Sanjay Poonen On VMware Vs. Red Hat OpenShift: ‘May The Best Product Win’

“I’d like to get to 5,000 customers before [Red Hat does] and we have to go get customers who are undecided about it,” says Sanjay Poonen, VMware’s chief operating officer, in an interview with CRN.


Poonen Talks Red Hat OpenShift, Zoom Integration And Coronavirus

Sanjay Poonen feels “very good” about VMware’s strategy and position in the Kubernetes and container market compared to its competitor Red Hat OpenShift.

“We will compete with OpenShift but we will do it honorably. May the best product win. I’d like to get to 5,000 customers before they do and we have to go get customers who are undecided about it,” said Poonen, chief operating officer at VMware, in an interview with CRN.

During its recent Red Hat Summit, the company said OpenShift positions Red Hat to lead the hybrid cloud industry with an ambitious cloud strategy centered around Kubernetes with IBM.

“They said there are 1,700 customers of OpenShift after about ten years of working on that project. As we’ve acquired Pivotal Software and Heptio, we feel very good about our strategy,” said Poonen, who is responsible for worldwide sales, services, support and alliances at VMware. “The founders of Kubernetes are Craig [McLuckie] and Joe [Beda]. They are with VMware now. So we feel very good about our mindshare in the Kubernetes community.”

In an interview with CRN, Poonen talks about both competing and partnering with IBM and Red Hat, deeper integration ahead with Zoom and VMware’s innovation roadmap during and after the coronavirus pandemic.

How does VMware’s Kubernetes and container strategy stack up against Red Hat’s OpenShift?

Red Hat is mostly Linux. Red Hat Linux I think is 80 percent of their revenue, the rest of it is JBoss and OpenStack. Just a small percentage of their revenue, at least pre-IBM acquisition, was OpenShift. I think they said there are 1,700 customers of OpenShift after about ten years of working on that project. As we’ve acquired Pivotal and Heptio, we feel very good about our strategy. We’re among the top two contributors to open source. All of the major contributors to Kubernetes were Heptio people who left Google. The founders of Kubernetes are Craig [McLuckie] and Joe [Beda]. They are with VMware now. So we feel very good about our mindshare in the Kubernetes community. We just have to earn it. We are building out a stack.

With the revenues of Pivotal now part of our Tanzu portfolio, we are, I think, bigger than OpenShift. Our goal is to get to 5,000 customers and then 50,000 customers. There’s a significant base, up to 500,000 VMware customers, where a substantially portion of them will want Tanzu. We feel very good about that portfolio. With [Pivotal Cloud Foundry] with Tanzu, formerly Project Pacific, we are able to take that innovation into the core of vSphere which is a game-changer.

Where does VMware have a leg up over Red Hat in terms of competition?

I mean, which company has AWS, Azure, Google, IBM, Oracle and Alibaba embracing them? All six of them are embracing VMware. No other company, period, has that level of strong partnerships with all of them. We feel very good about our public cloud partnerships. The best of those examples is AWS. Another example, Azure announced last week the first offer of the Azure VMware Solution. This sort of cloud-native app modernization layer sits on top of that multi-cloud vision. So we are the best company for the multi-cloud economy, private cloud, public clouds, and then there’s also many of our cloud service providers like Rackspace that are in our VMware Cloud Service Provider program. We want the app modernization layer to be also one where can effectively win overtime.

Look, we will compete with OpenShift but we will do it honorably: may the best product win. I’d like to get to 5,000 customers before they do and we have to go get customers who are undecided about it. I think the container explosion is legitimate. There could be many more containers than VMs (virtual machines). We’ve talked about 70 million virtual machines, maybe they’ll be 700,000 million containers in due course. We want to be that company who’s able to do that across the private cloud and the public cloud.

With virtualization features now baked into OpenShift, will Red Hat customers need VMware anymore?

I believe 95 percent of those 1,700 [OpenShift] customers run on VMware. So any effort to try and say, ‘Well you don’t need VMware’ – which others have tried in the past -- it doesn’t work. Because VMware is an indispensable virtualization infrastructure to all those customers. They’re not going to rip it out. What your hearing here is we are going to partner heavily with IBM. If there is a overlap with the OpenShift part of it, we’ll honorably compete – may the best product win. Even if a customer does pick OpenShift we will absolutely support that to run on VMware better than anybody else. When you put that all together, who wins? The customer. That’s the perspective we always take. The partner and the customer need to win. We will do whatever it takes to make them win whether they pick our technology or a combination of our technology and a point competitor in another space.

What is VMware’s strategy in terms of partnering and competing against IBM’s Red Hat?

We have a great partner relationship with IBM. We just did a quarterly business review a few days ago with [IBM CEO] Arvind [Krishna], [VMware CEO] Pat [Gelsinger], myself and a few others at IBM. They are a strong friend. IBM Cloud is built on VMware. IBM Global Technology Services is one of our biggest partners that do a lot of work with us. If you talk to Arvind and our executive team, it’s a strong partnership. They’re an American icon. I’m very proud of Arvind, as a fellow Indian American myself, of his accomplishments. … We have a really strong approach to partnering with IBM with almost 99 percent of their portfolio including IBM Cloud, IBM Services and even Red Hat Linux.

If an OpenShift customer wants to run on a infrastructure of software-defined data center, the best place for that is VMware. The bulk of the OpenShift 1,700 customers today run on VMware. We will support that. We will absolutely do nothing but make sure that customer who is using OpenShift on VMware Cloud Foundation and vSphere is supported.

