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As VMware transitions from a legacy infrastructure management supplier to a modern cloud infrastructure provider, its acquisition of Pivotal, which took place in August 2019, plays a key role. This VMware-Pivotal acquisition provides developers with the crucial ability to build container-based applications, but does not offer as much flexibility as alternatives, which makes its future influence unclear.
"VMware has been repositioning itself because computing infrastructure, including hypervisors, is becoming commoditized," said Torsten Volk, managing research director at Enterprise Management Associates, a computer consulting firm based out of Portsmouth, N.H.
Application design and management has been moving away from a system infrastructure focus -- i.e., server, storage, network and operating systems -- and toward an application development focus. Founded in 2013, Pivotal created an application development platform designed for hybrid networks, instances where companies mix legacy on-premises software and public cloud. The startup raised $1.7 billion in funding before going public in 2018, to a fair deal of success.
"Pivotal was a good solution for large enterprises whose staff lacked the skills needed to build modern, cloud, containerized applications," said Larry Carvalho, research director of IDC's platform-as-a-service practices. "They provided a lot of hand holding."
Pivotal's customer base grew. Developers have used its Spring Initializr, for example, to start 1.5 million new projects, people have downloaded its Spring Boot more than 75 million times and its Pivotal Application Service has more than 750,000 enterprise production instances running globally, according to VMware.
However, Pivotal has also had its problems. In June 2019, prior to the VMware-Pivotal acquisition, the company faced a dramatic stock dip as a result of underearning.
Filling in the gaps
Pivotal filled a few gaps in VMware's capabilities. VMware must extend vSphere management to utilize native Kubernetes features and manage containers, which form the foundation of modern cloud applications. VMware also hopes to extend its reach into application development, an area where it had no presence prior to its purchase of Pivotal.
"The Pivotal acquisition provides VMware with more resources around containers and Kubernetes development, as well as an application PaaS solution that it can now offer to developers and platform engineering teams so that it stays relevant to the needs of that audience," said Arun Chandrasekaran, an analyst at Gartner, an IT service management company based out of Stamford, Conn.
Pivotal also features a service group called Pivotal Labs that focuses on retooling legacy applications for cloud-native architectures. As a result, VMware has woven Pivotal into its future plans and seems to be on a good course.
"VMware's current product roadmap is comprehensive and ambitious," Volk said.
Problems with Pivotal
However, Pivotal is not a panacea. Pivotal tools help IT departments add modern, cloud application features to legacy systems. But when a business is ready to build cloud-native applications, they might opt for easier alternatives, such as public cloud services or no-code options.
"The Pivotal solution is easier to use than legacy development tools but still carries a lot of bloat, Carvalho said. "Corporations need to expend a lot of resources to get it running. It is not a lightweight solution, which other vendors are now selling."
Consequently, Pivotal can find its sweet spot in large, established companies that have already invested a lot of time, money and resources into legacy infrastructure. Because these businesses already run on that foundation, they often cannot move quickly or easily to the public cloud.
Other vendors also hope to target that space. Red Hat, which IBM purchased in July 2019, presents significant competition for VMware in this niche. It extended its OpenShift product line to the cloud faster than VMware could incorporate Pivotal and extend its own legacy products, according to Carvalho.