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Innovators & Influencers: The Art Of Disruption

There's a directness about Diane Greene that fits her former life as a competitive wind surfer. When you're trying to persuade people to buy something that works out of sight, you'd better be ready to tilt at a few brisk headwinds.
There's a directness about Diane Greene that fits her former life as a competitive wind surfer. When you're trying to persuade people to buy something that works out of sight, you'd better be ready to tilt at a few brisk headwinds.

Greene is the president of VMware, the biggest supplier of software feeding the hottest tech trend on the planet: virtualization. IDC says the market will more than triple in size by 2009, to $1.9 billion. Almost every vendor--server, storage, operating system, application, service--has some kind of virtualization play. VMware, which makes virtual machine and virtual hypervisor software, sits smack in the middle.

Tech talk is good, but trust is better when it comes to virtual software. Greene has both—and the vision.

Tech talk is good, but trust is better when it comes to virtual software. Greene has bothand the vision.
Greene grew VMware from a handful of employees in 1998 to 2,400 today. In 2004, the year it was acquired by storage vendor EMC, VMware displaced IBM as the category leader. Revenue in 2005 was $310 million, up 80% from the previous year, and the company grew 64%, 73%, and 86% in the first, second, and third quarters of this year compared with the same quarters last year. The $1 billion-a-year milestone is a virtual stone's throw away.

Greene holds a master's degree in computer science from Berkeley and one from MIT in "naval architecture." But it's not her tech chops that distinguish her. "Virtualization is the least disruptive of the disruptive technologies" is a favorite epigram, and she'll go on to explain how it can be implemented without turning the data center upside down. Greene's husband, Mendel Rosenblum, does the heavy tech lifting at VMware as chief scientist. Rosenblum is also an associate professor at Stanford University, where he researches operating systems and did the original deciphering of the x86 instruction set, the basis for VMware virtual machines.

But VMware didn't just mimic the x86 instruction set in software. Thanks in large part to Greene, it's surrounded a murky set of software functions with an aura of invincibility--a belief that you'll never get fired for implementing virtualization with VMware. Ahmed Mashaal, lead technical architect of UltraZoom Technologies, an FCC contractor, says VMware, unlike many other vendors, "is a trusted company. They built it step by step, not by hype."

Now comes the phase where VMware (which operates at arm's length from EMC) is the target. It's likely to get squeezed between Microsoft, seeking to compete with its own virtual machine and hypervisor software, and Xen, a cheaper open source offering. But there'll be no feints or sleights of hand, says Greene: "All we live, breathe, and think about is where can we take this virtualization trend."

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