Head in the clouds

By SHMULIK SHELAH
October 18, 2010 22:54

VMware CEO Paul Maritz commands one of the most important forces in computing today.




VMware president and CEO Paul Maritz

Paul Maritz. (photo credit: Courtesy)

"When you head a company, you must play a symbolic role,” Maritz says. “It’s not that I enjoy interviews, but I know that I have to do it.”

This shyness disappears when Maritz talks about his former employer and VMware Inc’s current and future competitor, Microsoft Corporation.

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“Every time that there’s a generational movement in the computing world, it’s not that old companies necessarily disappear, but the new winners are new companies, not the ones belonging to the previous generation,” he says. “We can be one of the clear winners in the era of cloud computing. It’s not that we’re trying to change the world, but we understand that we have an opportunity to gain an edge from this change.”

Maritz describes his work environment as “exciting,” thanks to the quality of the people at VMware, who are not fundamentally different from the 10,000 people he managed at Microsoft.

“They are the same people: very smart and passionate, who don’t always have their feet on the ground like they should,” he says. “But I enjoy working with these people.”

The personal and professional connection with Microsoft immediately raises associations of a new operating system, but VMware does not see things that way.

“Operating systems are not in the space of data centers, where innovation is now occurring,” Maritz says. “It’s not that operating systems are disappearing, but they are simply becoming part of something else that is much bigger.”

That said, the acquisition of a company in the business of operating systems or that developing one was once on VMware’s agenda.

“We considered doing it in all kinds of ways, but we always returned to the main issue: that’s not where the innovation will be,” Maritz says. “It’s therefore better for us to focus our capabilities where there will be real innovation.”

This is Maritz’s first visit to Israel as head of VMware, but he first visited Israel in 1990, when he hired for Microsoft the first employees for its large development center in Haifa.

His personal life led to many more subsequent visits; his wife is Israeli and they own an apartment in Tel Aviv.

During the current visit, he met employees at VMware’s development center, which grew following the acquisition of nLayers from EMC Corporation a few months ago. He also met customers.

VMware’s Israeli development center is based on B-Hive, acquired 18 months ago, and currently part of the businessapplications division run by former Mercury Interactive executive Boaz Halamish. The acquisition of nLayers and intensive internal growth has boosted the development center’s staff to 105, plus 10 sales and support persons.

“Israel is a place we’re happy to be in because of the quality of its people, and we expect to continue to grow here,” Maritz says.

Shmulik Antebi, senior regional manager for Israel and Turkey, and Israel manager Ron Kaveblum run VMware’s Israeli and Turkish sales. The Israeli market is characterized by the rapid adoption of state-of-theart products, and virtualization solutions have been absorbed quickly here, which in the past three years has helped the local sales team win awards for excellence among the company’s country offices.

The idea for virtualization has been around since the 1960s and has been applied by IBM Corporation in veteran mainframe systems. The basis for virtualization is mainly economic.

Computer hardware resources, such as processing and memory, are only used for a fraction of work hours, so long as they are assigned specific tasks by operating systems and applications.

To improve the work efficiency of expensive computers, a mediating level created logical separation between the computer’s hardware and software, enabling the hardware to run a larger number of applications.

For decades, the computing market sought a solution to improve the utilization of Intel Corporation’s standard computing environment (the x86 architecture), which is designed to run an operating system and a single application on the hardware and uses just 10 percent of the computing power.

VMware applied the knowhow accumulated by the research team headed by Prof.

Mendel Rosenblum at Stanford University to offer a solution to greatly boost the utilization of enterprise servers based on Intel and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. processors through virtualization.

In practical terms, VMware’s solution can run a large number of enterprise software infrastructures – the company estimates between 20 and 30 – on a single physical server.

In the 12 years since it was founded, VMware has turned virtualization into computing’s hot field and into the basis for the next evolutionary stage: cloud computing, which depends on the sophisticated, automatic management of many virtual servers.

Maritz arrived at VMware in July 2008, just after the dismissal of Diane Greene, one of the founders and the previous CEO (and Rosenblum’s wife), by Joe Tucci, CEO of EMC and chairman of VMware.

Immediately afterwards, Mendel Rosenblum, who was the company’s chief scientist, also left. Neither has any professional connection with the company any longer. Some of VMware’s senior managers had been Rosenblum’s students at Stanford, and the atmosphere at the company at the time was not good.

“The company did many things right,” Maritz says, “and the first thing I did was to assure people that those things would not change. You can’t do everything overnight. The company grew very rapidly, and whenever you grow rapidly, you also accumulate sins alongside the successes. You have to try to improve all the time.”

How do you respond to the notion that you look like the world’s most successful startup? “It has a positive meaning, because we are doing advanced things,” Maritz says. “But there’s also a negative side, because when you become part of the infrastructure of large corporations, they want stable suppliers. So we have to be focused on quality and stability, while trying to bring in the advanced technology. It’s not always simple.”


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