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Maritz's VMware Legacy Defies Doubters

Maritz's competitive style led VMware to dominance in virtualization. You can bet that his new role as EMC chief strategy officer won't be a ceremonial one.
Maritz changed the youthful culture of VMware, maturing it, and giving it a harder business edge. The ability of the ESX Server host to do work expanded with the rapid expansion of server CPU power, and Maritz sought to require customers to pay for value by charging on a basis of the virtual machine or virtual workload, not the physical CPU.

It was Maritz's most controversial move, and it angered large virtualization customers. Those companies were accustomed to seeing their VMware software licenses accomplish more and more work at a regularly diminishing, per unit of work, rates. Maritz backed off that change, but only slightly--increasing the threshold that leads to higher prices, which essentially just delayed the price increase for many.

Gartner predicts that, five years from today, the typical data center will be 86% virtualized. By then, many vendors will have adopted per virtual machine or memory-per-virtual-workload pricing, as Maritz pioneered at VMware. The use of physical devices as the measure of value will have become hopelessly outdated. But until then, other vendors are happy to see VMware take the lead in this transition. A Microsoft spokesman last fall said Microsoft would stick to per-CPU pricing and began referring to VMware's "v-tax."

In an unusually open interview, Maritz told the Korn Ferry publication, Briefings, that no single executive, including himself possessed all the traits needed to run a modern company. In his own case, he was unsparing: "I'm a coward, I hate to say. I hate confrontation. I'll do everything I can to avoid it. I need somebody on the leadership team who forces me to come to grips with those issues."

That matches EMC Chairman Joe Tucci's description of Maritz during an analyst briefing Tuesday as "probably the most selfless, mild mannered executive that I have ever worked with." But Maritz embodies a contradiction: behind that polite and considerate exterior, he has a keen appreciation of technology, and he's driven to an extreme to never lose a technology race.

As cowards go, there are probably few more feared and respected than Maritz in the tech world.

Proponents of OpenStack and CloudStack, two open-source software systems for running cloud-based data centers, say VMware's relentless drive to dominate the data center is their real foe, not another cloud company. Xen open source proponents at Citrix Systems were driven into the arms of (and an alliance with) Microsoft because they could make so little headway against VMware's broad acceptance.

Systems management vendors like HP, BMC Software and CA Technologies must wonder how much of the systems management field will be left for them if the data center continues to virtualize, and they can't disrupt VMware's drive to manage all virtualized systems. Maritz has moved VMware into a position where its uses virtualization know-how to re-organize how the data center is run.

It's not clear how the executive changes and new dynamic at VMware and EMC will play out. Maritz the competitor remains a dangerous adversary to those who think he's removed from the stage. It seemed strange, at first, that Tucci would bind the wings of such a successful CEO and send him upstairs to a vague strategy role. Is Tucci crazy? The transition from Greene to Maritz seemed crazy at the time, but it proved to be the right move.

From the upper corporate offices, Maritz, the technology visionary, is going to gain a wider view. The data center of the future isn't about consolidated virtual servers but flexible, configurable, constantly shifting resources of all types--servers, storage, networking. It will take a lot more work to get networking, storage, I/O processes, and all the underlying hardware integrated into the "software-defined data center."

For Maritz, chief technology strategy officer isn't a placeholder courtesy role, it's a full time job with what he describes as "hands-on, day to day responsibilities" for the success of his chosen technology initiatives. I don't know what that means exactly, but I wouldn't bet against him.

Expertise, automation, and silo busting are all required, say early adopters of private clouds. Also in the new, all-digital Private Clouds: Vision Vs. Reality issue of InformationWeek: How to choose between OpenStack and CloudStack for your private cloud. (Free with registration.)