The Ultimate Insider: An Interview with VMware CIO Mark Egan

The VMware CIO runs internal projects and test-drives new products.

Virtualization Review Editor in Chief Bruce Hoard recently interviewed VMware Inc. CIO Mark Egan, who plays a critical role in preparing new products for release to the market and conducting internal projects for use by line-of-business operations. They discussed what it takes to meet both internal and external customers' demands as technology rapidly evolves.

VR: What are your specific job responsibilities?
Egan: I have all the infrastructures of the phones, the network, all the business applications, all our Web-facing applications. I have information security at VMware, and one thing that we try to do a lot is use our products -- we call it the VMware-on-VMware program -- and give that feedback to the R&D group, and then meet with our customers to try to understand how we can help them.

"We use all of our products earlier than our customers -- so we were working on the next version of vSphere 5 for several months."

Mark Egan, CIO, VMware Inc.

VR: Where did you attend management school?
Egan: I got my MBA at the University of San Diego. Great school. Then I moved north up to the Bay Area and have been there about 25 years.

VR: Describe the VMware IT infrastructure you preside over.
Egan: The environment we have at VMware is, as you would expect, highly virtualized -- we're 97 percent virtualized. Pretty small footprint. We run in about 3,000 square feet of datacenter space, and I have eight staff who run it. We use a lot of package apps. If I can buy a service or package app, I'll do that. I only build what I have to. So we moved CRM to the cloud. Salesforce is one of our partners there. On the ERP side we use Oracle, and then we build the Spring platform for anything custom.

VR: At any given time, how much of that infrastructure is acting as a test bed for current or future products?
Egan: There are a couple things that we do there. One is we'll use all of our products earlier than our customers -- so we were working on the next version of vSphere 5 for several months. We'll also do that on the next versions of our Desktop View products. Our goal is to run them a quarter or two before they actually ship to the customers. So that's something that we're pretty active in across the board -- the whole product suite. Another thing that we've set up is called Alpha Lab. With the Alpha Lab, we set up a small team that works with R&D on leading-edge stuff, like something that we're thinking about getting into as a company to test out new technologies or possibly something that we'd be acquiring. So if you think of some of the new trends around mobility and social and so forth, we're a sounding board, if you will. If someone asks me how an IT group would react to a particular product or service, we'll go off and look at some of this technology for the R&D group. But as far as our products themselves, we'll be running all those in our environment on a daily basis.

VR: Do you ever stumble upon something that you had not anticipated that turns into something you could actually produce?
Egan: Where we add a lot of the value is on the people-process side. We have some really good products, but when you operationalize them, how does the product affect a company or an organization? An example of that might be in desktop virtualization. The desktop administrator may not necessarily embrace that because they're concerned about their role. The way we look at that is, "Well, Mr. Desktop Administrator, let's give you a bigger, broader role within the company." So those are some of the things that we get involved in. View would be an example where you really want to look at use cases. You're not going to say, "I'm going to roll out desktop virtualization tomorrow across the whole company. Where are the areas that I can have the biggest impact? Where do I start from?" A lot of what we do, say with the R&D group, is determine how to organizationally adopt something because there's a lot of change management, and we want to know what are all the processes needed to get something in place as quickly as possible.

VR: You talk about giving desktop admins more and different responsibilities. Could you give me an example or two of that?
Egan: In the past, a desktop administrator might encounter a computer that wasn't working. I now say, "You don't have to do as much of that in the virtual environment, so how about we get you involved in the network side, the server side?" So it's a more complex environment and your skills broaden. There are some staff who will say, "Hey, this is great. This is a new opportunity for me. I'm going to get to work in, say, the datacenter, as opposed to the desktop." Some staff really embrace it and think it's a great idea, but then there are others who don't want to change. What I'd like to do is try to find those folks who are really open and receptive to change and want to go do new things. Another example would be virtualization. The whole notion of a server, storage and network administrator -- that's going to blur in the cloud, and you're going to have a cloud administrator because you're going to have to have all those skills. If someone says, "Well, I'm really just a server and storage guy," I'd respond by saying in the future, we'll need less of those. You'll need broader staff. You still may need a few architects in those areas, but the skills change. I think I'd rather have broad skills across the three areas than be in just one.

VR: To me, the introduction of Horizon App Manager was something of a coming-out party for you guys. Did it sort of feel like a coming-out party for you, too?
Egan: Absolutely. Horizon is an example of what we did in the Alpha Lab where we were working on it for a year. A lot of this was based on the acquisition of a company called TriCipher. So you go to this portal, and based on your role, you get access to different applications, and those applications may be on-premises or off-premises. It really is what we view as the future, which is consumerization, where you're trying to bring that consumer experience into the enterprise, so we're really excited about it. I've been talking about it for some time with customers, and we've been working with them under NDA. But when it was announced, I think it was a big step for VMware because that's the future. I think that's where we're headed. We'll have a diverse mix of applications and devices, including handheld devices, netbooks and laptops. With Horizon, you can run all those different devices and all those different resources. So I think it's very exciting for us.

VR: How do you anticipate your physical datacenter will change over the next two to three years?
Egan: I think it's going to be much smaller. If you look at the density of computing resources that are out there, I don't see our 3,000 square-foot datacenter dramatically expanding. Our company will grow, but I don't see the datacenter growing nearly as much. I think the whole notion of datacenters is that there won't be as many companies in the future that actually have them. They'll rely a lot more on third parties to do that because you have very, very high-capacity computing resources that you can take advantage of. And then, with private and public cloud, you can move those resources around, because where we add the most value as IT professionals is at the apps layer. That's where we really enable our businesses to sell more products and to build better products.

