Arik Hesseldahl

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EMC’s Pivotal Wants to Help Your Company Build Its Software

bill_cook_pivotalIf you’re in the business of building enterprise software, scrambling to figure out what your company is doing around big data and analytics, mobile and the cloud, then there’s a fair chance you’ll want to pay attention to Pivotal.

Spun out of various units of storage giant EMC and software company VMware, its aim is help those companies building software that don’t happen to already be software companies, which is pretty much any company of any size.

Today the company launched its first big product, Pivotal One, a suite of application and data services that run atop Cloud Foundry, a platform that allows companies to deploy applications across multiple cloud computing environments. In addition to that, the company announced a commercial version of Cloud Foundry itself (the platform is originally open source) called Pivotal CF.

Last week I sat down with Pivotal COO Bill Cook. Seeing as how it’s a new company being mashed together with parts from three different companies — not to mention a $105 million investment from GE — my first question was about what exactly the plan is for Pivotal. Below is a summary of our conversation:

AllThingsD: So what is it that you’re trying to do with Pivotal?

Bill Cook: Impact on every industry is going to be dramatic. When you look at the data centers inside Google or Twitter, they look very different from the data centers used by other companies. If you think about technology and how it’s built, it was all done based on the constraints of the economics and what you were trying to achieve. And that’s all changing with the advent of the data that’s available, with the advent of mobile and of social. We believe that if the underlying infrastructure changes from an applications-development perspective — which it is — it changes how people compete out in the marketplace. With Pivotal we want to step in as that player that provides the underpinning of that experience.

So if the infrastructure is changing, what does that mean for how applications get developed?

The dynamics going on here are that if the technology is changing, and the ways you develop applications are changing, then the skills and how you go about implementing these things needs to change as well. Specifically, what we mean by that is that the old process of scoping an IT project and then coming back six months later and saying “Here it is” is over. That world has to change inside the enterprise. The company’s management and developers have to be in sync daily if not up to the minute of what the application needs to look like.

So what exactly is Pivotal’s main business going to be?

It’s really software with scale-out attributes. It’s the combination of Greenplum, the big data and analytics company that EMC owns, GemFire, which is a technology that came over from VMWare, and all of it based on top of and including Hadoop. We’ve also inherited the Spring Framework Java community, and then vFabric inside of VMware. So you can think of the framework for building apps in this new world. And then on top of all that we’ve come out with a product called Cloud Foundry, which is a platform-as-a-service that enables these new applications to get built and deployed. It’s all an integrated suite of software. In addition to all that, we bring people skills. We acquired a company called Pivotal Labs, which our name comes from. It’s sort of the go-to shop for extreme Agile Development. We think that’s important because that skill is key to the new experience that companies are going to be looking for when they build these new applications. We think the combination of the platform and the skills to build the software makes for an interesting intersection.

So walk me through what a typical customer engagement looks like.

There are different entry points. A lot of times, it starts on the data side. A customer will be building something on Hadoop, or a database warehouse for business intelligence, or just trying to get their arms around all the data that is coming at them. They don’t want to be constrained by Oracle or Teradata. They want to have a new approach to their data issue. We have a number of technologies to get them started. Some come at it from the application side. They want to modernize their applications and take advantage of some of this new scale-out architecture. Some of them just need help building and deploying their apps. Others might come to us for help with the data science in order to learn what’s possible from analyzing the data that they have.

And you’ve taken a $105 million investment from GE? What’s that about?

Jeff Immelt at GE (See his full interview from D: All Things Digital here) came to us. He had just spun up a center of excellence in the Bay Area under a guy named Bill Ruh. We had been talking to them about using Greenplum, and VMware had been talking to them about virtualization. They had essentially been trying to build the infrastructure that I talked about, but building it themselves: Not only the technology stack, but then they were going to take it to the business units within GE. They came to the conclusion that they shouldn’t invent it themselves. We connected those dots for them and they ended up investing $105 million and now have a seat at our table. GE is a great example of a multi-industry company that is starting to wrestle with these problems. Most big companies are not like Google and Twitter. They’re more GE-like in how they are set up. With GE embracing this, it’s a great proof point to what it is we’re trying to achieve.


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