The Switzerland of the Cloud with Sanjay Poonen

Episode Summary

Sanjay Poonen is the former Chief Operating Officer at VMware, a position he held for nearly eight years. He’s also an investor affiliate with the Webb Investment Network and a board member for Dell Boomi. After beginning his career as a software engineer at Microsoft and Apple, Sanjay has held a number of different positions over the years, including SVP of Marketing and Corporate Officer at Informatica, VP of Strategic Operations at Symantec, and President and Corporate Officer at SAP, among other positions. He’s also served on the board for Zoom and DocuSign. Join Corey and Sanjay as they talk about the role VMware played in the development of the first iteration of the cloud and how the company has pivoted since then, how the partnership between AWS and VMware was forged and what it means for customers, what VMware will focus on over the next decade, how VMware is the Switzerland of the cloud, why Sanjay believes more and more customers are opting for multi-cloud, why every company is becoming a software company at its core, how there’s never been a more exciting time to write software coming out of college, and more.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Sanjay

Sanjay Poonen is the former COO of VMware, where he was responsible for worldwide sales, services, support, marketing and alliances. He was also responsible for the Security strategy and business at VMware. 

Prior to SAP, Poonen held executive roles at SAP, Symantec, VERITAS and Informatica, and he began his career as a software engineer at Microsoft, followed by Apple. 

Poonen holds two patents as well as an MBA from Harvard Business School, where he graduated a Baker Scholar; a master's degree in management science and engineering from Stanford University; and a bachelor's degree in computer science, math and engineering from Dartmouth College, where he graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.



Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.

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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. I talk a lot about cloud in a variety of different contexts; this show is about the business of cloud. But, fundamentally, where cloud comes from was this novel concept, once upon a time, of virtualization. And that gave rise to a whole bunch of other things that later became, then containers, now it becomes Kubernetes, and if you want to go down the serverless path, you can.

But it’s hard to think of a company that has had more impact on virtualization and that narrative than VMware. My guest today is Sanjay Poonen, Chief Operating Officer of VMware. Thank you for joining me.

Sanjay: Thanks, Corey Quinn, it’s great to be with you and with your audience on this show.

Corey: So, let’s start with the fun slash difficult questions. It’s easy to look at VMware as a way of virtualizing existing bare-metal workloads and moving those VMs around, but in many respects, that is perceived by some—ehem, ehem—to be something of a legacy model of cloud interaction where it solves the problem of on-premises, which is I’m really bad at running data centers so I’m just going to treat the cloud like a data center. And for some companies and some workloads, where, great, that’s fine. But isn’t that, I guess, a V1 vision of cloud, and if it is, why is VMware relevant to that?

Sanjay: Great question, Corey. And I think it’s great to be straight up on a topic [unintelligible 00:02:01]. Yeah, I think you’re right. Listen, the ‘V’ in VMware is virtualization. The ‘VM’ is virtual machines.

A lot of what is the underpinning of what made the private cloud, as we call it today, but the data center of the past successful was this virtualization technology. In the old days, people would send us electricity bills, before and after VMware, and how much they’re saving. So, this energy-saving concept of virtualization has been profound in the modernization of the data center and the advent of what’s called the private cloud. But as you looked at the public cloud innovate, whether it was AWS or even the SaaS applications—I mean, listen, the most popular capability initially on AWS was EC2 and S3, and the core of EC2 is virtualization. I think what we had to do, as this happened, was the foundation was certainly those services like EC2 and S3, but very quickly, the building phenomenon that attracted hundreds of thousands and I think now probably a few million customers to AWS was the large number of services, probably now 150, 200-odd services, that were built on top of that for everything from data, to AI, to a variety of other things that every year Andy Jassy and the team would build up.

So, we had to make sure that over the course of the last, I’d say, certainly the last five to maybe eight years, we were becoming relevant to our customers that were a mix. There were customers who were large—I mean, we have about half a million customers—and in many cases, they have about 80, 90% of their workloads running on-prem and they want to move those workloads to the cloud, but they can’t just refactor and re-platform all of those apps that are running in the on-premise world. When they will try to do it by the end of the year—they may have 1000 applications—they got 10 done.

