The Pivotal launch and what it means to IT

Pivotal, a new venture led by former VMware CEO Paul Maritz, sees a future rife with cloudy big data apps crunching sensor and user data -- and holds important clues to IT's future

When I interviewed Paul Maritz near the end of his term as CEO of VMware, he offered this frank assessment of the company: "Unless we think ahead, we will be seen as the closing chapter of the client-server generation instead of the opening chapter of the next generation."

That "opening chapter," or at least one version of it, was introduced last week with the official launch of Pivotal, a new venture led by Maritz, spun out of EMC/VMware, and boosted by a $105 million investment from GE.

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Pivotal is a funny kind of startup, with 1,250 employees hailing from a grab bag of EMC and VMware acquisitions, including Cetas, Cloud Foundry, GemFire, GreenPlum, and SpringSource, as well as Pivotal Labs, a high-end Web and mobile development house. In "less than six months," that motley crew is scheduled to release Pivotal One, an enterprise PaaS (platform as a service) providing big data analytics -- and eventually hooked up to "the Internet of things."

You might be forgiven for wondering whether it will take six months just for this assortment of people and technologies to figure out what they all add up to. But what strikes me is that Maritz, with the aid of senior technology execs from EMC, GreenPlum, Pivotal Labs, and SpringSource, has succeeded in laying out a plausible pattern for a "next generation" of enterprise applications.

Cloud? Who cares -- it's all about the platform
The first thing to know about Pivotal is that it's not a cloud play in the conventional sense. It simply assumes that cloud infrastructure will underlie the Pivotal One PaaS and doesn't care whether that infrastructure is the Amazon public cloud, an OpenStack private cloud, or whatever cloud VMware intends to launch this week. IaaS scalability and agility are dismissed as commodities.

The platform on top of the cloud is the thing, but "platform" is the weaseliest word in tech. What is it, what will be built on it, who will do the building, and why?

The composition of the Pivotal One platform is easy: Cloud Foundry and the Spring Java framework will provide the foundation, with a laundry list of big data technologies available as services.

What will be built on that platform, at least in the near term, will be large-scale Web and mobile applications with a big data back end. Today, a huge chunk of big data activity is devoted to analyzing UI effectiveness for popular social networking, e-commerce sites, and mobile apps -- and determining what Web ads to show to which consumers at any given second based on advanced profiling of user behavior.

Put that together with what the Pivotal Labs dev house currently does -- that is, design and develop public-facing Web and mobile applications for startups and enterprises -- and a picture begins to emerge not only of what Pivotal One will be about, but also how Pivotal intends to pursue a big chunk of future business technology spending.

A growing portion of that spend is already moving from in-house IT to outsourced solutions built by agencies with expertise in public-facing applications. Today, those agencies' developers are among the biggest users of PaaS offerings. Enterprise developers are not. So in the short term it's an easy guess that Pivotal Labs -- and whatever network of professional service providers Pivotal cultivates -- will be developing the bulk of those next-gen big data applications on Pivotal One for its enterprise customers, rather than enterprises developers using Pivotal One themselves.

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