SAN FRANCISCO — VMware doesn’t want to be the next BlackBerry. “These are smart people,” said VMware EVP and CTO Ray O’Farrell at the company’s annual RADIO conference.
He’s referring to BlackBerry founders Jim Basillie and Mike Lazaridis. “They took wireless technology — in some ways the first smart phones — and they were massively successful. Then a disrupter appeared on the market.”
That disrupter, of course, was the iPhone. In 2016 BlackBerry stopped making phones.
Side note: this is also at least the second tech event in as many months where keynote speakers used BlackBerry as a cautionary tale.
If BlackBerry’s an example of what not to do, then Adobe’s pivot to software-as-a-service (SaaS) under CEO Shantanu Narayen — and subsequent stock price increase — shows technology companies can have a successful second act, O’Farrell said.
“Revolutionary companies must innovate, not just in the product, but in everything they do,” across all business units, he added.
The revolution starts at RADIO, which stands for research and development innovation offsite. Since 2001, VMware has brought tens of thousands of engineers to this annual Bay Area conference. At it, they pitch ideas and learn about other technical R&D efforts across the company.
This year about 1,700 attended from 25 countries. And for the first time, the company invited press and analysts to RADIO, although we all had to sign an NDA before visiting the expo floor.
Anyone from within the company can submit an idea they want to present to their colleagues. The RADIO committee sifted through 1,210 ideas this year before selecting 226 “featured ideas.” Employees present these on stage, as research papers, or as digital “posters” on the expo floor. “Like a science fair for engineers,” said Mornay Van Der Walk, VP of R&D at VMware.
The ideas cover everything from network security to edge computing to blockchain and cloud management. Some of them will eventually become VMware products and services.
During his keynote, O’Farrell outlined “four elements of a mindset that, when successfully combined with innovation, create an organization capable of responding to an onslaught of challenges.” The four are: partnerships, drive, resilience, and diversity.
A year after first teaming up on a combined public-private cloud service, AWS and VMware launched VMWare Cloud on AWS in August 2017. In its most recent release, the cloud service added the AWS London region availability and new storage and migration capabilities.
VMware’s Cloud Transformation
“The partnership really changed the narrative for VMware from being threatened by cloud to being a leader in cloud,” said Julie Noh, senior director of the cloud platform business unit at VMware. “Right now, we’re delivering on the promise of quarterly releases. In this next period, we’re putting intense focus on availability and further integration of VMware services and native AWS services.”
At RADIO, Orna Berryman, director of business operations at VMware, cited Pivotal Container Service, developed in partnership with Dell, Pivotal, and Google. She also pointed to VMware and Dell EMC’s hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) dominance. “Three thousand customers running [NSX] on top of VxRail, the leading HCI solution, leaving Nutanix in the dust,” she said, in a dig at VMware’s biggest HCI rival.
The second key element is drive, O’Farrell said: “The ability to move forward.” And the third is resilience, or adapting to change.
Diversity: ‘We Must Do More’
CEO Pat Gelsinger joined O’Farrell on stage to talk about the fourth element: diversity. The tech industry as a whole is lousy at this final metric. “This is a problem that’s taken us centuries to get here, and we’re not going to solve it overnight,” Gelsinger said. “But boy are we going to make progress in our day.”
The company ties leadership pay to progress on hiring and promoting women and underrepresented groups, Gelsinger said. It also started Power of Difference Communities (PODs) at local sites to support inclusion and diversity.
VMware’s a founding member of Women Transforming Technology (WT2). At last week’s WT2 conference the company announced it’s working with Stanford University to create the VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab. It also committed $15 million to the effort. “It’s the largest grant that we have ever done from the VMware Foundation,” Gelsinger said. “Every one of those things are good, but we must do more. We can and we will do better.”
Photo: VMware CTO Ray O’Farrell (left) and CEO Pat Gelsinger talk diversity during a RADIO 2018 keynote.