On paper, the future federation of Dell + EMC + VMware and Pivotal is a compelling enterprise hybrid infrastructure play. EMC and Dell combine to offer the best-in-breed hardware underlay, and VMware has a solid strategy for providing the software abstraction required for a Pivotal-based cloud platform. The depth of products offers an impressive slate to transform IT within the largest of enterprises.
So, what's wrong with this picture? Why hasn't the industry exploded with excitement over the marriage of EMC and Dell's technology?
The core reason is VMware's lack of focus on developers.
Companies such as Microsoft have executed in a critical area that VMware hasn't—the developer relationship. There's only a handful companies large and diverse enough to compete with the new Dell offerings. Without a strong developer relationship, I doubt the new Dell will become anything more than a provider of legacy software and hardware.
Developers buying influence
Former VMware executive and new Andreessen Horowitz general partner Martin Casado appeared on a recent A16Z podcast discussing the role of the developer in the buying decision. Traditionally, developers were forced to use whatever tools were provided by centralized IT. Casado sees that dynamic changing. Developers now have a bigger voice in the buying decision as organizations lean on developers to create applications that directly impact the business. These applications require integration between new cloud-native infrastructures and legacy applications.
Cloud-native vendors understand this dynamic. Companies such as Docker gained unbelievable momentum by focusing on making infrastructure easy for developers to consume. Also, Docker went out and engaged the developer community via meetups and other intimate user group settings. The marketing benefits are undeniable. As of this writing, Docker container downloads have surpassed one billion. Reportedly, though, Docker has challenges converting the high use to a profitable business.
The economics for the new Dell are different. The new Dell already has paying customers looking to add these cloud-native features to their existing infrastructure. As a feature of one of their many products, Docker-like attention would help solidify their position with enterprise customers.
EMC spun the cloud and developer-focused parts of VMware out into a separate company named Pivotal in 2012. Pivotal also leads one of the most successful platform as a service (PaaS) open source projects, Cloud Foundry. Cloud Foundry runs in infrastructures ranging from VMware vSphere to AWS and Docker.
I get the impression it's Dell's hope that Pivotal plays a central role in getting the message out about the capability of the overall company to service developers. I'm skeptical as VMware hasn't been able to successfully integrate the Pivotal DNA into their products or culture.
I've been critical of VMware's cloud strategy for some time. Is it a competitor to AWS, or is it an extension of the concept of vSphere? Or, is it something in-between? What's their story to developers?
The origin of my public vCloud Air angst started with my son, who is studying to be a developer. He entered VMware's Developer Hackathon during VMworld 2015. I was shocked when he needed to phone for support. I had to walk him through creating a virtual data center, as well as configuring networking, including network address translation (NAT) and firewall rules. This was all before creating a VM to upload his code (which was already ready to run).
The experience was unlike that presented to Docker and AWS developers. In either solution, developers have infrastructure up and running within minutes, without having any experience or knowledge about IT infrastructure.
On the flip side, I've since spoken to many IT professionals that love the seamless integration between their on-premises vSphere installation and vCloud Air. The idea that a virtual data center in vCloud Air is the same concept in vSphere—the consistency appeals to infrastructure practitioners. I think this is an indication of VMware's challenges. VMware focuses on the relationship with the IT infrastructure buying center.
It's time for VMware to expand the vision beyond IT infrastructure cost center and adapt to a time when developer influence weighs into the infrastructure provider relationship.
From VxRack to vSphere, containers, and Cloud Foundry, the new Dell has all the pieces to become a formidable player in the enterprise hybrid infrastructure. Now, it's time to see if Michael Dell and Pat Gelsinger can execute Microsoft-style strategy on winning over developers.
What do you think?
How can the new Dell better win over developers? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
- Hands-on review: Buggy vCloud Air isn't production ready (TechRepublic)
- Ford teams with Pivotal, bets on Cloud Foundry (ZDNet)
- VMware's five key cloud-native computing investments (TechRepublic)
- Cloud Foundry launches code certification effort, IBM, HPE, Pivotal on board (ZDNet)
- VMware Integrated Containers critical to company's DevOps strategy (TechRepublic)
Keith Townsend is a technology management consultant with more than 15 years of related experience designing, implementing, and managing data center technologies. His areas of expertise include virtualization, networking, and storage solutions for Fortune 500 organizations. He holds a BA in computing and a MS in information technology from DePaul University.