Corey: Oh, and it’s not realistic and it’s unfair. I mean, there’s the idea of, “Oh, that’s legacy,” which is condescending engineering speak for it actually makes money because it’s been around for longer than six months. And sure you can have Twitter For Pets roll stuff out every day that you want; when you’re a bank, you have different constraints forced upon you. And I’m very sympathetic to folks who are in scenarios where they aren’t, for whatever reason, able to technically, culturally, or for regulatory reasons, be able to do continuous deployment of everything. I want to be very clear that I’ve in no way passing judgment on an entire sector of enterprise.

Sanjay: But while that sector is important, there was also another sector starting to emerge: the Airbnbs, the Pinterests, the modern companies who may not need VMware at all as they’re building native, but may need some of our container in a new open-source capabilities. SaltStack was one of them; we will talk about that, I’m sure. So, we needed to be relevant to both customer communities because the Airbnbs of today, will be the Marriotts of tomorrow. So, we had to really rethink what is the future of VMware, what’s our existence in a public cloud phenomenon? That’s really what led to a complete watershed moment.

I called publicly in the past sort of a Berlin Wall moment where Amazon and VMware were positioned pretty much as competitors for a long period of time when AWS was first started. Not that Andy was going around talking negatively about VMware, but I think people view these as two separate doors, and never the twain would meet. But when we decided to partner with them—I then quite frankly, the precursor to that was us divesting our public cloud strategy. We’d tried to build a competitive public cloud called vCloud Air between the period of 2012 and 2015, 2016—we had to reach an end of that movement, and catharsis of that, divest that asset, and it opened the door for a strategic partnership. But now we can go back to those customers and help them move their applications in a way that’s highly efficient, almost like a house on wheels, and then once it’s in that location in AWS—or one of the other public clouds—you can modernize it, too.

So, then you get to both get the best of both worlds: get it into the public cloud, maybe retire some of your data centers if that’s what you want to do, and then modernize it with all the beautiful services. And that’s the best of both worlds. Now, if you have 1000 applications, you’re moving hundreds of them into the public cloud, and then using all of the powerful developer services on that VMware stack that’s built on the bare metal of AWS. So, we started out with AWS, but very quickly then, all the other public clouds, maybe the five or six that are named in the Gartner Magic Quadrant, came to us and said, “Well, if you’re doing that with AWS, would you consider doing that with us, too?”

Corey: There’s definitely been an evolution of VMware. I mean, it’s in the name; you have the term VM sitting there. It’s easy to, at least from where I sit, think of, “Oh, VMware, back when running virtual machines was novel.” And there was a lot of skepticism around the idea. I’m going to level with you; I was a skeptic around virtualization. Then around cloud. Then around containers.

And now I’m trying—all right I’m going to be in favor of serverless, which is almost certain to doom it because everything else that I’ve been skeptical of in this sense beyond any reasonable measure. So, there is this idea that VMs are this sort of old-school thinking. And that’s great if you have an existing workload that needs to be migrated, but there are a finite number of those in the world. As we turn towards net-new and greenfield build-outs, a lot of things are a lot more cloud-native than just hosting a bunch of—if you take the AWS example—EC2 instances hanging out in the network talking to other EC2 instances. Taking advantage of native offerings definitely seems to be on the rise. And there have been acquisitions that VMware has made. You talk about SaltStack, which was a great example, given that I wrote part of that very early on, and I don’t think the internet’s ever forgiven me for it. But also Bitnami—or BittenAMI, as I insist on pronouncing it—and you also acquired Wavefront. There’s a lot of interesting stuff that feels almost like a setting up a dichotomy of new VMware versus old VMware. What are the points of commonality there? What is the vision for the next 15 years of the company?

Sanjay: Yeah, I think when we think about it, it’s very important that, first off, we acknowledge that our roots are what gives us sustenance because we have a large customer base that uses us. We have 80 million workloads running on that VMware infrastructure, formerly ESX, now vSphere. And that’s our heritage, and those customers are happy. In fact, they’re not, like, fleeing like birds into there, so we want to care for those customers.

But we have to have a north star, like a magnet that pulls us into the modern world. And that’s been—you know, I talked about phase one was this really charting of the future of VMware for the cloud. Just as important has been focused on cloud-native and containers the last three, four years. So, we acquired Heptio. As you know, Heptio was founded by some of the inventors of Kubernetes who left Google, Joe Beda, and Craig McLuckie.

