At VMware’s 20th birthday party, CEO Gelsinger plots company’s next act

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger at VMworld 2018

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger at VMworld 2018

LAS VEGAS — VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger kicked off the company’s annual VMware user and partner conference, in the company’s 20th year, by looking back at the company’s past, and offering a glimpse into what he sees as its future.

At its core, Gelsinger told attendees, VMware has always been a bridge-builder. And while the bridges it’s built have changed over time, he said he still believes that will be the company’s role going forward.

“Time and again, these areas of innovation emerge, but then as they get used, business wants to innovate across the silos that they cause. We’ve had the ability to bridge across those cycles of innovation,” he said.

The first, and probably most dramatic of those bridges was the one that the company built its name and business around, the act of virtualizing servers to bridge across the various server platforms that then dominated. “That was the magic of ESX,” Gelsinger said.

Next, in the CEO’s estimation, came BYOD, and the company once again built bridges between various mobile platforms with Horizon, AirWatch, and ultimately Workspace One, offering tools to manage devices and boost worker productivity.

The third act came with the network, which Gelsinger said “for thirty years” had been built around “the physical view of the network, which was too rigid.” “We broke those chains with NSX and with Nicera,” he said.

Act four, and the latest bridge to be built, was the idea of cloud migration, providing Cloud Foundation as a way to “eliminate the gap between public and private cloud.”

Up next, he posited, is the company’s role in the multi-cloud era. Today, he said, the average enterprise is using eight public clouds, and is moving towards 10. IT has control of private cloud, but line of business and operations largely still control the public cloud story. The bridge VMware has to build next, Gelsinger said, is across public cloud giants, AWS, Azure, Google, IBM and others, and private clouds within the enterprise.

The company’s role will be to help customers “use them across a consistent infrastructure and operational model” regardless of where applications live.

The CEO’s message underlies the company’s new positioning as the builder of “the digital foundation for digital business,” extending the idea of “virtualize everything” to essentially virtualizing and optimizing between a variety of clouds and other infrastructure, with as common a layer of management and security as possible.

VMware plans to do that through building on what Gelsinger called “the superpowers of tech” — cloud, mobile, AI and machine learning, and edge and IOT.

Cloud, he said, offers “unimaginable scale.” “With your AmEx, you can go and rent 100 cores. Or, if you have Michael’s AmEx,” he joked, pointing at Michael Dell in the front row, “you can rent a million cores.”

Mobile has “unprecedented reach” and while it’s come a long way in connecting potentially everyone on the planet, it still has a way to go.

AI and ML are something Gelsinger has had an eye on since he was working on the team at Intel building the 486 chip, and is what he called “a  30-year overnight success” as the industry is “just scratching the surface” of what it cane mean, even though gains in fields like healthcare have been tremendous.

And finally, edge computing and IOT have the potential to “connect the physical and digital world as never before possible,” but again, is still in the very early days. “Today, we’re largely hooking thingsBut we have so much to do to make them connected, secure, and internetworked — to bring IT to IOT.”

Gelsinger also spent a lot of time stressing that the company, and the industry at large, have to make sure they focus on using those superpowers for the benefit of humanity as well as themselves. Technology, he said, has great power behind it. But that power must be harnessed carefully. The printing press, he warned, can distribute knowledge to the masses. But it can also be used to spread lies and hate.

“Technology is inherently neutral,” he said. “We, together, must shape it for good.”