Does VMware plan to shift its innovation roadmap due to the new customer demand stemming from the coronavirus pandemic?

We are seeing a subset of our solutions with a stronger amount of interest from industries and companies that are accelerating work from home. We already were investing fairly heavily in these technologies, some via acquisitions. Looking back now at those acquisitions I say, ‘What would VMware be without having acquired Nicira, AirWatch, VeloCloud, CloudHealth, Pivotal and Carbon Black?’ VeloCloud, CloudHealth, Pivotal and Carbon Black were all recent. Those things have really become important for us. In those areas, we were already investing more and you’re going to see us do even more because we’re seeing momentum behind those.

This quarter, we had some one of the best months ever in our history for releasing the most IP of VMware. We had a release of vSphere, that’s our flagship product, and we had new releases of vSAN, NSX, VMware Cloud Foundation, vRealize, Tanzu and even Carbon Black. I mean we just [boosted] the full portfolio. It was amazing because even as we went to shelter in place, the engineers didn’t lose one heartbeat in getting those products out in time with high quality.

How is VMware enabling the new at-home workforce and what is your vision ahead to help customer adapt during and after COVID-19?

We took a subset of our solutions and created a Work from Home with Business Continuity offer. It was around a trifecta of Workspace ONE, Carbon Black and VeloCloud SD-WAN -- sort of endpoint management and VDI, and endpoint security and SD-WAN. … It’s a trifecta.

So that work from home laptop that you have, wherever you are, needs to have endpoint management virtual desktops. We’re seeing a huge interest here. Our portfolio is so large thanks to our investments we are doing in virtual desktop and making it very cloud-centric -- whether it’s in our cloud or AWS, Azure, etc. – then adding what was formerly AirWatch, which is now Workspace ONE. So that portfolio is second to none. We’ve seen customers go from 10,000 virtual desktops that they were rolling out to, within two or three weeks, accelerating that deployment to 150,000 to 200,000. We were able to help them do that without a hitch. These are folks in the public sector, schools or banks. That’s the first pillar: WorkSpace ONE complete with a full VDI solution.

Secondly, looking back, we were all along saying that the Workspace endpoint management solution needed to be augmented with endpoint security. We were one of the first company’s at scale to think about that problem. So we acquired Carbon Black to bring that notion of workspace security -- think that as Workspace ONE plus Carbon Black coming together. We were well underway with that integration. But that becomes the second thing you need as you’re rolling out more laptops, is they need to be secure.

The third, if you’re working at home, you want low latency and want network acceleration so that your home office almost becomes an extension of the remote office. So that is network acceleration, or what the industry calls SD-WAN. Three years ago, we acquired VeloCloud. I mean think about the fortuitus nature of that.

Will VMware’s relationship with fast-growing Zoom change?

We have a strong partnership with Zoom. We are working to integrate Workspace ONE, Carbon Black and VeloCloud deeper with Zoom, so that customers who are using Zoom, they could use Zoom inside a virtual desktop and it works seamlessly. We have already done that with [Microsoft] Skype and Teams. We are already doing that with [Cisco] WebEx. Zoom is experiencing tremendous amount of interest. So the combination of [Workspace ONE, Carbon Black and VeloCloud] tightly integrated with unified communications, is a very powerful combination. Now you take to these customers who want to use unified communications and VMware solutions together, it’s really good for them. It’s a match made in heaven between these unified communications players and us.

So as people are using Zoom, they want VMware’s trifecta. They want VeloCloud for network accelerate with SD-WAN, they want Workspace ONE and Carbon Black. That trifecta is something that were seeing much more need around. We’re going to see more integration and investment in those.

How is VMware helping channel partners and customers through this time of economic uncertainty?

We’ve been reaching out to our system integrators and partners to tell them we want to partner with them around work from home and business continuity. In some cases, we are like the digital first responders to the COVID-19 first responders. So the first responders are hospitals, schools, governments, pharmacies, retailers – they depend on VMware infrastructure through our partners, so let’s go and serve them. The revenue will come if it makes sense. Let’s not be ambulance chasing but do it in a very authentic way. I’ve sent our hundreds of emails to customers. I know that Pat Gelsinger and Michael Dell also did the same around, ‘We are here to help.’ Of course we have a solution we can help, but we aren’t just chasing deals, we are being authentic in helping. We found partners were really responding. Partners starting creating these five-minute, mini-YouTube videos that tell their stories in a simple fashion.

I recently did a webinar with HCL [Technologies], one of our big SI partners, we were talking about, ‘What does this new model look like?’ Pat [Gelsinger] did a recent webinar with Presidio. So we’ve been using this in many cases, not just on our own, but also talking to our partners to say, ‘Let’s create ways by which we can be helpful using video.’ We’re also doing many more Zoom calls with customers that are often with our partners. Those are ways we’ve been responding to the crisis. So starting back in February, we turned our attention to our employees, and then turned our attention to our partners and customers.

What’s your message to partners and customers during this pandemic?

We’re all in this together. The virus has no separator between color of skin, nationality, maybe you’re a little more vulnerable if you’re older – we’ve got to take care of our older generation – but outside of that, there are no prejudices of how the virus is treating anybody in the world. We didn’t ask to get into this, but we should all be together in helping each other through this.

There will be light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t believe this will be like World War Two that lasted about six years. Maybe this will be six or 12 months, but this too shall end. We will be stronger collectively, us and our partners, through it.