VR: I get the impression that a lot of VMware customers are pretty much OK with the idea of moving data off of their primary sites and into the cloud, but you still hear the same old drum beat about security. "Can I trust this? How do I know that once my information's in the cloud it's going to be safe? Will it be encrypted as it goes back and forth?" Would you agree that on one end we've got VMware, and on the other end we've got smaller shops who are still wrestling with that?
Egan: Yeah, I think a lot of it is your company, your size, your industry and your kind of comfort level, but I think the market will mature. Just look at payroll as an example. Few people do payroll in-house. ADP's been doing this for 30 years. I guarantee you that ADP is a cloud provider today. Now that's pretty sensitive data, so I think the market is maturing. People will become more comfortable, and then you just have to decide what's right for your business.

VR: How would you describe your datacenter?
Egan: I view what we have as a highly virtualized private cloud. We have a pool of resources, we move those resources around and we're able to provision on-demand -- so I view my datacenter as more of a private cloud. We're working with third parties in a public cloud, and one of the things that we're doing there is our development environment. We have a -- I'll call it a lumpy kind of demand -- there, meaning one quarter we might be doing a lot of development, and the next quarter we may be doing more analysis. Overall, what we're looking to do is order our development environments from a cloud provider, and then they can deal with the variability in demand. That's one thing that we're starting to do in the public cloud area.

VR: It wasn't that long ago when vSphere was touted as a cloud OS, but it doesn't seem to be that anymore. Do you still think of vSphere as being a cloud OS?
Egan: You might say vSphere is the operating system of the future. It's something that enables you to really abstract all those infrastructure resources, if you will. Cloud is a term that's overused. It tends to be something that's a little more in vogue, and everything has to be cloud, but I think the spirit of what we're trying to get there is the flexibility, the choices, being able to take advantage of these things that are out there and then enable IT to move faster. My enemy is time. I've got a whole bunch of things that I've got to get done, and I have a very, very short period of time. So by having more of a cloud environment powered by virtualization and vSphere, it just helps me to move faster. An example of that would be my portfolio. We delivered 39 projects last year -- tier-one projects. 87 percent of those were on schedule and all were within our investment envelope.

VR: Can you give me a couple of examples of those 39 projects? Typically, what are we talking about here?
Egan: Roll out a new Salesforce automation tool to 3,000 people in the field. Roll out a new HR system to the entire company. Put a business intelligence system in place that gives the business a better idea of how we're doing and how to target our customers and so forth. Those are just a few examples of the things we did over the past year.

VR: Every CIO has internal customers who criticize them and say, "You're too slow. This isn't working." How much of that do you get and how do you deal with it?
Egan: I'll have to say if you're in a support organization, there's never enough, right, so the demands are insatiable. We have a pretty good governance process at VMware in terms of just evaluating projects. What we do is, by line of business we have all of our projects, and then we rank them. Is this going to generate revenue? Is this going to reduce cost? Is this going to improve customer satisfaction? Or is this going to be a compliance issue? And then we actually quantify those and we go through this analysis. For example, in the revenue column, the sales operations leader will look at this and say, "I'm not sure this is going to generate revenue. I'm not sure we're going to sign up." That quickly helps us flush out what I'll call the kind of noise projects. That governance process has worked pretty well for us, so we know what we're going to work on. This year we have a $100 million portfolio of projects -- my total budget is $150 million -- so there are a huge number of things that we're trying to do to help grow the business. That's the projects side.

VR: What about satisfying customers?
Egan: The other side is the SLA, customer-satisfaction side. We poll our business partners all the time. I've got an 87 percent approval rating in terms of our services. So every handful of tickets that come through the IT group will be rated: "Are you extremely satisfied, are you satisfied and so forth with our services?" Our ratings have been high 80s, low 90s. And then, if we get anything that's lower than that, we'll go reach out and say, "Hey, how can we do better?" Those are the kinds of things that we do on the governance side.

VR: One more question -- talk to me a little bit more about what you're doing with smartphones, iPads and so on.
Egan: As I mentioned, the challenge for us in IT is that next cool device we're expected to support. So with the iPad, the perfect example is our View product. You know we have View running on the iPad so you can walk around, you can access your [virtual machine], do everything that you want from a corporate world right there on your iPad. So we're really embracing that and where we're heading to is bring-your-own-computer. So you get a stipend, you get a device of choice, and then if you meet some security and syncing kind of standards, you can do anything that you want. But that's where we're headed because I want to give you the choice. I don't want to be the "no" guy -- no you can't do this, no you can't that and so forth. I want to say, "Hey if you meet some of these guidelines, we'll have View running on your device, and Horizon where you can have that portal, then you can go off and do everything that you want." It gets back to those choices because I think we, as IT professionals, get into this "no" thing way too much. We have to get into this more enabling, and "yes we can allow you to do these sorts of things." That's where we're heading at VMware.

VR: So we'll likely see more Horizon stuff in the upcoming year.
Egan: Absolutely. We've been working with this for over a year internally. We're rolling more and more of these apps into that environment, and it's very cool.


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