Aug 272014

A decade ago VM Ware disrupted the corporate IT world with its virtualisation software that changed the way big organisations used their servers. Today the company is facing up to the challenge of dealing with its own business being disrupted.

In the late 1990s when a big business wanted a new server it had to get someone to physically install one, VM Ware’s founders came up with the idea of ‘virtualisation’ with their software creating a virtual server that looked to the network like it was a discrete, real computer.

Naturally this was quicker and cheaper than buying and setting up a whole new server and VM Ware was an immediate success that upended the ‘big iron’ end of the computer industry.

Today VM Ware is valued at $42 billion on the stock market and is one of the IT industry’s giants.

However the virtualisation market itself is being disrupted by cloud computing. For many businesses, it’s even cheaper to pay Amazon, Microsoft or another cloud service to provide the servers for you.

So VM Ware is reinventing itself with a range of services to meet the challenge from the cloud providers. One of it’s key strategies is to provide a ‘hybrid’ cloud where customers run some IT services on their own servers and others on the cloud, the idea is this offers the best of both worlds.

This is almost the same challenge that Microsoft faces as both companies see their core business models being threatened by internet based technologies, something that VM Ware CEO Pat Gelsinger concedes.

“We think of Microsoft having a strategy much like ours, given they have on premise and in the cloud,” says Gelsinger. “We sort of agree on the shape of the market. We would say that Amazon and Google see a different shape in the market.”

Amazon and Google’s view is a ‘pure cloud’ model where companies and consumers run all their IT on web based services. In that world, purists like Xero’s Rod Drury are openly disdainful of the hybrid model believing it to be cumbersome and adding complexity to a simple business solution.

For companies like VM Ware and Microsoft their future lies upon the hybrid model being adopted by business. This is a high stakes industry battle which will define the careers of many IT workers and the shape of the businesses they work for.

Paul travelled to the VM World conference in San Francisco as a guest of  VM Ware.

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