VMworld 2008: Q&A with VMware President and CEO Paul Maritz

While attending VMworld 2008 last week, Windows IT Pro editors Jeff James and Michael Otey had the opportunity to sit down with VMware President and CEO Paul Maritz to ask him a few questions about his arrival at VMware, his long-term strategy for the company, and what he intends to do to keep Microsoft—where he worked for many years—from catching up to VMware in the virtualization market.

Jeff James: Soon after you joined VMware, ESXi was released as a free download. How much of an influence did you have on that decision?

Paul Maritz: I think that was obviously a decision that had to be teed up; I probably just helped push it over the edge.

Michael Otey: The vision of the future you outlined in your keynote was pretty interesting--big changes, a lot of it key on virtualization. But from what we've seen so far with virtualization, the uptake isn't completely pervasive. How do you see companies getting from where they’re at now, where they’re just beginning to adopt virtualization, into the kind of vision that you outlined yesterday?

Paul Maritz: I was deliberately trying in the keynote yesterday to lay out a framework, to say this is where we’re going to be in the next 3-5 years. There’s a lot of work to be done. That said, we see quite a large spectrum in terms of adoption of virtualization. We see customers that are being very aggressive, probably targeting to be essentially completely virtualized by the end of ’09, huge companies who have basically said they’ll have their entire infrastructure virtualized, unless there’s some incredibly strong reason not to.

On the other hand, there are people as you say who are just kind of testing the waters. What we’re going to need to do is take the learning out of those neat dogs, and make sure that we and our partners absolve that learning and make it available for those who want to start down that journey. I want to stress that both us and our partners are continuing to grow our professional services organization. One of the particular products that they are starting to offer is to come and do a virtualization assessment for a company, look at the environment and to point out where they should start, how they should go about it, and provide a framework that they can use to get a plan to do that. We also want to work with our professional services partners, because the opportunity is bigger than we can scale our professional services organization. One of the things we need to do is work with other professional services organizations, to share the experience and knowledge to do this; hopefully that will build upon itself.

This speaks to a general maturation the company needs to go through. For the first time in VMware, we have 70 CIOs across the block spending 2 days with us, and they’re saying “you’re going to have to teach this to us, whether you like it or not. You have to articulate a long-term roadmap for us, because I need to make decisions about my datacenter capacity that are going to come back to me in three years time, based on what I think you can do. Tell us whether you’re really going to do it or not.” We have to really learn to put a different set of criteria and metrics that we have to take into account as we make decisions moving forward.

Michael Otey: Your virtualization assessment program sounds like a really great idea, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that don’t really know much about it and are experts.

Paul Maritz: Part of that is also professional services, which is great for those guys, the PC community, so that small business can get ready access to someone in close geographic environment who is certified and knows what he’s talking about.

Jeff James: You worked at Microsoft in the ‘80s. What part of that experience do you think helps you internally at VMware and also competing against Microsoft, since you’ve been inside Microsoft and know how it works?

Paul Maritz: I think in terms of internally inside VMware, there are clearly a lot of the same kind of people: passionate, high IQ individuals who really get a great sense of satisfaction out of solving hard problems. I enjoy working with those people—I’m already enjoying working with the internal people at VMware. In addition, we’re having to become a platform with all that that entails, in terms of working with partners to doing evangelism. It’s not that VMware hasn’t started to do that, but we have to accelerate and grow there. I’ve seen a movie of starting with basically a point product technology vendor to customers to becoming a strategic vendor over a period of years. We have to be in that process. So in that part, they’re not exactly the same, but they are similar challenges to what’s I’ve gone through at Microsoft. On the other hand, from the external side, it makes me fully appreciate Microsoft, and I know that when they lock onto your tail light, they don’t give up easily. They have the competitive instinct, and they have the financial resources to be locked onto you. On the other hand, I know they are not infallible, so I respect them but I am not appalled by \[the thought of competing against\] them.

Michael Otey: VMware hasn’t been well known for working with partners. Is that a big change?

Paul Maritz: It is a change; I wouldn’t say a big change, but it’s something we have to get better at, and that takes investment.

Jeff James: I’ve always been curious whenever there’s a big executive change. What were the very first things you did when you came to VMware, besides finding where your office is and where the bathroom is. What are the big picture things, the top three, that you did?

Paul Maritz: Number one is start talking to people. Software companies, even more so than other companies, are collections of people—the intellectual property lives in people’s heads. And people are not just IQ machines; they are emotional human beings as well. So I spent a good deal of my time trying to meet people, trying to reassure them that this is going to remain an environment to where hard-working, passionate, creative people can do good things. Secondly, tee up the big challenges. In my keynote yesterday, I was as much talking to VMware as I was the rest of the world.

Michael Otey: Microsoft is certainly a formidable competition, like you mentioned earlier, but you do have a significant head start on them. Your technologies are at least a couple years out from where they’re at, and you’ve outlined a pretty aggressive vision for where you’re going too. It’s not completely compatible with theirs.

Paul Maritz: When you’re competing with Microsoft, you have to do two things. One is you’ve got to shift your tail lights somewhere they’re not comfortable going. And then secondly, make no mistakes, and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Jeff James: Back to the keynote, obviously when you’re at a show you always ask people what they think of the keynote, and generally people enjoyed the keynote, but they also commented that it was a very broad and strategic. Was that a conscious decision to primarily lay out the framework?

Paul Maritz: With these keynotes you can’t do everything, so you’ve got to decide what aspect you are going to try and really focus on, and make sure you do well in that. If you saw Steve Herrod’s presentation this morning, they were designed as book canvases—mine was designed as the big picture, the future, and Steve was back to specifics. They were designed as complementary presentations.

Jeff James: After the news broke that you got the job at VMware, did you talk to anyone at Microsoft?

Paul Maritz: The good news is that we’re all big enough-—as my mother would say, big enough, old enough, and ugly enough-—that this is all just business.

Jeff James: So do you still keep in touch with them at all?

Paul Maritz: Yeah, in different forms. I actually periodically talk to Bill, but mainly but for philanthropic activities, and not much more interactions than that. But there a lot of other friends that I hear from.

Michael Otey: Well I think the conference is very exciting. All the attendees I’ve talked to are very enthusiastic about your products, and are very keen on learning the things you’ve got here. Definitely a great experience.

Paul Maritz: It is an amazing happening. I think our team does a great job putting it on, and they seem to have struck the right balance in terms of what people want out of the conference. I was amazed to find out the single biggest budget item is food. People come here for $1,600—I think they get $1,000 worth of labs and $600 worth of food, and that seems to make people happy.