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Pivotal Is About Big Data, Not Fighting Amazon

EMC Pivotal's focus on big data may mean little competitive overlap with Amazon Web Services and other cloud providers, say analysts.

The word on Pivotal, the new big data venture spun out of EMC and VMware, is that it might pose a serious challenge to Amazon Web Services, which has eaten into both companies' sales by making it affordable to rent computing and storage resources.

Not so fast, say analysts. "I don't think it's so much of an Amazon killer as it is moving to the next level of cloud through the lens of data analysis services," says Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions. "It's more about leapfrogging than taking on Amazon."

In fact, the focus on data could translate to surprisingly little competition with Amazon, says Mike Matchett, senior analyst with Taneja Group.

"Given that data continues to grow rapidly, and that most organizations are just beginning to really think how to exploit bigger data sets," says Matchett, "we think that the tremendous overall growth in this market could lead to enough segmentation that Pivotal and Amazon may not go head-to-head as much as projected."

Pivotal, which was the subject of a presentation by CEO Paul Maritz at a VMware investors event in New York on March 13, will officially launch as an independent company later this month.

During an interview with CRN, Maritz, the former CEO of VMware, didn't exactly declare that Pivotal had Amazon in its crosshairs, but he also didn't shy away from suggesting that he wants to free companies from at least part of Amazon's business model.

"We don't want this world to be like the bad old days of the mainframe: when you wrote a COBOL CICS app, you were condemned to pay IBM a tax for all eternity," Maritz told CRN. "We don't want to make it so when you write an app in Amazon you are condemned to pay Amazon a tax for all eternity."

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To that end, Maritz suggested that Pivotal is out to become the meat of what companies run on cloud infrastructures such as Amazon's EC2, Microsoft Azure and others.

"If infrastructure as a service is the new hardware, we are the new OS on top of it," says Maritz. "We are trying to build this cloud abstraction layer and then put the data-centric services on top of that."

Focusing on the data itself is a smart move given the rising profile of data in the modern enterprise, says Interarbor's Gardner. Whereas data used to sit at the bottom of the technology stack, with apps, services and middleware above it, that's simply not the case any longer.

"Data isn't at the bottom. It's everywhere," Gardner says. "The whole notion of where data should reside is now completely different. That's what the Pivotal Initiative is recognizing."

The key for Pivotal, says Taneja Group's Matchett, is to not let it get caught up with EMC's and VMware's separate struggles to keep customers on their hardware rather than Amazon's. Pivotal, he says, can take a much more egalitarian approach.

"While VMware might be looking to combat AWS by retaining the corporate workload on its platform," says Matchett, "Pivotal should be aiming to become the key corporate workload, independent of both underlying storage or virtual/cloud hosting."

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