Consumer crossroads for enterprise IT

Former VMware boss, Paul Maritz may be in line to take the top job at Microsoft, but for the moment he’s focusing his energies on Pivotal, an EMC open cloud venture that wants to redefine enterprise IT.

Former VMware CEO and the current boss of EMC's open cloud venture Pivotal, Paul Maritz, is getting pretty good at dodging questions about whether he is ready and willing to take the helm at Microsoft.

Maritz is reportedly in line to take Steve Ballmer's gig at Microsoft and he has the pedigree.

He spent 14 years working at Microsoft and was part of the five-member executive committee that managed the overall company, so he knows the business inside out. Combine that with the time spent as the chief strategist at EMC and the four years running VMware, and there are few execs out there with the sort of resume Maritz boasts.

“I prefer to build for the future," Maritz says, and for now he is focusing his energies on Pivotal, which is on a mission to provide a comprehensive next gen enterprise computing platform.

It's still early days but Pivotal has hit the ground running. Since its launch in April this year, Pivotal has paid a pretty penny, around $65 million, for mobile solutions developer Xtreme Labs and last week launched an innovation centre in Singapore.

Not bad for a company that still calls itself a start-up; but with over 1300 employees, it’s a very big and cashed up start-up.

Learning from Google, Amazon

Pivotal's pitch is that enterprises have plenty to learn from the likes of Google and Amazon, especially when it comes to how they look at and use data to drive business process.

Maritz says that the consumer tech heavyweights, unencumbered by legacy, have managed to harness data in a far bigger scale to gain faster insight and deploy applications at a rapid pace.

This is what Maritz wants to bring to enterprises, with Pivotal offering cloud, big data, social and now mobile, with the Xtreme Labs acquisition, as one total package.

So just what can this total package, Pivotal One, deliver for enterprises? Simply put, it’s PaaS (platform as a service) geared for the development of applications. One’s that incorporates the Cloud, Big Data and just about everything that’s yet to emerge as the internet of everything takes hold.

Maritz is keen to sell this as the third platform, one that allows enterprises to leverage off interconnectedness and build applications that can not only crunch a mountain of data but also provide real-time analysis.

Making “vendor lock-in” history

The two trends undermining this platform is the data deluge that will be exasperated as the internet of things takes hold and the open source approach that Maritz says is the path forward for the cloud computing era.

“Cloud is the new OS” says Maritz and “vendor lock-in” just won’t work in an environment where organisations are pining for cheaper, more flexible solutions.

Keeping that in mind, Pivotal offers an abstraction layer that offers enterprises a modicum of freedom from one single provider.

“If you go back to what has happened in the computing space it’s Linux that survived and it’s important to create an open foundation that many in the industry can build upon,” Maritz says.

“There are many of us who say that this will happen inevitably, but there are others who will take the opposite approach and build a proprietary stack of their own. But in the long run I think the open approach will win out.”

Pivotal’s play is to sit on top of an organisation’s cloud layer, its data centre layer and provide an open source platform for developers to get cracking on consumer grade applications, with a special focus on real time analytics.

From Big Data to Fast Data

As the analytics narrative starts to evolve around real-time performance. The quest to derive value from variety and velocity of data is creating an appetite for “fast data” and the implications of this on the manufacturing, telco, banking and the retail sector can be profound.

From improving product efficiency to building better customer experiences, Fast Data looks set to make its mark as the rising number of interconnected sensors start bringing bigger, more varied data sets. The ability to process this data as quickly as it rolls in is going to be crucial to finding a competitive edge, says Maritz.

Add the ability to iterate on this analysis quickly through the creation of customised apps and Maritz reckons the Pivotal One platform becomes an attractive proposition for enterprises for all shapes and sizes.

General Electric (GE) certainly sees the value, with the US multinational tipping in $US105 million for a 10 per cent stake in Pivotal. The investment is instructive because it highlights the value shift happening in the industrial space. Companies like GE just don’t want to be passive IT consumers anymore; there’s real value in developing your own software platform and applications.

The Singapore initiative

Developing a disruptive software platform is well and good and Pivotal is still very much a work in progress. Gartner Research’s initial take on Pivotal at launch was somewhat tepid, with analyst Yefim Natis, pointing out that some notable components essential to a comprehensive cloud computing platform are missing. These deficiencies aren’t necessarily a deal breaker for Pivotal. The Xtreme Labs buy highlights that Maritz has the will and muscle of EMC behind him to fill the gaps.

In the meantime, the launch of a Big Data-focused innovation lab in Singapore, highlights Pivotal’s aim to seed the Asia-Pacific market and make enterprises in the region more receptive to its fast data and rapid application development pitch.

Maritz says the real challenge in enterprise IT often boils down to culture and innovation needs to about engagement. The Pivotal Innovation Centre is designed to address the engagement issue by providing an environment for enterprises to tinker with Big Data, the Cloud and agile application development.

The two-year partnership with the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore has a strong focus on talent development and mentorship, with Pivotal’s team of data scientists to work with customers and partners to build a clear return on investment. 

“We are not trying to build an army of data scientists but we are trying to build an elite team of educators,” Maritz says.

Educators that Pivotal is no doubt hoping will serve the purpose of making real-time data analytics the lifeblood of doing business on the industrial internet.

Supratim Adhikari travelled to Singapore as a guest of Pivotal.

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