New VMware CEO pledges to stay the course

Paul Moritz "formally hands over" VMware to new CEO Pat Gelsinger at VMworld

Paul Moritz “formally hands over” VMware to new CEO Pat Gelsinger at VMworld

SAN FRANCISCO – It appeared to be a bittersweet moment for VMware CEO Paul Maritz as he clutched the hand of his successor, incoming CEO Pat Gelsinger, and told VMworld 2012 attendees that he “formally handing over custodianship of this community” to the new executive.

“Fasten your safety belt for the next four years, and enjoy your ride with Pat,” Maritz said, handing over the stage at the Moscone Center to the former top Intel executive.

But if the 20,000-odd partners and customers expected a dramatically different message from the new boss as opposed to the old boss, they were likely surprised, saying that VMware will stay the course Maritz set over the last five years – and that includes the company’s autonomy from its corporate parent EMC.

Gelsinger comes to VMware’s top job from EMC, of course, part of an odd executive double-switch that will see Maritz head to a high-profile role at EMC, and presumably moves the bearded executive up the ranks on the list of possible successors to venerable EMC CEO Joe Tucci. But Gelsinger made it clear on several occasions Monday that his appointment doesn’t mean EMC is taking back the reins on its spin-off.

“I’m committed to executing the same strategy that Paul has described for VMware,” Gelsinger told attendees. “VMware is, and will remain, an independent company.”

In fact, all of the reasons that VMware was spun off originally remain valid, Gelsinger said – those include very different cultures (East Coast EMC vs. West Coast VMware, hardware company vs. software company, and the need to partner broadly – including with EMC’s rivals in the storage market.

Gelsinger also expressed solidarity for the channel community that makes up the vast majority of VMware’s revenues. In front of a slide that read “VMware and partners accelerate the transition,” Gelsinger told attendees that “he’s seen the power of the partner ecosystem over the last 10-plus years.”

In his briefing with press later, Gelsinger said that part of the reason VMware must remain independent is to foster “a neutral ecosystem play that could partner broadly and effectively.” It’s a change of context for Gelsinger, though, and it has the potential to create (in the short term) some strange bedfellows for the executive. Consider the fact, Gelsinger says, that he’s booked to have dinner with NetApp chief executive Tom Georgens Monday night.

“That will be fun,” he quipped. “Last week, he wanted to kill me. This week, I’m his best partner.”

On the heels of VMware’s just-completed acquisition of software-defined networking pioneer Nicira, Gelsinger also offered his “solemn reaffirmation” that VMware will remain committed to the open software community in general and the OpenStack community in particular.