And with that came a strong I would say relevancy, and trust to the Kubernetes, we’ve become one of the leading contributors to open-source Kubernetes. And that brain trust now, some of whom are at VMWare and many are in the community think of us very differently. And then we’ve supplemented that with many other moves that are much more cloud-native. You mentioned two or three of them: Bitnami, for that sort of marketplace; and then SaltStack for what we have been able to do in configuration management and infrastructure automation; Wavefront for container-based workloads. And we’re not done, and we think, listen, there will be many, many more things that the first 10, 15 years of VMware was very much about optimizing the private cloud, the next 10, 15 years could be optimizing for that app modernization cloud-native world.

And we think that customers will want something that can work in a multi-cloud fashion. Now, multi-cloud for us is certainly private cloud and edge cloud, which may have very little to do with hardware that’s in the public cloud, but also AWS, Azure, and two or three other clouds. And if you think of each of these public clouds as mini skyscrapers—so AWS has 50 billion in revenue; I’m going to guess Azure is, like, 30, and then Google is I don’t know 12, 13; and then everyone else, and they’re all skyscrapers are different—it’s like, if we can be that company that fills the crevices between them with cement that’s valuable so that people can then build their houses on top of that, you’re probably not going to be best served with a container Stack that’s trapped to just one cloud. And then over time, you don’t have reasonable amount of flexibility if you choose to change that direction. Now, some people might say, “Listen, multi-cloud is—who cares about that?”

But I think increasingly, we’re hearing from customers a desire to have more than just one cloud for a variety of reasons. They want to have options, portability, flexibility, negotiating price, in addition to their private cloud. So, it’s a two plus one, sometimes it might be a two plus two, meaning it’s a private cloud and the edge cloud. And I think VMware is a tremendous proposition to be that Switzerland-type company that’s relevant in a private cloud, one or two public clouds, and an edge cloud environment, Corey.

Corey: Are you seeing folks having individual workloads that they want to flow from one cloud to another in a seamless way, or is it more aligned along an approach of having workload A lives in this cloud and workload B lives in this cloud? And you’re in a terrific position to opine on that more than most, given who you are.

Sanjay: Yeah. We’re not yet as yet seeing these floating workloads that start here and move around, that’s—usually you build an application with purpose. Like, it sits here in this cloud and of course. But we’re seeing, increasingly, interest at customers’ not tethering it to proprietary services only. I mean, certainly, if you’re going to optimize it for AWS, you’re going to take advantage of EC2, S3, and then many of the, kind of, very capable [unintelligible 00:11:24], Aurora, there are others that might be there.

But over time, especially the open-source movement that brings out open-source data services, open-source tooling, containers, all of that stuff, give ultimately customers the hope that certainly they should add economic value and developer productivity value, but they should also create some potential portability so that if in the future you wanted to make a change, you’re not bound to that cloud platform. And a particular cloud may not like us saying this, but that’s just the fact of how CIOs today are starting to think much more so as they build these up and as many of the other public clouds start to climb in functionality. Now, there are other use cases where particular SaaS applications of SaaS services are optimized for a particular [unintelligible 00:12:07], for example, Office 365, someone’s using a collaboration app, typically, there’s choices of one or two, you’re either using a G Suite and then it’s tied to Google, or it’s Office 365. But even there, we’re starting to see some nibbling around the edges. Just the phenomenon of Zoom; that wasn’t a capability that Microsoft brought very—and the services from Google, or Amazon, or Microsoft was just not as good as Zoom.

And Zoom just took off and has become the leading video collaboration platform because they’re just simple, easy to use, and delightful. It doesn’t matter what infrastructure they run on, whether it’s AWS, I mean, now they’re running some of their workloads on Oracle. Who cares? It’s a SaaS service. So, I think increasingly, I think there will be a propensity towards SaaS applications over custom building. If I can buy it why would I want to build a video collaboration app myself internally, if I can buy it as a SaaS service from Zoom, or whoever have you?

Corey: Oh, building it yourself would be ludicrous unless that was one of your core competencies.

Sanjay: Exactly.

Corey: And Zoom seems to have that on lock.

