Why Everyone Needs to Watch VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger’s Portion of the VMworld 2015 Opening Keynote

VMware and its suite of products have largely been designed by geeks, for geeks, with VMware pulling no punches about this claim. VMware’s CEO, Pat Gelsinger, is himself a self-professed geek which is made evident a couple of times in his VMworld keynote. But where he personally and VMware corporately have made big steps forward in the last few years is stripping out the technical mumbo-jumbo that can so easily beset VMware’s product suite and better translating its value proposition into “business speak.” This change in focus and language was put on full display during Gelsinger’s portion of the opening keynotes that kicked off the VMworld 2015 conference.
Virtualization in general and VMware in particular have been driving forces behind many of the changes that have occurred over the last 5-10 years behind the scenes in enterprise data centers. VMware has eliminated the need to deploy hundreds of physical servers and tens or hundreds of terabytes of storage through its use of virtualization. VMware then optimizes these virtualized physical resources enabling organizations to fundamentally transform their IT operations by both better utilizing them and granting organizations greater application mobility and recovery.
But while VMware and its products have resonated with folks on the IT side of the house, when you mention VMware to people on the business side of the house, the response is often, “What is VMware and why should I care from a broader business perspective?
Those are good questions to which VMware did not really have a good, succinct answers. While it could explain all of its technical benefits to the folks on the business side of the house and how VMware lowered costs, VMware could not address how it could help the business grow revenue and sales. In other words, if VMware was ever going to be relevant to people outside of the data center, it needed to change its messaging and add components its product suite to do the same.
The speakers in VMworld’s opening keynotes preceding Pat Gelsinger’s keynote did that in part. One focused on VMware’s Airwatch that provides individuals the flexibility to use almost any type of device (desktop, laptop, tablet or smart phone) that they want to access whatever enterprise application that they need. To do so, Airwatch provides identity management which gives individuals accessing enterprise applications the flexibility and single sign-on capabilities that they want while providing enterprise IT the control and security they need.
But it was Gelsinger’s keynote that really set the table as to why VMware is beginning to establish and differentiate itself as an entity that should be taken seriously outside of the data center. Beginning at the 54:00 minute marker in this video of the opening keynotes at VMworld, Pat Gelsinger explains how the world has changed and why VMware needs to change to remain relevant. Consider:

  • In 1995 16 million people were connected to the Internet. Now over 3 billion people are now connected in some way to the Internet with that number forecast to double to 6 billion by 2030 which will represent over 80 percent of the world’s population.
  • The mobile infrastructure and wireless technologies are enabling emerging economies to connect much more quickly to the Internet. These are enabling third world countries leapfrog and/or bypass the need to build out hard-wired connected infrastructures.
  • The average number of connected devices per person is steadily increasing. In 1995 only 1 in 10 people had a connected device. Now each person has an average of 3 connected devices. By 2020 that will double to roughly 6 connected devices per person.
  • There are over 7200 objects orbiting earth. Te vast majority are dedicated to delivering mobile connectivity.

These points illustrate that solving infrastructure issues inside the data center such as VMware has done were key to creating and supporting these types of technologies. However these new technologies are creating their own set of challenges that VMware needs to adapt in both its technologies to address these new requirements and its messaging to explain their benefits.
It was at this point that Gelsinger drew some good analogies between the changes occurring in the tech world today and how they are comparable to major points of transition in the past.
For instance, it never occurred to me to compare the Revolutionary War of 1776 between US and Britain with some of the changes going on technology today. However that illustration in his presentation exemplified how the technology changes going in the world today are very similar to that time and that VMware, unless it proceeds carefully, could be usurped by an upstart in much the same way that England was beaten back by the United States.
This point was probably best illustrated by Eric Pearson, the CIO of InterContinental Hotels Group, who appeared in one of the videos during Gelsinger’s portion of the keynote. In his video appearance, Pearson makes a statement that articulates the changes going on in the world and what they mean to businesses when he says, “It is no longer the big beating the small. It is the fast beating the slow.
That viewpoint might explain what I detected in VMware as a whole and in Gelsinger in particular: a new willingness to take greater risks. Over the last few years and in particular during Gelsinger’s reign as CEO at VMware, I sensed that it was not taking the bold, forward-looking moves it needed to remain at the forefront of technology.
While VMware was not falling behind or becoming irrelevant, it was leaving doors open and becoming a follower rather than a leader in virtualization. This was leaving doors open through which upstarts were taking the initiative and walking through in large part because they were faster and VMware was slower. VMware now seems to grasp that the least risky approach to growing its business is to take risks as not taking the right technology risks is simply too risky.
This gets to the heart of why I encourage people to watch Gelsinger’s portion of the opening series of keynotes at VMworld. Yes, you will learn more about VMware, many of the new technologies it is bringing to market and how Gelsinger foresees these technologies helping VMware remain relevant in a rapidly changing world. Yet maybe more importantly, his presentation provides some sound advice for each of us to follow. By  identifying the broader trends and changes going on in the world around us and then having the courage to do make the changes in our lives and/or businesses, we personally can remain relevant as these changes occur and ideally even position ourselves as leaders as they take place.

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