Go Digital or Perish

VMware in India is growing aggressively as enterprises accelerate network virtualisation and ink progressive technology strategies. Arun Kumar, MD, VMware India is driving the company’s operations here for bigger growth and deepening the mandates in this part of the world. Post the Dell-EMC merger, VMware as a company still retains its autonomy but at the same time well poised to leverage the synergies percolating out of the deal. In an exclusive interview to DATAQUEST, Arun Kumar talks about VMware’s position, its competencies, and the leading trends that are shaping the company to achieve greater growth in the days ahead.  Excerpts. 

On the consolidation happening in the industry and VMware’s position?

We live in unprecedented times where disruption has become the norm. In tandem the industry landscape is changing and clearly companies need to come together and expand their portfolios and deepen their competencies.  The future will be siliconomy, as we call it. So the question therefore is, what are the assets that we require, what are some of the capabilities you require and what is the kind of talent that you need to survive in the new normal.   I think the Dell-EMC merger is an excellent example of two companies coming together to bring best in class solutions, best of breed products and services.

The industry will benefit greatly out of the Dell-EMC deal for it brings in an unparalleled product portfolio. When it comes to VMware, the beauty is that this merger does not impact our autonomy and we operate on an independent ecosystem. And independence of our ecosystem is probably one of the contributing factors to the on going success of VMware. And keeping us independent, keeping us public, allowing us to pursue our strategy, allowing us to help drive innovation and deliver the best possible solutions for our customers, this probably makes very logical sense. So we are getting the best of both the worlds. Anyway we are partnering with Dell for the last 15 years or so and at the same time we have been working closely with EMC as part of the federation model. While we will leverage the larger synergies percolating out of the deal but at the same time we are completely committed to the entire ecosystem of partners. So nothing really changes for VMware in that context.

In the context of CIO priorities and VMware’s competencies-   what kind of message you are driving to the enterprise IT organizations?

Well, two priorities dominate the CIO’s agenda today. How to effectively leverage cloud and mobility. On the one end, CIOs are looking at strategies to seamlessly transition to the cloud and in the bargain they are decoding questions like – how do I consume the cloud, compute on demand, storage on demand, network on demand – basically the  ‘On Demand’ action plan. When it comes to mobility the CIOs are looking at aspects like optimizing workforce productivity using mobility as the tool. In these two areas VMware has best of breed solutions that makes the CIOs digital transformation easier.

  Quite frankly unlike lot of the other players, our products are in their fifth generation, and heading for the sixth generation, and solutions we do are absolute enterprise grade. So when we get in front of the customers and we have to talk about what we can do – say from a cloud perspective, we are not going there and saying, try out. We are basically saying that this is best in class solution and a world leading solution.   There are thousands of references globally; pretty much every Fortune 500 company you can think has done business with us. So in that sense the message we take it to the market is actually coming from the CIO and hence it is very relevant for their requirements.

So what is this single biggest value proposition of VMware?

  If you think about the concept of a digital economy or digital enterprise – the mobile cloud era, as we call is going to define how companies are going to be successful in that digital economy. And so our single largest value proposition is that we are helping customers’ transition to the mobile cloud era, which by definition becomes the building blocks for them to build out a digital strategy. In fact increasingly we are having a lot of conversations outside of the IT organizations with the business, where the conversation is more around shaping the digital strategy and stuff like that.  .

The bottom line thinking here is that it does not matter which business you are in, if you don’t have a digital strategy, the chances are that you will not last the next five years.  So, much of the enterprises’ survival depends on their ability to transform themselves to the new digital economy and create a digital enterprise. So from that perspective we are extremely well positioned.

So clearly leveraging on our inherent strengths VMware in India is working with the customers in unique ways. For instance if you look at the mobility space, its not just predominantly Apple or Samsung here like in the West. So we need to think beyond homogeneity and plan for heterogeneity. So in that context we need to address the needs different category of users. Technology is still a mixed bag here, we still see 2G and it co-exists with 3G and 4G. To address the uniqueness of the Indian market, we have 400 odd people in the AirWatch team. It is the second largest team outside the headquarters in Atlanta. Having a local team out here that is looking at the unique demands and thereby able to craft solutions around it. This puts us in a much better position compared to others in the market because we have made those investments in India in a very big way. That I would say is probably a unique value proposition for us.

  When you look at the digital transformation and the progressive Indian CIO’s struggling to ink a digital strategy, what will be your recommendations that will make things easier for the CIO?

The first focus area is mobility. In India you don’t have to sell them because if you look at the top sectors, they are already completely on the mobility bandwagon. Banking has gone mobile much before most developed markets even got there.  If you take ones like IT, ITES, everybody is heavily investing in mobility. So mobility is everything for it creates a unique and exceptional user experience; it changes the productivity of the people in more ways than you can imagine. So I would say transforming for mobility must top of the charts.

