Pat Gelsinger makes his first visit to Canada as the virtualization firm’s CEO and cites a local customer that is demonstrating why the software-defined data centre makes sense

It was without a doubt a big moment for Pat Gelsinger: in the mid-2000s, while he still a senior executive with Intel, his firm won had won the business to put its chips inside Apple’s MacBook Pros. Around that time, he sat in a meeting with the late Steve Jobs to talk about the possibilities.

“We said something like, ‘Steve, we’re going to work with you to make Apple’s computers better for enterprise customers,’” Gelsinger, now CEO of VMware, recalled during a visit to Toronto on Wednesday. “Steve just sort of looked at us and said, ‘Why would I do anything to help the orifice that is the CIO? I’m going to make something so compelling for consumers that CIOs will just have to figure out how to deal with it.’”

For Gelsinger, the story illustrates why enterprise IT departments have been struggling to accommodate personal smartphones, tablets and laptops inside the corporate network. While many firms are moving towards some form of bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy, he said it is still rare to see a large company that’s completely open to consumer technology.

“There’s been a lot of management around it. That’s been holding back BYOD,” said Gelsinger, whose firm bought mobile device management (MDM) firm AirWatch earlier this year. “AirWatch gives them a set of tools that will make it work.”

Beyond BYOD, VMware is focused on a much bigger transformation of enterprise IT, according to Gelsinger. This involves taking what he called the “magic” of virtualization software and extending beyond its roots in servers to the network, storage and other components (VMware also rolled out version 6 of its Horizon product for desktop virtualization on Wednesday). VMware has taken to calling this approach one of enabling a software-defined data centre,” and while not everyone will be quick to jump on board, Gelsinger said there were some shining examples of early adopters in this country.

“I don’t have a more advanced customer in the world than Canada’s WestJet,” he said, describing how the airline was using VMware’s NSX product, among other things, to automate its online booking system. He also cited companies like Best Buy, which have been highly successful in the world of physical retail but are worried about coming up against the likes of Amazon.

“They’re anteing in, driven by competitive pressures because they know they don’t have the (service level agreements) or the analytics they need (without this technology),” he said. VMware wants to help “transform the role of the CIO to a broker of IT services,” rather than focusing on managing and maintaining infrastructure as they do today.

Ultimately, Gelsinger said there are two main paths that will lead to the software-defined data centre. There is the “rapid greenfield,” where companies that need to cut costs of be more agile will replace their current IT environment with something new. Others will opt for what he called the “incremental brownfield” approach, which is much more gradual and automates the data centre in chunks according to discrete needs.

“In some cases we’re seeing the greenfield deployments funded through the success of the brownfield implementations,” he said.

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