VMware CEO: What we plan for the post-PC era

Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, sees virtualization as one piece of the platform VMware intends to offer a mobile, cloud-enabled world

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Maritz: As I said, we're deliberately shooting ahead, and we think there are two tales. There's a tale around existing apps, which explains why the IaaS layer took off first, because it allows you to address existing apps. But we think over time, people are going to want to move expenditure from infrastructure towards apps.

Our layer three is to address how the end-users are going to consume all of this in a post-PC era. We have a business today that goes under the name "desktop virtualization," our View product line, which is about how do you take a Windows PC and run it in a more manageable and secure fashion by placing it, figuratively speaking, in the data center? There's a lot of interest in that, primarily for security and management reasons. In industries like financial services people are obviously very concerned about either the data walking out of the door, or people getting inappropriate access to it, and that's really a high priority for them. There's a strong momentum behind desktop virtualization, but in really certain vertical parts of the industry.

Knorr: Would you say that the level of desktop virtualization adoption has been a little disappointing?

Maritz: Well, it all depends on sort of what your bar was to begin with. I think it's fair to say that in the Gartner hype cycle we've come down a bit from the inevitable hype. But we actually think there is something profound playing out, which is that in the immediate term, businesses are confronted by the fact that more and more of their users don't want to have a PC in their hands.

They want to have a tablet or a smartphone and that [businesses] can't stop that. That's a battle they can't win. The days when IT could say, "We specify that everybody in this company will have a black Dell laptop with this build of Windows on it," are rapidly passing and they're never coming back.

The challenge is that the Windows desktop plays two roles inside the IT. On the one hand, it was the interface to a particular operating system -- Windows. On the other hand, it was the conduit through which IT provisioned capability to a user. That's where they installed apps, dropped files, turned menus on and off, etc. In a post-PC world where Windows isn't the only player in the enterprise, that second aspect of the desktop can't belong to any particular device. And there's a vacuum. IT doesn't know how to address that today, so there's going to have to be change.

Secondly, and this is more speculative, the thing that's profound about the post-PC era is not just a form-factor change, it's actually a change in the way people work. The GUI stuff started with work done across the road here at Xerox PARC and then through Microsoft Windows and Mac. It was all about how do we automate a desk circa 1975?

You can see the terminology -- the desktop, files, folders, drawers -- it was an automated typewriter, which is the word processor, you know. And it was a very document-centric world. It was a belief that most white collar workers spent their time creating documents, and that's really what you did as a white collar worker.

What has really changed is not only the form factors, but what white collar workers do today is no longer create documents. I mean, not to say that they don't do it, it's just not the center of their universe anymore. The center of their universe now is consuming streams of information that are coming to you in much smaller chunks, and filtering that, combining that, commenting on it, recomposing it, and streaming it back out again.

It's in that sense that I think we're moving into this post-PC world. It's not only a form-factor change, it's also a movement into a post-document-centric world. I think it's the big change that's going to play out here. It's not desktop virtualization, it's really how does IT adapt to a post-PC era in terms of much greater device heterogeneity and a different way that people want to work in the context of those devices?

That's a big set of wheels that are going to grind, and we're trying to think about how to adapt ourselves to that world. We made our first baby step last week when we announced the Horizon App Manager Service, which is, if you sort of squint at it in the right light and you're willing to make a few heroic leaps of faith, you can see the beginnings of the emergence of that device-independent desktop or workspace emerging.

Gallant: Listening to you talk, I understand perfectly how this middle layer fits in with the work that you've done so far. I'm having a little bit more trouble understanding why VMware is well positioned to serve that function for these new devices, new types of applications.

Maritz: Well, we see it as two reasons. One is we have a form of an entry in that space through our desktop virtualization today, and that technology will be useful in this world, because it allows us to project into ... all of these areas [as] an evolutionary transition. In our view, technology can inform part of the evolutionary bridge into that world, so we are selling into that world today. We have our foot there. Beyond that, it's white space.

You could ask the same question you asked about just about every vendor in the industry today. There's no one who is ... overwhelmingly the natural possessor of that space. For a company like us, as I said, we have to go where others aren't. We like to see white space and say, How do we go there?

Gallant: But when you think of things like, you know, single sign-on or security or management, it does seem like the purview of companies that come out of security or management. How does this play to your strengths in virtualization?

Maritz: That's why we've made some acquisitions in that space. We acquired TriCipher last year; it knows how to bridge from existing identity environments into this new world. This is an area where I think we can make some acquisitions here, we have internal expertise, and we can partner with others in this space.

Gallant: Today, when somebody talks about VMware, they say: VMware, the virtualization company. What do you want them to say a year from now, two years from now: VMware, the....

