapid application-development capabilities supported by unprecedented levels of automation.
These approaches have yet to effectively reach the vast majority of companies and government agencies still mostly dependent on client-server applications built on relational databases and even mainframes, said Paul Maritz, Pivotal's CEO. What's needed, he said, is a next-era platform that can integrate with those legacy technologies.
"We have to bring together the ability to ingest large amounts of data, develop deep understanding and then do something, in real time, based on that insight," Maritz said, kicking off the launch event in San Francisco. "These kinds of applications are emerging across a wide variety of industries, but there's no easy, cost-effective way to do it on existing infrastructure and relational databases, so that's a strong hint that there's a new platform waiting to be born."
Plans for Pivotal were first announced in December, and last month Maritz detailed a business planthat foresees $1 billion in revenue by 2017. More details emerged on Wednesday along with the surprise announcement that General Electric is taking a $105 million stake in the company.
GE plans to take advantage of Pivotal's platform to power its efforts to build an industrial Internet, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt said in a prerecorded video. The manufacturer will use Pivotal's platform to capture and analyze data from smart devices such as turbines, aircraft engines, locomotives and medical equipment, he said.
"It's about smart machines, big data and analytics, and mobile workforces, and those coming together for airlines, utilities, oil and gas companies, and healthcare providers to provide great applications like no unplanned downtime, asset optimization and enterprise optimization," Immelt said.
The three key components of the Pivotal platform, which will see its first release in the fourth quarter, are an abstraction layer for cloud computing, big data infrastructure with associated real-time analytics capabilities, and an agile application development environment. The company has a head start in each of these areas, said executives, thanks to software, communities and people contributed by both EMC and VMware. The company is launching with 1,250 employees moving over from EMC and VMware.
Amazon, Microsoft and others have built out cloud services for corporations and government agencies, but Pivotal said a key need yet to be addressed is providing a layer of abstraction affording cloud users a degree of independence from any one provider. The idea is to automate the provisioning of public and private, with the public options including infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) providers such as Amazon, Microsoft and others.
"Enterprises aren't all going to want to build [or work on] consumer, Internet-scale clouds, so we're going to have to offer them choice as to which cloud they deploy their applications on," Maritz said. "We need to offer enterprises a way to automate and scale with portability across clouds, which are the modern equivalent of hardware."
Pivotal said the "cloud fabric" that will provide this capability will be based on Cloud Foundry platform-as-a-service (PaaS) software and expertise from VMware.
Pivotal's big data and analytics capabilities blend Hadoop with EMC's Greenplum database, VMware's GemFire in-memory caching technology and the HAWQ (Hadoop With Query) SQL querying capabilities recently announced as part of a coming Pivotal HD Hadoop release.
Pivotal executives have said that they're "all in on Hadoop," but with HAWQ and GemFire, they're addressing the two biggest weaknesses of the platform, which are its currently slow and limited SQL query capabilities (as supported by Hive) and the general lack of performance.
"We announced the massively parallel processing query service in Pivotal HD through HAWQ, but you can expect advances from Pivotal in real-time database processing," said Scott Yara, Pivotal's senior VP, products and platform.
The third leg of Pivotal's strategy will be built on the application development expertise of Pivotal Labs, contributed by EMC, and VMware's SpringSource unit. Spring provides a suite of software products for building, running and managing Java Web applications, and it also provides training on the open source Spring Framework for Java application development. Yara noted that three to four million developers rely on Spring for application development.
"You have to be able to easily move from development to test to production without a process-heavy approach ... and you have to provide an auto-deploy and scaling mechanism as part of the application fabric," Yara said.