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Maritz: VMware's Answer to Microsoft?

In early July this year, VMware Inc. made the decision to replace company co-founder and CEO Diane Greene, who guided the company from a fledgling startup 10 years ago to a powerhouse in the virtualization market. While analysts were generally surprised by the move, many felt her successor Paul Maritz -- former head of EMC Corp.'s cloud computing initiative -- was a smart choice. Smart because with Microsoft applying increasing pressure on VMware in its core markets, few have as thick a book on Microsoft's strategies and tactics as Maritz. From 1986 to 2000, Maritz worked for the Redmond software giant, leaving when he was in charge of its Platforms Strategy and Developer Group and generally considered to be its third-ranking executive behind Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

Martiz went on to found Pi Corp., which was acquired by EMC in February. He sat down with Redmond Editor Ed Scannell to assess the challenges he faces competing against his old company, and why he believes he can win.

Redmond: Knowing Microsoft as well as you do, what is your sense of how badly they want to dominate in the virtualization market?
Maritz: I think what they see is approximately $2 billion worth of revenues going toward VMware, which they would very much like to divert a substantial portion of toward Microsoft's coffers. Additionally, through virtualization, VMware has become a strategic vendor to many of their customers. Microsoft likes to control things top to bottom. I think -- fundamentally, with regards to Microsoft's roadmap -- Steve Ballmer spends many more cycles worrying about Google than about VMware.

New VMware CEO Paul Maritz takes on his former company, Microsoft.

You see that as a good thing, right?
Well, I won't comment either way on that, but I don't think VMware is a mortal threat to Microsoft in the way that maybe Google is.

Microsoft has employed its usual tactics of buying the market through free versions of some products and including virtualization in the OS. What impact do you expect that to have?
As you point out, they're using all of their traditional approaches. So it's incumbent upon us to deliver differentiated value going forward. Microsoft has paid us an indirect compliment by essentially endorsing all of our features, saying they're the right set of features and that they'll include all of them in their products at half the price, but in two years' time.

What's your biggest advantage with regards to technical differentiation?
We have specific features that are important to customers centered around our VMotion and VM Fault Tolerance, and the general management of virtual machines. So on one hand, we're ahead of them on features. On the other hand, there is a difference in the strategic view between us and Microsoft. We believe there ought to be a substrate of software in the data center capable of delivering on greater efficiency and flexibility, [one that] does so in an independent fashion regarding a variety of application loads. One that can handle Windows- and Linux-based application loads and others in the future. In comparison, Microsoft has a very Windows-centric view of the future.

You've talked about the "deconstruction" of the traditional OS, which others have talked about before. Why will it happen this time?
It's not the most important thing whether that happens or not. The point I want to make there is, in a lot of the new approaches to writing applications -- particularly the so-called Web 2.0 frameworks for creating applications -- the traditional OS is well hidden. You have to work pretty hard at figuring out whether there's Linux or Windows down there under it. In addition, these frameworks like Ruby on Rails are designed as multitiered frameworks. And each of those layers makes different use of the underlying OS. So it's possible that as those frameworks gain more acceptance, people will only want enough of the underlying OS to support that particular tier. We're trying to enable our customers to plan their infrastructure and their application loads in an independent fashion. To plan for that, they need to know they can bring application loads in based on Windows and Linux without doing major surgery.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.

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