The second aspect is, as a CIO in India today face a lot of legacy infrastructure due to the fact that India did not modernize infrastructure as fast as compared to the rest of the developed world. So just start thinking about you being in a business that is going to be constantly threatened by technology disruptions then this legacy baggage will make you into a sitting duck. So the second priority that we say is, every customer should have a blue print for hybrid cloud architecture as it allows them to scale and transition to a new orbit and make them nimble to address the disruptive tech forces. Here I need to emphasize the point that one needs have a true hybrid cloud. That is where if you look at one of the crown jewels of our offering called Network Virtualization -NSX. You cannot build a hybrid cloud without network portability, portability of security, which is where NSX comes in. it is almost the lynchpin of the hybrid cloud strategy of VMware. So having a true hybrid cloud strategy is almost critical to having a digital infrastructure that can scale.

Post the hybrid, the challenge is to create an IT infrastructure that is elastic enough to interplay a whole lot of elements like- legacy apps, cloud native apps and apps built on the cloud. Here comes the architectural blueprint that facilitates open APIs to your infrastructure that can adapt to all these different types of applications.

The last part is security and it is glue that binds everything. People fundamentally have to accept that the old ways of doing security have to be trashed. Because the old concept of security is ‘guard your perimeter’ is no longer good and you need a proactive security backbone. .   .

 Any thoughts on server virtualization and consolidation and the extent of virtualized environments?

  The number depends on which part of the market you are in. if you are in the top 200 accounts; the virtualization density is probably is 70%. India is up there with respect to the developed nations. As you go from the top 200 to the next top remaining 1,000, that number will probably drop by about 40%, and then when you go into the mid-market in the SMB its very less. So relative to lot of markets like Australia, which are probably 80-90% virtualized across the board, there is still a significant amount of headroom for server consolidation and physical to virtual transition. That is why we are focusing on verticals like BFSI. Telecom and Government. There is still a very large market that is sitting on physical infrastructure that is to be virtualized. So that opportunity is pretty huge.

 There is a constant fight between appliance and the software defined world. And software is trying to edge hardware. How do you see this whole thing?

I don’t think it is a fight, that fight was lost long time back with the appliance guys. The very definition of digital, they say, that everything is software defined means fundamentally it is digital. So you cannot have a digital strategy, if the digital strategy is not powered by software. What does the software do? Software effectively means extreme automation, greater control, and much better security than the traditional models. And software defined fundamentally means greater level of flexibility and shorter time to market. And I think you can ask the industry pundits as well. I don’t think that conversation even exists for most of our customers.

In that case are we going towards a self-healing infrastructure?

  Absolutely, if you think about machine learning, if you think about what the organizations are investing in, we have an interesting solution called vRealize operation. vRealize operation for all practical purposes, there is a lot of protective feeling, there is a lot of proactive monitoring of your infrastructure – giving you guidance on how you better utilize, how you can better manage and reclaim resources. The concept of reactively managing IT is out, because reactively managing IT is equal to downtime today. If you move to software defined economy, and a software defined enterprise, you don’t have the option of downtime. You have to be able to find answers much before the problem hits. So that is where I firmly believe predictive healing and all of these machine learning and artificial intelligence will have a very large role to play going into the future. Going back to the same thing, in an appliance mode, that is not even an option.

  Are you meaning to say that the panacea lies in the hyper converged infrastructure? 

  Our strategy is, we believe that different parts of the market will look at this differently. If you look at our whole software defined data center strategy, we are saying that there are different ways the customers can build up. Strategy one, which is probably very popular in India is ‘build your own’. You pick all the pieces that you want, you have highly skilled manpower that can put all these pieces together into the system integration, and you can come up with a complete software defined strategy. So bring everything together.

The second strategy is things like converged infrastructure.  A converged infrastructure brings a certain level of simplicity, a certain level of evenness in the way solutions are delivered. If you look at Vblock as a classical example, the leader in the converged infrastructure world we had a terrific run with the whole Vblock solution for the last four-five years since it has been in the market.

Finally, what would be your top priorities going forward?

  Network virtualization is everything, because when you think about hybrid cloud you cannot truly deliver workload portability and mobility without a true hybrid model.   Everybody has developed some kind of a tool that will suck two VMs in. But that is not workload mobility that is moving a VM, who is going to worry about the storage and network and the security and everything else that needs to go along with that? In last year VMworld, we demonstrated how we could go from our vRealize automation tool, and then you could drag and drop a three-tier application across on-premise data centers, across multiple different cloud providers, the whole nine yards. When you look at some of the largest organizations in India that are doing this.

We are seeing a very different focus in this landscape, people who understand the true definition of software defined data center and understand what it means in terms of building a hybrid cloud. Network virtualization becomes almost the fundamental building block on that. In that market we are clearly the leaders. If you think about what we got with the acquisition of Nicira and the customer base that we built, I think we have about 1,200 customers today globally.

So it is a huge focus for us here in India, we did a lot of work last year on this, but a lot of those were more in terms of trials and POCs and now  we are going full production. And it is a game changer for us. It is a game changer because it puts us at a core of where everybody is going to go and build the next generation digital infrastructure. And it is not just the data center; it is NSX for VDI, it is NSX for mobile, think about it as extended network across any form factor,   security across any form factor, and completely new way of doing security. So in that sense there is a huge area in investment and focus for us going forward.


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