There have been rumors of something going on at VMware and parent company EMC for a while, and on December 4th the two companies came clean: a major structural reorganization has been in the works.
"VMware and EMC are committing key existing technology, people and programs from both companies focused on Big Data and Cloud Application Platforms under one virtual organization — the Pivotal Initiative," the companies announced on a VMware blog.
The Pivotal Initiative will be turned into a formal company by Q2 2013, the announcement continued, and will receive heavyweight leadership in the form of Paul Maritz, VMware's former CEO and previously a senior Microsoft figure.
So what does all this mean for VMware's core server virtualization business?
The new company is positioning itself to exploit the market for the next generation of applications that will be "built and used based on cloud, mobility and big data," as the companies put it. And it's certainly not an insignificant entity.
Around 600 VMware employees working in vFabric (cloud application platform), including Spring and Gemfire, Cloud Foundry (PaaS software) and Cetas (big data analytics), as well as 800 EMC employees from Greenplum (big data analytics) and Pivotal Labs (software development) will be moved into the Pivotal Initiative.
There's sound commercial sense behind the Pivotal spinoff. Assets like the open source Cloud Foundry and Spring have never sat easily with VMware's commercial server virtualization offerings, and by moving all this cloud platform software into a separate entity there will be the opportunity to sell it off at some time in the future. (There are other products like Zimbra that also look rather odd in the VMware stable, but there's no news as yet on whether Zimbra will be staying with VMware or moving to the new entity.)
Now while this is all very interesting, it's also big news as far as what's left at VMware. The rump consists of the "traditional" VMware server virtualization and cloud software business, as well as the exciting Nicira software-defined networking (SDN) acquisition.
This is the beginning of a back-to-basics approach: concentrating on what VMware has always been good at, which is virtualizing the data center. And let's not forget that the company still has plenty of work to do there.
While the easy-to-virtualize workloads have already been virtualized in many organizations, there are still plenty of mission-critical, performance-sensitive or just plain complex ones that up to now have not.
But it's a forward-looking approach as well. It shows VMware is thinking clearly about how it is going to stay ahead of Microsoft's Hyper-V and the other upstart hypervisor competitors like Xen and KVM — by focusing in on its vision of the software-defined data center.
Nicira is clearly a part of that, but so is the rest of its server virtualization know-how, not to mention all the cloud computing building blocks that have been assembled over the past few years.
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist and contributor to ServerWatch, EnterpriseNetworkingPlanet and EnterpriseMobileToday. He has also covered technology for international newspapers and magazines including The Economist and The Financial Times since 1991.