Sanjay: Right. And so similarly, to the extent that I think IT folks can buy applications that are more SaaS than custom-built, or even on-prem, I mean, Salesforce—the success of Salesforce, and Workday, and Adobe, and then, of course, the smaller ones like Zoom, and Slack, and so on. So, it’s clear evidence that the world is going to move towards SaaS applications. But where you have to custom build an application because it’s very unique to your business or to something you need to very snap quickly together, I think there’s going to be increasingly a propensity towards using open-source types of tooling, or open-source platforms—Kubernetes being the best example of that—that then have some multi-cloud characteristics.

Corey: In a similar note, I know that the term is apparently, at least this week on Twitter, being argued against, but what about cloud repatriation? A lot of noise has been made about people moving workloads from public cloud back to private cloud. And the example they always give is Dropbox moving its centralized storage service into an on-prem environment, and the second example is basically a pile of tumbleweeds because people don’t really have anything concrete to point at. Does that align with your experience? Is there a, I guess, a hidden wave of people doing a reverse cloud migration that just doesn’t get discussed?

Sanjay: I think there’s a couple of phenomenons, Corey, that we watch here. Now, clearly a company of the scale of Dropbox has economics on data and storage, and I’ve talked to Drew and a variety of the folks there, as well as Box, on how they think about this because at that scale, they probably could get some advantages that I’m sure they’ve thought through in both the engineering and the cost. I mean, there’s both engineering optimization and costs that I’m sure Drew and the folks there are thinking through. But there’s a couple of phenomena that we do—I mean, if you go back to, I think, maybe three or four quarters ago, Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America, I think in 2019, mid to late 2019 made a statement in his earnings call, he was asked, “How do you think about cloud?” And he said, “Listen, I can run a private cloud cheaper and better than any of the public clouds, and I save 240%,” if I remember the data right.

Now, his private cloud and Bank of America is a key customer [unintelligible 00:15:04] of us, we find that some of the bigger companies at scale are able to either get hardware at really good pricing, are able to engineer—because they have hundreds of thousands—they’re almost mini VMware, right, [unintelligible 00:15:18] themselves because they’ve got so many engineers. They can do certain things that a company that doesn’t want to hire those many—companies, Pinterest, Airbnb may not do. So, there are customers who are going to basically say, even prior to repatriation, that the best opportunity is a private cloud. And in that place, we have to work with our private cloud partners, whether it’s Dell or others, to make sure that stack of hardware from them plus the software VMware in the containers on top of that is as competitive and is best cost of ownership, best ROI. Now, when you get to your second—your question around repatriation, what we have found in certain regions outside the US because of sovereign data, sovereign clouds, sometimes some distrust of some of those countries of the US public cloud, are they worried about them getting too big, fear by monopoly, all those types of things, lead certain countries outside the US to think about something that they would need that’s sovereign to their country.

And the idea of sovereign data and sovereign clouds does lead those to then investing in local cloud providers. I mean, for example in France, there is a provider called OVH that’s kind of trying to do some of that. In China, there’s a whole bunch of them, obviously, Alibaba being the biggest. And I think that’s going to continue to be a phenomenon where there’s a [federated said 00:16:32], we have a cloud provider program with this 4000 cloud providers, Corey, who built their stack on VMware; we’ve got to feed them. Now, while they are an individual revenue way smaller than the public clouds were, but collectively, they represent a significant mass of where those countries want to run in a local cloud provider.

And from our perspective, we spent years and years enabling that group to be successful. We don’t see any decline. In fact, that business for us has been growing. I would have thought that business would just completely decline with the hyperscalers. If anything, they’ve grown.

So, there’s a little bit of the rising tide is helping all boats rise, so to speak. And the hyperscaler’s growth has also relied on many of these, sort of, sovereign clouds. So, there’s repatriation happening; I think those sovereign clouds will benefit some, and it could also be in some cases where customers will invest appropriately in private cloud. But I don’t see that—I think if anything, it’s going to be the public cloud growing, the private cloud, and edge cloud growing. And then some of these, sort of, country-specific sovereign clouds also growing. I don’t see this being in a huge threat to the public cloud phenomena that we’re in.

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Corey: I want to very clear, I think that there’s a common misconception that there’s this, somehow, ongoing fight between all the cloud providers, and all this cloud growth, and all this revenue is coming at the expense of other cloud providers. I think that it is simultaneously workloads that are being migrated from on-premises environments—yes—but a lot of it also feels like it’s net-new. It’s not just about increasingly capturing ever larger portions of the market but rather about the market itself expanding geometrically. For a long time, it felt like that was what tech was doing. Looking at the global IT spend numbers coming out of Gartner and other places, it seems like it’s certainly not slowing down. Does that align with your perception of it? Or are there clear winners and losers that are I guess, differentiating out?

