CXO

Ben Fathi: VMware CTO. OS OG. Long-distance runner.

VMware's Ben Fathi spoke with TechRepublic about his three decade career working with operating systems, his first year as CTO of VMware, and why he thinks we are at a critical moment in IT history.

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Image: VMware, Inc.

Ben Fathi has been in the technology industry for 32 years, focused solely on one thing — operating systems.

He's worked on UNIX, Linux, Windows, embedded operating systems, and distributed operating systems. Fathi is wrapping up his first year as CTO of cloud and virtualization provider VMware, and he said that the transition just made sense.

"You're not going to find too many other people who've done nothing in their careers but operating systems, so it made sense for me to come to a place that's taken that forward to the next step," Fathi said. "Moving from a single computer operating system to a data center operating system."

While it's his first year as CTO, it is Fathi's third year with the company. For the first two years he ran the core engineering team for vSphere, the company's datacenter virtualization platform.

Fathi said that he has been impressed by the breadth of product offerings at VMware, and it gave him a special opportunity as CTO.

"I've had the opportunity to continue to stay engaged with the engineering teams, but also step up and engage in lots of other parts of the business," Fathi said. "That's the part that's been unique and different for me and one of the reasons I wanted this job."

Being engaged with different parts of the business has given Fathi a clear picture of the trends that are affecting enterprise IT. Even as they run their business internally at VMware, he's seen email, HR systems, and CRM databases all moving into the cloud.

This is something that he has seen with clients as well, and he thinks workloads moving to the public cloud will be one of the biggest trends in IT over the next five years.

"I absolutely think we are standing at a very critical moment in the history of IT," he said. "For the first time, possibly in history, cloud has become a reality to the point where I can see a large number of applications moving from the current IT environment into the public cloud."

VMware was instrumental in helping develop the trend of virtualization and the private cloud, but Fathi said they had fallen behind a little bit on the journey to the public cloud. Now, he said, the company has a compelling vision of a hybrid enterprise cloud and they are making the right moves in that direction.

For Fathi, another innovation he sees taking shape at VMware is the move from server virtualization to virtualizing the entire data center, including networking and storage.

The last trend Fathi mentioned was the popularity of containers, which allow you to run multiple virtualization instances on a single OS. The trend has been going on for a while. Linux containers have been around since 2008, but new companies like Docker and new development, packaging, and deployment tools are making it even simpler to deploy applications.

Virtualization, public cloud, private cloud, automation, and application deployment tools are all part of a bigger trend in the industry — if you want to be competitive, you have to move quickly.

"At the end of the day, it's all about agility," Fathi said. "What we're finding is, in this new world, agility is, itself, a big differentiator. The ability to do things 10 times, 100 times, faster than your competitors can."

What this all boils down to is the fact that Fathi is an engineer at heart. That's lead him to work at a lot of companies where he was passionate about the technology, and he has loved every job where he has worked. Still, he wishes someone would have told him to think more about the business side of things.

The advice he has for IT professionals is to think about the marketing, the ecosystem, and business principles, as well as the technology. Incorporate all those aspects into your thinking when considering a new position.

"I turned down many job offers because I thought they weren't technically interesting, that's the point I'm trying to make," he said. "I would have had a very different career if I had taken some of those business requirements into my decision making process."

In his own words...

What do you do to unplug?

"I do a lot of long-distance running and biking. I'm either running with one or two other people, or biking usually alone and I get to think a lot about what's been happening at work and decision processes. So, I guess I'm not unwinding, I'm still working."

"I do a lot of traveling, both for work and for personal pleasure. I like going to exoctic places. I do a lot of photography, I actually have my own website with lots of pictures. That's something that I like to do, personally. I do a lot of reading. I read a lot, and all of it non-fiction. Either business stuff or philosophy, history, you name it. And that allows me, every once in a while, to take a step away from work and think about other things. More often than not, I learn things in those history books or philosophy books that have a direct bearing on the work that we do and I learn lessons that I can apply to work."

What's the best thing you've read lately?

"One was Edward O. Wilson and the book is called The Social Conquest of Earth. Edward O. Wilson is one of my favorite authors. It's really about natural evolution and social evolution and social biology, and how humans came to become the dominating species on earth and what characteristics helped them do that..."

If you weren't working in tech, what other profession would you love to try?

"I would love to be a writer. I've done a lot of reading and some amount of writing. It probably wouldn't be about technology or work, it would be more about sociology of psychology. I also have a degree in psychology, so I've always been fascinated not just by technology, but humans and interactions and sociology and anthropology, and all of those. So, it would probably be something in that space."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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