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Posted by Glenn O'Donnell on September 4, 2012
The most notable news to come out of the VMworld conference last week was the coronation of Pat Gelsinger as the new CEO of VMware. His tenure officially started over the weekend, on September 1, to be exact.
For those who don’t know Pat’s career, he gained fame at Intel as the personification of the x86 processor family. It’s unfair to pick a single person as the father of the modern x86 architecture, but if you had to pick just one person, it’s probably Pat. He then grew to become CTO, and eventually ran the Digital Enterprise Group. This group accounted for 55% of Intel’s US$37.586B in revenue according to its 2008 annual report, the last full year of Pat’s tenure. EMC poached him from Intel in 2009, naming him president of the Information Infrastructure Products group. EMC’s performance since then has been very strong, with a 17.5% YoY revenue increase in its latest annual report. Pat’s group contributed 53.7% of that revenue. While he’s a geek at heart (his early work), he proved without a doubt that he also has the business execution chops (his later work). Both will serve him well at VMware, especially the latter.
I heard a common concern at VMworld that “Pat is a hardware guy so how can he run a software company?” People with such fears don’t really understand the technology business! Pat’s DNA is just what this company needs! As an old semiconductor engineer myself, I know the secret to cramming a billion “moving parts” into a space the size of your fingernail. It’s more than just shrinking things. You need to modularize the architecture based on principles of systems engineering. VMware’s future (indeed every tech company’s) requires it to modularize its products and hide the complexity through modular packaging. There are naturally differences between the chip world and the software world, but the principles rooted in systems engineering are identical.
Besides, Intel is very much a software company too. Its fame is in silicon (hardware), but the basis of all software lies in the instruction set of that very silicon (software), and it built a rich portfolio of genuine software products over the years too. The McAfee acquisition was post-Gelsinger, but still indicative of the software side of Intel. Pat even co-authored the definitive Programming the 80386 book! His latest employer, EMC, buries its public disclosure of software within other numbers, but it’s clear that this other “hardware” company also sells a lot of software. Any hardware company is also a software company! It’s safe to say, “Pat Gelsinger knows software!”
If one is to take a software company like VMware and rationalize its product offerings, the packaging needs to simplify what the customer sees (i.e., good systems engineering). Under the covers, the complexity may be staggering, but to the outside viewer, it’s simple. Until now, VMware is a pure techie company with its entire identity focused on its technology. That message is too complex for the business-oriented customers who will drive VMware’s future. The goal is to translate the products — and the company’s message and mission — into something that makes business sense, not just technology sense. This is Pat’s big challenge. I know he’s up to it. The complexity in any microprocessor will blow your mind, but we need not worry because people like Pat have hidden that chaos from us. He finds the opportunities to do the same at VMware intoxicating! I do too!
I’m excited to see what Pat does with his new baby. VMware is undeniably one of the cool tech giants, but it’s been under some serious pressure. Much of this pressure is self-inflicted (the VMworld crowd cheered enthusiastically when Pat announced the abolition of the company’s reviled vRAM pricing model). Here are just a few of the huge challenges in front of VMware and how I see Pat can help:
I’m confident in Pat’s abilities because I’ve known him a long time. I first met Pat about 35 years ago, when we were two of the candidates for scholarships to little Lincoln Technical Institute in Allentown, PA, about an hour north of Philadelphia. As fate would have it, he and I won the two full-tuition scholarships that year. That began a friendship through our early education in electrical engineering. There was also some friendly competition between us, where I usually came out as runner-up! He went on to greatness at Intel and I went into the machinery of Ma Bell. Both of us were fortunate enough to get planted into remarkable intellectual playgrounds rich with opportunity, and our careers flourished. We kept in touch through the years, but despite numerous attempts, we incredibly didn’t get the opportunity to meet face-to-face again until 30 years later, right after his jump from Intel to EMC!
Let me be clear about one thing. Despite my desire to see my friend succeed, I remain objective about what he and VMware must do and will do. He has a tough job. He’s has very tough jobs before, but this is different. A failure here and there is certain and he still has a lot to learn. We all do! Pardon me if I beam with pride, though. He and I both come from humble roots in rural Pennsylvania. Look what he’s done! I’m proud of my old friend and I can’t wait to see what he does!
One other thing — don’t wait three decades to see old friends!
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