Sanjay: I think, Corey, you’re right. I think if you just use some of the data, the entire IT market, let’s just say it’s about $1 trillion, some estimates have it higher than that. Let’s break it down a little bit. Inside that 1 trillion market it is growing—I mean, obviously COVID, and GDP declined last year in calendar 2020 did affect overall IT, but I think let’s assume that we have some kind of U-shape or other kind of recovery, going into the second half of certainly into next year; technology should lead GDP in terms of its incline. But inside that trillion-dollar market, if you add up the SaaS market, it’s about $115 billion market.

And these are companies like Salesforce, and Adobe, and Workday, and ServiceNow. You add them all up, and those are growing, I think the numbers were in the order of 15 or 20% in aggregate. But that SaaS market is [unintelligible 00:19:08]. And that’s growing, certainly faster than the on-prem applications market, just evidenced by the growth of those companies relative to on-premise investments in SAP or Oracle. And then if you look at the infrastructure market, it’s slightly bigger, it’s about $125 billion, growing slightly faster—20, 25%—and there you have the companies like AWS, Azure, and Google, and Alibaba, and whoever have you. And certainly, that growth is faster than some of the on-premise growth, but it’s not like the on-premise folks are declining. They’re growing at slower paces.

Corey: It is harder to leave an on-premise environment running and rack up charges and blow out the bill that way, but it—not impossible, I suppose, but it’s harder to do than it is in public cloud. But I definitely agree that the growth rate surpasses what you would see if it were just people turning things on and forgetting to turn them off all the time.

Sanjay: Yeah, and I think that phenomenon is a shift in spending where certainly last year we saw more spending in the cloud than on-premise. I think the on-premise vendors have a tremendous opportunity in front of them, which is to optimize every last dollar that is going to be spent in the data centers, private cloud. And between us and our partners like Dell and others, we’ve got to make sure we do that for our customer base that we’ve accumulated over last 10, 15 years. But there’s also a significant investment now moving to the edge. When I look at retailers, CPG companies—consumer packaged good companies—manufacturers, the conversation that I’m having with their C-level tech or business executives is all about putting compute in the stores.

I mean, listen, what is the retailer concerned about? Fraud, and some of those other things, and empowering a quick self-service experience for a consumer who comes in and wants to check out of a Safeway or Walmart really quickly. These are just simple applications with local compute in the store, and the more that we can make that possible on top of almost like a nano data center or micro data center, running in the store with those applications resident there, talking—you know, you can’t just take all of that data, go back and forth to the cloud, but with resident services and capability right there, that’s a beautiful opportunity for the VMware and the Dells of the world. And that’s going to be a significant place where I think you’re going to see expansion of their focus. The Edge market today is I think, projected to be about $6 or $8 billion this year, and growing to $25 billion the next four or five years.

So, much smaller than the previous numbers I shared—you know, $125, $115 billion for SaaS and IaaS—but I think the opportunity there, especially these industries that are federated: CPG, consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, retail, and logistics, too—you know, FedEx made a big announcement with VMware and Dell a few months ago about how they’re thinking about putting compute and local infrastructure at their distribution sites. I think this phenomenon, Corey, is going to happen in a number of different [unintelligible 00:21:48], and is a tremendous opportunity. Certainly, the public cloud vendors are trying to do that with Outposts and Azure Stack, but I think it does favor the on-premise vendors also having a very strong proposition for the edge cloud.

Corey: I assumed that the whole discussion with FedEx started by someone dramatically misunderstanding what it meant to ship code to production.

Sanjay: [laugh]. I mean, listen, at the end of the day, all of these folks who are in traditional industries are trying to hire world-class developers—like software companies—because all of them are becoming software companies. And I think the open-source movement, and all of these ways in which you have a software supply chain that’s more modernized, it’s affecting every company. So, I think if you went into the engineering product teams of Rob Carter, who runs technology for FedEx, you’ll find them and they may not have all of the sophistication as a world-class software company, but they’re getting increasingly very much digital in their focus of next generation. And same thing with UPS.

