VMware takes aim at enterprise hybrid cloud

VMware CTO on why the company will play a big role as enterprises embrace cloud computing.

VMware is part of Dell Technologies and is probably best known for its virtualisation technology -- but it also wants to be the platform for enterprises' hybrid cloud deployments, along with other areas such as mobile device management. ZDNet caught up with the company's CTO Ray O'Farrell to find out where its ambitions lie.

What's the current state of play with VMware?

People think of VMware as the virtualisation company, but in practice VMware has significantly expanded beyond that core x86, virtualisation story -- you will have seen it over the years with things like SDDC and the software-defined internet.

Right now, we have a focus on things like private cloud and the virtualisation of [core systems], including all those together with management and so on. We think we are putting together a large, private cloud story enabling you to set policy, security, and so on.

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O'Farrell: "You have to realise we are all going through a digital transformation."

Image: Colin Barker/ZDNet

About a year ago, we began to look at what is going on in the industry in terms of what we hear from our customers.

We got a strong message that a lot of them want to leverage cloud, not necessarily in private/public... but in terms of the experience of cloud. They want to get the experience, the agility, and build their organisation based on that.

But now they are facing the management challenge. Now they are building two silos and in some cases they are not even coming from the same organisation -- some are from the IT organisation, some from the line of business.

We are focused hybrid cloud, meaning that it is our expectation that enterprises will have assets in both and will try to figure out what is the best way to leverage that.

It's not too unlike what we saw in the early days when you had multiple servers, multiple storage, and all of them operating as islands, silos being managed by different people.

What we are seeing now in the cloud is a new requirement through the software that says that you can do the same thing through the managed infrastructure with a mixture of private and public cloud.

Isn't one of the issues the problem of prioritisation? People want to bring private and public cloud together, but what parts of the infrastructure should they focus on first?

In some ways you need to ask: 'how did you get here?' As a company or a business, you will be going through this digital transformation. In the past, the impulse was probably coming from lines of business which would cause frustration with the IT department: 'How fast can I get this done?'

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You wound up building these separate silos. For a while, organisations were investing in two modes of operation: you would have DevOps versus non-DevOps, for example. But all organisations begin to realise that all of those things that IT does -- security, making sure that this makes sense from an economic model, making sure that regulations are complied with -- equally apply to these new types of infrastructure that are being built up.

I think that there is a détente being worked out here as organisations realise that their IT organisations need to be responsive, and the lines-of-business are realising that they need somebody to take care of the security, which has always been run by the CIO or IT, and you can see that blend come together. I definitely see that shift beginning to occur.

Now, if that's the case, what would your advice to IT managers be?

One of the things to realise very quickly is that if you are truly going through this digital transformation, the fundamental role of technology -- and that's not just IT -- has changed. It's not just about 'how do I run some back-end process, how do I change something to speed up the stock management'.

Now it's about technology being at the very centre of the customer intimacy: how do I know the customer? How do I personalise my products? And that means that IT is right at the centre of the competitive stance of the company. The IT organisation needs to think through that and say: 'I am not some back-end thing, I am something at the core of what the company is doing. The company is our digital business and I manage the digital assets of the company'.

That changes the thinking of the IT department so that they can look at things from a business point of view. It's not just about saving money everywhere -- I have to invest and that investment will have a return, because I invest in better analytics, target different customer sets, and get a return on that investment.

I would say that IT needs to recognise who their new customer is and needs to focus on making that customer happy.

So what is the main focus for you?

A lot of it is, in some ways, a sense of trust. A lot of companies have been running their IT infrastructure for a decade or more and so a lot of them have that trust with us and so they want help with that transition.

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A lot of it is very practical things. Over the last two years, IT has had to cope with the presence of a lot more mobile devices, phones, laptops, and so on. That was not VMware's story, right? But we have realised that the new role of IT is to manage all of this infrastructure and so we have built teams and made acquisitions to focus on systems that still centre round that sense of enterprise trust. That's why you see us doing these things like AirWatch and Workspace ONE. It's driven by the fact that our customers are going through that transition and we need to be there to help them.

When you look at the same thing in cloud, VMware made a very large decision late last year to go into partnership deals with Amazon. The aim was to bring together the best in private cloud and the largest in public cloud. That decision was driven because customers face certain challenges and they want to make certain things happen and they want companies to help them go through that transition.

Customers know you as a reliable company but one that has a particular niche in their datacentre. How do you get them to recognise that you could offer more?

First of all, if you look at it from the customer's point of view, it's not just IT. There is a much broader point here.

In its essence, one of [VMware's] key strengths was, if you have a problem with your datacentre -- siloing and so on, multiple services, multiple storage -- you bought VMware and you put this software on and it solved a whole bunch of problems for you.

The first thing was that we said, we work with what IT needs to manage. The new IT needs to work with mobile devices so we made sure that we could too. We are saying to IT, we know what it is that you need to do so we're doing that as well.

When we looked at networking, the very same thing occurred. We did some analysis on virtual machines and asked where are the bottlenecks? It turned out, while we had put a lot of focus on storage and compute, the bottleneck wasn't there. You could wind up a virtual machine in two seconds but you had to wait for the networking guy to get back to you before you could wire up the firewall, reconfigure the network and so on. So that's when we said 'OK, let's virtualise the network as well'.

It just showed that you had to get a level of abstraction before you could analyse the network and get it working efficiently.

Look at IoT. You might ask, what has VMware to do with IoT? But when you look at it you very quickly get into work around sensors and they produce data, you have analytics and then feedback to a user and so on. But when you look at that, that is really another big infrastructure problem.

A lot of people focus on, the outputs of this data make decisions. What we focus on is: how do you know the sensors are secure? How do you know the data is up to date? How do you know the gateways that are associated with that are up to date?

What we are really saying is, once you get the extension of the data around IT the role of IT will change and once again the same questions need to be addressed. That's where we bring out existing strength into that mix. So, our focus is: What are we good at? What problems do we need to solve?

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