I’ve been sharing material with @sherrod for years now, so why stop now that we’re both VMware alumni? (I borrowed my title quip from Steve’s twitter feed.) I have to say that I felt a bit sad at the news that EMC and its controlling stake in VMware were being acquired by Dell. So I figured I would join former colleague @JerryChen and write a blog post. Seems like the end of an era to me, one that was a big part of my career. I joined VMware in 2007 and at the time it felt like a big startup poised to change the industry. And boy did it ever! Yesterday also reminded me of a prophetic Paul Maritz motivational speech to the company shortly after he took over from Diane Greene at the dawn of the cloud era. He asked us whether VMware wanted to be the “last great company of the client/server era or the first great company of the looming cloud era?” Sadly, yesterday’s news coming the week after AWS re:Invent seemed to me to be a lot closer to the former than the latter. VMware certainly saw the cloud coming and invested in different ways to prevent its own disruption by it. The jury is still out on the ultimate effectiveness, but I really don’t see yesterday’s changes positively impacting this disruption.
The EMC Federation was unwieldy and the synergies few and far between. And while the pace of innovation at VMware has gotten slower and less groundbreaking as it has grown and matured, (a natural result of its size, growing complexity and having to bring along a sizable installed base with you), VMware has remained able to foster and bring to market compelling new technologies; some homegrown like VSAN and VMfork, others via acquisitions such as Airwatch or NSX. And there is a rich ecosystem of startups created by VMware alumni, another indicator of a vibrant legacy.
But let’s give Joe Tucci his due. His handling of VMware was brilliant and inspired. His mostly hands-off approach was rather unique in high-tech history and resulted in arguably the most successful acquisition ever! By carefully nurturing VMware, and keeping it separate much to the chagrin of various EMC factions, he enabled VMware to grow to today’s multi-billion dollar behemoth status, where it has eclipsed its parent. I still remember how surprised customers and partners were when I told them that in my role as Chief Data Center Architect/Storage CTO, I spent just as much (if not more) time with my NetApp and Equallogic counterparts as I did with my EMC colleagues.
But despite many aggressive investments, EMC’s business was being disrupted more rapidly than it could adjust and I was hoping that whenever its fate was decided, that VMware would somehow emerge independent again. Let’s all hope that Michael Dell takes a page from the Joe Tucci playbook with respect to VMware, so that it can continue as the great innovation engine it deserves to be.