I was talking to the CEO of UPS, we had her come and speak at our kickoff. It’s amazing how much her lingo—she was the former CFO of Home Depot—I felt like I was talking to a software executive, and this is the CEO of UPS, a logistics company. So, I think increasingly, every company is becoming a software company at their core. And you don’t need to necessarily know all the details of containers and virtualization, but you need to understand how software and digital transformation, how technology can power your digital transformation.

Corey: One thing that I’ve noticed the more I get to talk to people doing different things in different roles was, at first I was excited because I get to talk to the people where they’re really doing it right and everything’s awesome. And I’ve increasingly of the opinion that those sites don’t actually exist. Everyone talks about the great thing is that they’re doing and aspirationally in certain areas in the terms of conference-ware, but you get down into the weeds, and everyone views their environment as being a burning tire fire of sadness and regret. Everyone thinks other people are doing it way better than they are. And in some cases they’re embarrassed about it, in some cases they’re open about it, but I feel like we’re still in the early days where no one is doing things in the quote-unquote, “Right ways,” but everyone thinks everyone else is.

Sanjay: Yeah, I think, Corey, that’s absolutely right. We are very much early days in all of this phenomenon. I mean, listen, even the public cloud, Andy himself would say it’s [laugh]—he wouldn’t say it’s quite day one, but he would say it’s very early [unintelligible 00:24:03], even though they’ve had 15 years of incredible success and a $50 billion business. I would agree. And when you look at the customers and their persona—when I ask a CIO what percentage of—of an established company, not one of the modern ones who are built all cloud-native—but what percentage of your workloads are in a public cloud versus private cloud, the vast majority is still in a data center or private cloud.

But with the intent—if it’s 90/10, let’s say 90 private 10—for that to become 70/30, 50/50. But very rarely do I hear a one of these large companies say it’s going to be 10/90 the opposite way in three, five years. Now, listen, I think every company as it grows that is more modern. I mean the Zooms of the world, the Modernas, the Airbnbs, as they get bigger and bigger, they represent a completely new phenomenon of how they are building applications that are all cloud-native. And the beautiful thing for me is just as a former engineering and developer, I mean, I grew up writing code in C, and C++ and then came BEA WebLogic, and IBM WebSphere, and [JGUI 00:25:04].

And I was so excited for these frameworks. I’m not writing code, thankfully, anymore because it would create lots of problems if I did. But when I watched the phenomena, I think to myself, “Man, if I was a 22 year old entering the workforce now, it’s one of the most exciting times to write code and be a developer because what’s available to you, both in the combination of these cloud frameworks and open-source frameworks, is immense.” To be able to innovate much, much faster than we did 25, 30 years ago when I was a developer.

Corey: It’s amazing there’s the pace of innovation, if cloud has changed nothing else, from my perspective, it’s been the idea that you can provision things without these hefty waiting periods. But I want to shift gears slightly because we’ve been talking about cloud for a bit in the context of infrastructure, and containers, and the rest, but if we start moving up the stack a little bit, that’s also considered cloud, which just seems to have that naming problem of namespace collision, just to confuse folks. But VMware is also active in this space, too. You’ve got things like Workspace ONE, you’ve got a bunch of other endpoint options as well that are focused on the security space. Is that aligned?

Is that just sort of a different business unit? How does that, I guess, resonate between the various things that you folks do? Because it turns out, you’re kind of a big company, and it’s difficult to keep it all straight from an external perspective.

Sanjay: Well, I think—listen, we’re roughly a little less than $12 billion in revenue last year. You can think of us in two buckets: everything in the first bucket is all that we talked about. Think of that as modernization of applications and cloud infrastructure, or what people might think about PaaS and IaaS without the underlying hardware; we’re not trying to build servers and storage and networking at the hardware level, you know, and so and so. But the software layer is about, that’s the first conversation we had for the last 15, 20 minutes. The second part of our business is where we’re touching end-users and infrastructure, and securing it.

And we think that’s an important part because that also is something through software, and the cloud could be optimized. And we’ve had a long-standing digital workspace. In fact, when I came to VMware, it was the first business I was running in terms of all the products and end-user computing. And our thesis was many of the current tools, whether it’s the virtual desktop technology that people have from existing vendors, or even today, the security tools that they use is just too cumbersome. It’s too heavy.

