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EMC's Pivotal Plan: Brilliant Or Crazy?

Pivotal's ambitious plan promises next-generation cloud computing, big data, application-development and analytics capabilities. Can it succeed?
With independence, Pivotal will be free to work with IaaS providers, such as Amazon and Microsoft, that might not have partnered with EMC or VMware, Maritz said. Independence helped VMware, where Maritz was the longtime CEO, move out from under EMC's wing, growing from a $635 million acquisition in 2004 into a separate company now valued at $32 billion.

Parent firms EMC and VMware are clearly hoping for a repeat growth story, but in going after so many aspects of enterprise computing, Pivotal is likely to make plenty of enemies. Fostering cloud independence, for example, isn't likely to endear Amazon or other cloud providers. And in the Hadoop arena, Pivotal's go-in-alone plans for HAWQ SQL querying and real-time performance with GemFire have competitors questioning Pivotal's use of Hadoop.

"What appears to be missing from [Pivotal's] strategy is real participation in the Apache Hadoop community, and more specifically, development in the open source projects like [the Hadoop Distributed File System] that are the foundation of their solution," said Cloudera CEO Mike Olson in an statement emailed to InformationWeek.

EMC has not made much headway as a Hadoop distributor through Greenplum, and, meanwhile, Cloudera and others are also working on fixes for Hadoop's flaws. Cloudera, for one, developed Impala for SQL querying on Hadoop, a project that is currently in beta.

Pivotal faces the complexity of coordinating multiple EMC- and VMware-derived products that weren't developed or designed to work together. The firm must also satisfy the needs of the divergent constituencies responsible for providing compute capacity, data-management and analytics, and application-development capabilities. Will inroads in any one of these areas naturally translate into opportunities in another? Or will professionals in each camp stick with favored, best-of-breed services and providers?

"[Pivotal's] success will hinge on their ability to compete flawlessly across multiple fronts against very large and established vendors such as Amazon, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle," said Shaun Connolly, VP of corporate strategy at Hadoop software distributor Hortonworks, in a statement. "Rationalizing and enhancing technologies across application runtimes, analytic tools, data warehouse technologies, development frameworks and more will certainly be a complicated endeavor."

In a Gartner research note published Wednesday, the analyst firm lauded Pivotal's vision but also pointed to gaps in its portfolio including a lack of data-, application- and cloud-integration technologies and mobile and social capabilities.

"Considerable functionality will have to be developed, acquired and integrated into the platform before it can claim victory," Gartner wrote.

Will Pivotal's reach prove to be beyond its grasp? That's a question only time can answer, but there's no doubt Pivotal's vision will help spark more reinvention of corporate computing approaches.