'One big happy family': How Pivotal will fit back into VMware

VMware headquarters
VMware

In August, VMware announced that it had reached a definitive agreement to acquire its fellow Dell EMC family member Pivotal, the platform-as-a-service vendor it helped spin out back in 2012.

The deal would value Pivotal – which helps clients adopt modern and streamlined software development practices – at $2.7 billion. Pivotal is best known for its commercial version of the open source platform-as-a-service Cloud Foundry, which essentially enables Java, Ruby, Node.js, .NET Core, Python, PHP, and Go developers to make their existing applications cloud-native.

The open source core of Cloud Foundry has recently looked to deepen integrations with the increasingly industry-standard Kubernetes container orchestration system too, an approach which certainly seems to appeal to developers operating in hybrid and multi-cloud environments and something which reflects the strategies of both Pivotal and VMware.

“Kubernetes is emerging as the de facto standard for multi-cloud modern apps. We are excited to combine Pivotal’s development platform, tools and services with VMware’s infrastructure capabilities to deliver a comprehensive Kubernetes portfolio to build, run and manage modern applications,” Pat Gelsinger, CEO of VMware said in a statement at the time.

“The time is ideal to join forces with VMware, an industry leader who shares our commitment to open source community contributions and our focus on adding developer value on top of Kubernetes,” added Rob Mee, CEO of Pivotal.

Shared philosophies

While stating that this is the "awkward in-between phase" of the acquisition process, as the two companies wait on regulatory approval, Ian Andrews, SVP of products and marketing at Pivotal told Computerworld that "the overwhelming sentiment has been really positive".

Andrews added that early customers have already spoken positively about the possibility of simplifying their billing with Pivotal and VMware, but further ahead, bringing the two together “ultimately means better products for customers and better products lead to better business impacts”.

From Pivotal’s perspective, Andrews is clearly excited by the prospect of tapping into VMware's global sales muscle and partnership ecosystem. As a member of the executive team, he said the company recognised the need to scale its customer base very quickly, or risk missing out on a wave of technology change that it helped pioneer.

"We built a $400 million software subscription business with 400 customers, which on the surface of it doesn’t sound that significant, but we're talking about the biggest companies in the world: finance and insurance, in automotive, retail and government," he said. "So from the IT infrastructure perspective, largely the hardest environments to work in. We landed on Mars in terms of the level of the complexity and difficulty."

That sense of urgency to scale beyond the toughest environments and become ubiquitous has a footing in history for Andrews. "We felt a sense of urgency around the market opportunity where the model in infrastructure platforms is customers tend to buy them and then they become decade-long decisions.

"Most of our customers are unwinding technology they bought from IBM and Oracle in the late 90s, early 2000s,” he explained. I think over the next couple years, you'll have a very broad set of customers who will make some decision and whatever that is, that's going to be the tech that they run with, so we felt a closing window that we needed to get through very, very quickly." Joining forces with VMware looked like the best way to do that.

And how about VMware? "I think from the VMware perspective, they built this incredible infrastructure franchise, but they don't really talk to developers," Andrews said. "They obviously could have grown some capacity to interact with that audience organically, but that really becomes the asset that Pivotal brings to the table."

Put this way it is clear to see the logic behind joining forces, and with plenty of shared DNA in the building there is some real optimism about the deal from both sides.

"[VMware has] really changed their philosophy to where they are now a multi-cloud company, and Kubernetes is the core of everything they're doing,” Andrews added. “Our philosophies in terms of what the stack will look like that powers the next decade is actually starting to look very similar."

Elephant in the room

The deal was described as the 'elephant in the room' this week during the Cloud Foundry Summit in The Hague, Netherlands by the Cloud Foundry Foundation's executive director Abby Kearns.

Speaking to Kearns on stage about the agreement was Craig McLuckie, VP of R&D at VMware, who talked about how the combined companies can work towards a new enterprise model of software development and deployment.

"A lot of the significant IT decisions are being pushed into the business itself," he said. "A lot of modern enterprises are starting to self-identify as software companies. So this old world of ticket-driven IT, where the old interface of developers and the central IT team has been a Jira ticket, is changing. We need to move to a modern, progressive world where everything is API driven."

He also earmarked Kubernetes as a "common substrate" to ease movement towards this new model. "I think Kubernetes is an elegant infrastructure abstraction with some very favourable properties and I think it has emerged as something that is kind of a Goldilocks abstraction," he added.

Then there is the need for a common way to deploy software. "We haven't established as a community this point of singularity which has brought together a standard way to think about deploying the software we use everyday," he said. "I think finally, with these two communities together, we can do that."

"Most importantly it is about that experience, that incredibly efficient line from developers to production. So when I look at this holistically it is not just about VMware acquiring Pivotal, I think this is emblematic of where we as an industry have to go."

Kearns herself was reticent to say too much about the deal in an attempt to keep the Foundation at arm's length. However, "as executive director of the foundation, obviously VMware and Pivotal have always played a key role in who we are," she said.

"The code for Cloud Foundry that went to Pivotal was actually originally incubated in VMware. It's kind of like one big happy family,” she added.”VMware has been a key member and on the board of the Foundation since the very first day, alongside Pivotal. They've been a really important part since the beginning, and they will continue to be."

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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