In many cases, people complain about the number of agents they have on their laptops, or the way in which they secure firewalls is too expensive and too many. We felt we could radically—VMware gets involved in problems where we can radically simplify thing with some disruptive innovation. And the idea was, first in the digital workspace was to radically reduce cost with software that was built for the cloud. And Workspace ONE and all of those things radically reduce the need for disparate technologies for virtual desktops, identity management, and endpoint management. We’ve done very well in that.

We’re a leader in that segment, if you look at any of the analysts ratings, whether it’s Gardner or others. But security has been a more recent phenomenon where we felt like it leads us very quickly into securing those laptops because on those same laptops, you have antivirus, you have a variety of tools, and on the average, the CSOs, the Chief Security Officers tell me they have way too many agents, way too many consoles, way too many alerts, and if we could reduce that and have a single agent on a laptop, or maybe even agentless technology that secure this, that’s the Nirvana. And if you look at some of the recent things that have happened with SolarWinds, or Petya, WannaCry in the past, security’s of top concern, Corey, to boards. And the more that we could do to clean that up, I think we can emerge—which we’re already starting to—as a cybersecurity layer. So, that’s a smaller part of our business, but, I mean, it’s multi-billion now, and we think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to take what we’re doing in workspace and security and make that a growth vector.

So, I think both of these core areas, the cloud infrastructure, and modern applications—topic number one—workspace and security—topic number two—I’m both tremendous opportunities for VMware in our journey to grow from a $12 billion company to one day, hopefully, a $20 billion company.

Corey: Would that we all had such problems, on some level. It’s really interesting seeing the evolution of companies going from relatively small companies and humble beginnings to these giant—I guess, I want to use the term Colossus, but I’m not sure if that’s insulting or [laugh] not—it’s phenomenal just to see the different areas of business that VMware has expanded into. I mean, I’ve had other folks from your org talking about what a Tanzu is or might be, so we aren’t even going to go down that rabbit hole due to time constraints at this point, but one thing that I do want to get into, slightly, has been a recurring theme in the show, which is where does the next generation of leaders come from? Where do the next generation engineers come from? And you’ve been devoting a bit of time to this. I think I saw one of your YouTube videos somewhat recently about your leadership values. Talk to me a little bit about that.

Sanjay: Yeah. Corey, listen, I’m glad that we’re closing out this on some of the soft topics because I love talking to you, or other talented analysts and thought leaders around technology. It’s my roots; I’m a technical person at heart. I love technology. But I think the soft stuff is often the hard stuff.

And the hard stuff is often the soft stuff. And what I mean by that is, when all this peels away, what your lasting legacy to the company are the people you invest in, the character you build. And, I mean, as an immigrant who came to this country, when I was 18 years old, $50 in my pocket, I was very fortunate to have a scholarship to go to a really nice University, Dartmouth College, to study computer science. I mean, I grew up in India and if it wasn’t for the opportunity to come here on a scholarship, I wouldn’t have [been here 00:30:32]. So, everything I consider a blessing and a learning opportunity where I’m looking at the advent of life as a growth mindset: what can I learn? And we all need to cultivate more and more aspects of that growth mindset where we move from being know-it-alls to learn-it-alls.

And one of the key things that I talk about—and all of your listeners on this, listening to this, I welcome to go to YouTube and search Sanjay Poonen and leadership, it’s a 10-minute video—I’ll pick one of them. Most often as we get higher and higher in an organization, leaders tend to view things as a pyramid, and they’re kind of like this chief bird sitting at the top of the pyramid, and all these birds that are looking—below them on branches are looking up and all they see is crap falling down. Literally. That’s what happens when you look at the bird up. And our job as leaders is to invert that pyramid.

And to actually think about the person who is on the front lines. In a software company, it’s an engineer and a sales rep. They are the folks on the frontline: they’re writing code or selling code. They are the true people who are making things happen. And when we as leaders look at ourselves as the bottom of the pyramid—some people call that, “Servant leadership.”

Whatever way you call it, the phrase isn’t the point—the point is, invert that pyramid and to take obstacles out of people from the frontline. You really become not interested as much around what your own personal wellbeing, it’s about ensuring that those people in the middle layers and certainly at the leaf levels of the organization are enormously successful. Their success becomes your joy, and it becomes almost like a parent, right? I mean, Corey, you have kids; I’ve got kids. Imagine if you were a parent and you were jealous of your kid’s success.

