VMware’s Gelsinger seeks to do the ‘boring, hard’ parts of IOT

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger at VMworld 2014.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger

The Internet of Things, as well as being a perhaps the technology movement to usher in another industrial and civil revolution, has become one of the hottest spaces in the technology world. But it’s not all glitz and glamour. And that’s just fine for VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger.
In a recent roundtable discussion in Toronto with Canadian technology media, Gelsinger said his company has humble, but important, ambitions in the space.
“We’re going to do the hard, boring stuff and partner with the people who do the cool, sexy stuff,” Gelsinger said. “We’ll do the connectivity, the security, the management of the infrastructure and the security overlay for IOT devices.”
Considering some of VMware’s existing product lines and focuses, that’s probably not a surprise. With its NSX offering, it has software-based network virtualization, and while today its AirWatch mobile device management is largely focused on more traditional IT endpoints such as PCs, mobile phones, and tablets, Gelsinger points out there’s a lot of blurring of lines in the IOT worlds.
The approach makes Gelsinger a good partner for a variety of players in the IOT space, because of its role as the underpinnings of IOT solutions — for example, he said GE is a great fit because while it wants to own much of the IOT analytics space with its Predix business unit, it has no interest in being the security and the infrastructure.
But while he may have largely confined his company to the less beautiful part of the IOT opportunity, Gelsinger does speak of that opportunity in glowing terms, his engineering background coming through loud and clear.
“We’re engaging in what we think could be the biggest, longest-term change in industry in our lives,” Gelsinger said of the connection of everything in IOT. “IOT will drive a beautiful competition of business models.”
He offers the example of smart cities — even for something as simple as smart lighting solutions, who will own the telemetry that cities use? The city itself? State or provincial government? Federal government? An integrator that builds it out and offers access to it as a service? The service provider whose connectivity brings all the pieces together? It’s all up in the air, there’s likely to be more than one answer to many of these questions,
“There are going to be all kinds of wonderful business models, there are going to be legal and privacy issues to address. It’s going to be thrilling,” Gelsinger said. “We’re going to do the basics really well, and let the exciting, chaotic innovation be built on top of that.”
As is almost universally the case in the space, Gelsinger feels security will be one of the key differentiators in the space. He described VMware’s approach to security in the IOT world as assuming that IOT devices are “by default insecure and unmanaged” and then securing and managing them through an intelligent gateway. In other words, it’s a rapid expansion of what the company has already been doing through its AirWatch line.
But security isn’t AirWatch alone. The company’s NSX network virtualization is one of its shooting stars, and security, Gelsinger said, is often the way NSX finds its way its way into customers’ environments.
“Half of NSX sales are security-driven, and that’s been consistent,” he said. In fact, if anything, he expects that figure to grow.
He offers familiar assessment of the security industry — too much complexity and too many cooks in the kitchen.
“Security is a screwed up industry. There are thousands of companies, with thousands of point products, and that makes it nearly impossible for an IT professional to deliver a secure infrastructure,” he said. “We’ll integrate security deeply into our products, work partners, and make sure that IT pros get a box that includes secure infrastructure and secure products.”
Again, in security, Gelsinger says VMware is quite happy to be relegated to the mundane.
“We’ll focus on the fundamentals that will increase our core cyber-security, not the out-there, exotic stuff,” he said. “Almost every major breach has been a result of the simple things, not the hard things. It’s phishing attacks, and the horizontal movement of APTs across the network. It’s the stupid stuff that’s found success.”
The more exotic stuff, as Gelsinger puts it, will be handled by other vendors, with whom VMware will partner on integration. He offers Palo Alto Networks as a key example of such a partner.
“Everything we do is a platform for others to build on,” he said.
In part two of our coverage of this discussion with Gelsinger, we’ll touch on the CEO’s thoughts on where he needs partners to step up, and where he thinks VMware needs to step up for partners.