Maritz: Well, I don't know about two years from now, but five years from now I'd like to say: VMware, the cloud IT company.

Knorr: What about apps?

Maritz: By and large we're going to stay away from the app space. We think there are some capabilities that today you can consider apps, but become part of the foundation. So basic email transport capability is to become part of the foundation. That's why we acquired Zimbra, it gives us that capability. But in general, we will stay away from apps -- we want to be an enabler for apps. We would rather be working with and cultivating the app community going forward.

Knorr: What about your acquisition of SlideRocket? That's an application.

Maritz: Yeah, although again, if you look at SlideRocket -- and I realize this is where you have to look at it in the right light and make a few leaps of faith -- [you have to take into account] what I was saying earlier about how the future is not going to be around authoring big documents. It's going to be: How do you take a stream of information and combine it into some form of presentation?

That's the interesting thing about SlideRocket -- it has this notion that a presentation isn't a static entity. It's really an aggregation of a bunch of feeds that come together and present it, and every time you do the presentation, what you're in a sense doing is pulling together all that information and presenting it. We think that could become a foundational capability in whatever this next generation device-independent workspace looks like. But I'll be the first to admit that we're in the very, very early days of this, and there's a lot of water that still has to flow under this bridge.

Knorr: Isn't it tempting, though, to go the full application route? There's Google Apps, which isn't considered quite ready for the enterprise...

Maritz: This is where I think you've got to say: Let's focus on the things we think are going to be truly transformational and we can't do everything.

Gallant: You were at Microsoft and helped Microsoft capitalize on the emergence of client-server and capture that market opportunity. How do you see Microsoft dealing with the post-PC era and how might that inform your strategy?

Maritz: Well, Microsoft is a very big and capable company with a lot of smart guys, so they're more than capable of answering those questions themselves. They don't need me to do it. The thing that I will say, which is something that I worry about, is that when you've been very successful, as Microsoft has, it's very hard to see the world from a different perspective.

In the process of pulling off the automation of that 1975-era desk, they built one of the most valuable businesses the world has ever seen. When you've had that kind of success, it's very hard to see and make a transition to something different. I think this has informed a lot of their struggles in other areas like -- why was Apple so successful?

Here I'm speaking completely unencumbered by the facts, as the Car Talk guys like to say.

I've been out of Microsoft for 10 years now, so you're hearing just opinion now as opposed to informed comment of any kind. We look at their travails in phone space; it's because they -- initially, at least -- saw that as a PC companion. The only reason that you'd hold a phone like that is because it's a companion to your PC.

Whereas Apple, I think when they looked to doing the iPhone they said -- we're not going to make this a Mac unit. We're going to make this a jumped-up iPod. We're going to look at it as a fundamentally different experience. And suddenly, to their credit, on the iPad they said -- this is an expanded iPhone, it's not, again, a diminished Mac. The fact that they didn't have quite the overwhelming success that Microsoft had with Windows allowed them to reconceptualize things in a different way.

Clearly, the thing that we have to be careful of, having been very successful at the virtualization layer, is not to think that that's sufficient, in terms of how you see the world going forward. It's a very necessary position to be in, but you've got to make sure that your success doesn't blind you to what's going to happen down the road.

Gallant: That makes sense.

Maritz: These kinds of pivots from one era to the other are very hard to pull off. A lot of folks grumble about Microsoft. Show me the other companies that have done it successfully, because it's not easy.

Knorr: I know your stint at Microsoft was a while ago, but are there any general management and leadership lessons you learned there that you're applying now in forging this new strategy?

Maritz: Well, one we spoke about is there's no tale so seductive as the one you tell yourself. You've got to be careful about that. And make sure that that doesn't color all of your thinking.

And then, great companies are built by people with passion for what they're doing, and one of the hardest things in the world is to keep that passion alive. How do you keep a large organization really passionate about what it's doing and believing that what it's doing is important and that they have an environment where they can do really great things? That's very hard to do.

Gallant: Paul, to wrap up, what is the key takeaway that you want a professional IT -- whether it's a CIO or someone who's actually in the trenches deploying the products -- what are the key things you want them to know about VMware?

Maritz: The most important thing that we want them to know about VMware is that we are constructing an infrastructure transformation journey that is very real and very actionable. It's not something where they have to believe they have to invest now to get a return five years from now on that infrastructure, that bottom layer -- that there's a set of concrete things that they can do, each one of which will justify for itself and pay for itself. But it will be actually leading them to where they need to be so that down the road they can free up the funds to go after application transformation and end user transformation.

Gallant: Makes sense. Great, Paul, thank you.

This article, "VMware CEO: What we plan for the post-PC era," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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