I mean, I want my three children, my daughter, my two children to do better than me, running races or whatever it is that they do. And I think as a leader, the more that we celebrate the successes of our teams and people, and our lasting legacy is not our own success; it’s what we have left behind, other people. I’ve say often there’s no success without successors. So, that mindset takes a lot of work because the natural tendency of the human mind and the human behavior is to be selfish and think about ourselves. But yeah, it’s a natural phenomenon.

We’re born that way, we live in act that way, but the more that we start to create that, then taking that not just to our team, but also to the community allows us to build a better society. And that’s something I’m deeply passionate about, try to do my small piece for it, and in fact, I’m sometimes more excited about these topics of leadership than even technology.

Corey: It feels like it’s the stuff that lasts; it has staying power. I could record a video now about technology choices and how to work with those technologies and unless it’s about Git, it’s probably not going to be too relevant in 10 years. But leadership is one of those eternal things where it’s, once you’ve experienced a certain level of success, you can really see what people do with that the people that I like to surround myself with, generally make it a point to send the elevator back down, so to speak.

Sanjay: I agree, Corey, it’s—glad that you do it. I’m always looking for people that I can learn from, and it doesn’t matter where they are in society. I mean, I think you often—I mean, this is classic Dale Carnegie; one of the books that my dad gave to me at a young age that I encourage everyone to read, How to Win Friends and Influence People, talked about how you can detect a person’s character based on the way they treat the receptionist, or their assistants, the people who might be lower down the totem pole from them. And most often you have people who kiss up and kick down. And I think when you build an organization that’s that typical.

A lot of companies are built that way where they kiss up and kick down, you actually have an inverted sense of values. And I think you have to go back to some of those old-school ways that Dale Carnegie or Steven Covey talked about because you don’t have to build a culture that’s obnoxious; you can build a company that’s both nice and competitive. It doesn’t mean that anything we’ve talked about for the last few minutes means that I’m any less competitive and I don’t want to beat the competition and win a deal. What you can do it nicely. And even that’s something that I’ve had to grow in.

So, I think when we all look at ourselves as sculptures, work in progress, and we’re perfecting our craft, so to speak, both on the technical front, and the product front and customer relationship, but then also on the leadership and the personal growth front, we actually become both better people and then we also build better companies.

Corey: And sometimes that’s really all that we can ask for. If people want to learn more about what you have to say and get your opinion on these things, okay can they find you?

Sanjay: Listen, I’m very approachable. You can follow me on Twitter, I’m on LinkedIn [unintelligible 00:34:54], or my email [email protected]. I’m out there.

I read voraciously, and probably not as responsive, sometimes, but I try—certainly, customers will hear from me within 24 hours because I try to be very responsive to our customers. But you can connect with me on social media. And I’m honored to be on your show, Corey. I’ve been reading your stuff since it first came out, and then, obviously, a fan of the way you’re thinking about things. Sometimes I feel I need to correct your opinion, and some of that we did today. [laugh]. But you’ve been very—

Corey: Oh, I would agree. I come out of this conversation with a different view of VMware than I went into it with. I’m being fully transparent on that.

Sanjay: And you’ve helped us. I mean, quite frankly, your blogs and your focus on this and, like, is the V in VMware, like, a bad word? Is it legacy? It’s forced us to think, so I think it’s iron sharpens iron. I’m very delighted that we connected, I don’t know if it was a year or two years ago.

And I’ve been a fan; I watch the stuff that you do at re:Invent, so keep going with what you’re doing. I think all of what you write and what you talk about is hopefully making an impact on people who read and listen. And look forward to continuing this dialogue, not just with me, but I think you’re talking to other people in VMware in the future. I’m not the smartest person at VMware, but I’m very fortunate to be [laugh] surrounded by many of them. So hopefully, you get to talk to them, also, in the near future.

Corey: [laugh]. I will, of course, will put links to all that in the [show notes 00:36:11]. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I really appreciate it.

Sanjay: Thanks, Corey, and all the best of you and your organization.

Corey: Sanjay Poonen, Chief Operating Officer of VMware, I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with a condescending comment telling me that in fact, it is a best practice to ship your code to production via FedEx.

Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit to get started.

This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.

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