Dell EMC channel needs to pay more attention to PKS: Chad Sakac

Chad Sakac, Pivotal’s SVP Strategic Alliances, talks with ChannelBuzz about his new role, sorts out the Dell Technologies and Pivotal strategy around PKS, and explains why more of the channel needs to give PKS more attention.

Chad Sakac, Pivotal’s SVP Strategic Alliances

Early this year, Dell EMC broke its converged and hyperconverged business into their separate server and storage businesses. That put Captain Canada out of a job, as Chad Sakac had been president of Dell EMC’s Converged Platforms and Solutions Division. Dell Technologies swiftly moved Sakac into an entirely new role at Pivotal however. While his business card says he is Pivotal’s SVP Strategic Alliances, his position now has two separate components: to drive adoption of the new Pivotal Container Service [PKS] and to make sure as much as PKS as possible runs on Dell infrastructure stacks. In the wake of Google’s significant announcements at their recent Google Cloud Next event, Sakac talked with ChannelBuzz about his role, where Pivotal and Dell are looking to drive PKS, and why Dell EMC partners need to do a better job of getting on board.

“I get measured by five things, one of which is PKS,” Sakac said. “By definition, it is a joint initiative between VMware and Pivotal. We want PKS to be the most widely loved and deployed enterprise Kubernetes platform on the planet. That’s the measurable concrete objective, to be the most loved Kubernetes platform on the market.”

Sakac said that his new role in driving PKS for Pivotal is remarkably similar to his last one, particularly in driving hyperconverged infrastructure [HCI] for Dell EMC.

“In terms of  customer adoption, customer references, and revenue, it’s quite similar to HCI at Dell early on,” he stated. “Dell EMC was not first in the HCI market. We were coming into a market that others had created and we became the market leader. Now, it is arguable that we have more containers deployed than anyone else, but we didn’t create this market either. We came into it. Pivotal and VMware collaborated on PKS, and we started into the market at the beginning of the year, with our first release on February 8 and our second in June. I started in this role on April 1, so it was super early days. We had a few very large customers, who, when they saw that we were embracing Kubernetes, decided to bet on us in this area. Most of them are now in the 1.1 release, with their first production deployment. So we are rolling up our sleeves to make sure they are successful.”

The other definition of success for Sakac is making sure as much of PKS as possible flows through Dell Technologies.

“Pivotal is a company whose value is infrastructure-agnostic,” he stressed. “It can run anywhere. The majority of customers use a blend of VSphere with AWS, GCP or Azure. That said, the majority is on prem, and the majority of that is on Dell infrastructure stacks.

Driving more of that KPS business through the channel is more the role of others, but Sakac acknowledged that it has challenges.

“Kubernetes is complex,” he said. “Kubernetes is where the developers and the infrastructure teams meet, and they meet at the container level, which is mostly infrastructure-centric, not developer-centric. Developers speak a higher level language. They don’t care about the container itself. They just want to be able to push code and have it run. For the channel, this is a new form of an infrastructure competency, however. It’s all about building dev/ops practices and building containers and cluster management.”

Still, while Dell EMC has heavily pushed Pivotal Foundry to the channel for the last year, and has been forcefully arguing the PKS value proposition, Sakac admitted that too much of the channel is playing a watch and wait game. That’s understandable, since it is early days still for the technology. But while it’s not realistic for most partners to be plunging into establishing practices around PKS, they do need to pay more attention to its value.

“I don’t think enough channel partners get it,” he said. “We have seen some of our top partners put up a lighthouse program for this, WWT and a few others. For now, that level of participation is okay. The issue though is that if you ask most customers how important the infrastructure is to them, it’s the bulk of their budget, and most are focused on that – but it still is of lower value compared to applications. It’s really the partners with significant applications practices who understand the value today. The big SIs have massive app modernization practices, and they know PKS is the best platform for that, even though some apps aren’t a good fit for it.”

Making KPS enterprise-ready is not an issue here, if it ever was.

“KPS is an enterprise platform today, and the milestone where we crossed that was with the 1.1 release,” Sakac said. “Today we are at 1.1.3. We do a release of PKS every couple weeks, and a major release every month.”

Sakac also stressed that the major announcements by Google at last month’s Google Cloud Next event, even GKE On Prem, is strongly complementary to the Pivotal and Dell Technologies strategy.

“It’s definitely co-operative, although their on-prem was an announcement and not a launch, and we do see the world differently in terms of where and how much we think customers will want to deploy PKS on prem,” he said. “It validated our design centre for PKS, because we modelled PKS on the design for GKE. We want to provide a vanilla Kubernetes dial tone that you can update constantly in enterprise setting. That’s where we agree with Google and align. It’s why we both contribute to Knative and Istio.  We also agree that if people take Kubernetes in different directions, it will start to disaggregate. We are aligned on that. Don’t fork. Make it simple for enterprises to deploy.”