Can Pivotal Initiative partnership successfully merge scattered open source code with proprietary code for next-gen cloud apps?
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EMC and VMware are forming a new joint business unit, the Pivotal Initiative, with EMC chief strategy officer Paul Maritz as its head. It will include 1,400 employees, 600 from VMware and 800 from EMC. Maritz is the former CEO of VMware.
The joint entity will take a combination of open source code and proprietary code owned by the two companies and combine it into a software stack designed to engage developers building next-generation cloud applications, a goal that's in the long-term interests of both companies, according to a blog posted on the initiative.
Included will be a key piece of VMware's vCloud Suite called vFabric, which provides application data caching and deployment capabilities; also, the Spring lightweight Java development framework and VMware's open source Cloud Foundry development hosting service. They can be combined with the analytics capabilities of EMC's Greenplum open source data warehouse. At the same time, other parts of the VMware's vCloud Suite, such as vCloud Director for orchestrating pooled resources, remained off the agenda.
The initiative also gets its name from Pivotal Labs, acquired by EMC last May. The San Francisco firm provides software to manage the agile development process. If EMC can help developers build applications with modern techniques, it's in a better position to move out of its data storage role into one more oriented toward enterprise use of data.
But it's not clear from a single blog posting what EMC and VMware have in mind. They issued only a vague statement about its ultimate goal: "We are experiencing a major change in the wide-scale move to cloud computing, which includes both infrastructural transformation and transformation of how applications will be built and used, based on cloud, mobility and big data," wrote Terry Anderson, VP of corporate global communications in comments posted to The Console Blog, an outlet for the VMware executive team.
It's not news that enterprise IT is experiencing "a major change" from cloud. The announcement left unsaid how the new unit will navigate the change differently from the ways EMC and VMware have so far. It was also hard to explain why such a seemingly far-reaching announcement came from a little-known source. Instead of a posting by Maritz, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger or CTO Steve Herrod, it was made by Anderson, who had put her name to few previous announcements.
EMC isn't putting its top guns on the record behind Pivotal yet. Asked for more detail, a spokesman said only, "The company has no additional comment at this time." It's possible Maritz's more direct, authoritative voice will weigh in during the second quarter of 2013, when "a specific operational structure [still] to be determined" will be established, Anderson's blog stated.
"The Pivotal Initiative signals an entirely new level of focused investment and organization to maximize the impact that these assets can have for customers and EMC's path forward," Anderson's statement continued.
One question is whether the new entity is being formed to produce products and become a profit center or satisfy some other need -- for instance, lead in open source development crucial to the company's future, OpenStack, or conduct R&D. Given the headcount, it appears it will have to become a profit center.
Also, a new entity that separates VMware from potentially competing open source projects, such as OpenStack, would give everybody a little more breathing room. There's little doubt vSphere 5, vCenter Operations Management and vCloud Suite remain proprietary products. If you have a jump on others in building the software-defined data center why give it up?
The Pivotal Initiative, on the other hand, could provide a more open, outward-facing developer platform that includes, as part of its credo, contributing to projects. It might have noted open source spokesmen, such as Spring leader Rod Johnson, former Hyperic CEO Javier Soltero or Martin Casado, composer of the OpenFlow spec and CTO of VMware's Nicira networking unit. No reason why the initiative's software couldn't maintain well-defined links and integration ties to the proprietary products.
Still, part of the initiative is clearly product-oriented. Some open source projects in VMware have yet to be productized or monetized, such as Cloud Foundry. If services can allow analytics to be built into a next-generation application, then project leaders are more likely to consider an enterprise version of Cloud Foundry. The new unit may assemble a free stack of next-generation, cloud-application-building code, add for-fee services, then bring out an enterprise version that is supported and does more -- for a price.
Most likely, the Pivotal Initiative will be designed to assemble tools and software for the rapid development of applications that work either inside or outside the enterprise data center. The new breed of cloud applications is expected to operate in a hybrid-manner, VMware-virtualized environment interacting with Amazon Web Services or an OpenStack public cloud.
In September, VMware joined the OpenStack Foundation, even though two of the foundation's board members voted no, considering VMware's interests to be contrary to the open source code project's. VMware's Casado says the two are not at odds. VMware will want the virtualized data center to interoperate with sources outside it, he said.
EMC employees moving into the unit will come out of its Greenplum and Pivotal labs organizations. Employees from VMware will come from its vFabric, Spring, Gemfire, Cloud Foundry and Cetas units.
EMC and VMware are two companies with rapidly expanding horizons. They are potentially positioned to take advantage of the changes underfoot, but they need to harness both proprietary and open source energies to get to where they want to go. Few big companies have executed this high-wire act. We'll soon see how well they can do it.
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