One of the reasons Google and VMware have been so successful over the past decade is that both companies have managed to snatch some of the world’s brightest engineer( software programmers) from the big-name research labs that petered out in the late 1990s.
Over the previous 30 years, labs run by tech giants such as AT&T,
Xerox, and DEC had led the computing revolution, but at the turn of the
millennium, much of their lifeblood was pumped into a pair of companies
that were only just getting off the ground. Find out how the new world billionaire software engineers got their jobs and who they are. Read on.
“At the time of the bubble burst in 2001, when everyone was
downsizing, including DEC, the main two high-tech companies that were
hiring were Google and VMware,” says
Brewer, the University of California at Berkeley computer science
professor who’s now part of an effort to redesign the technology that
underpins the Google empire. “Because of the crazy lopsidedness of that
supply and demand, both companies hired many truly great people and both
have done well in part because of that.”
Google and VMWare may seem like very different companies. One does
web search. The other does virtual servers. But they’re more alike than
you might think. Google’s search engine was successful in large part
because the company built data-center technologies that could support
such a massive application, and VMware is a company that reinvented the
data center for the rest of the business world. In each case, they
couldn’t have done so without the top engineers on the planet.
Ten years on, as it seeks to reinvent computing all over again and
maintain its place inside the world’s data centers, VMware has snatched
up another collection of world-class engineers. But this time, the
virtual computing kingpin took a different tack. It bought them for
That’s how much VMware paid for Nicira, a Silicon Valley startup that seeks to overhaul the way we build computer networks.
Yes, VMware wanted the company’s technology, which is already used by
the likes of AT&T, eBay, Rackspace, Japanese telecom NTT, financial
giant Fidelity, and even Google. But according to outgoing VMware CEO Paul Maritz, the acquisition was as much about talent as technology.
VMware’s virtual servers are machines that exist only as software.
The Palo Alto, California, outfit made its name offering software that
let big business save money and space by slotting many of these virtual
machines onto a single physical server. Now, it wants to reinvent
networking in much the same way. Nicira deals in virtual networks, which
take the brains out of networking hardware and put them into software, making it easier to build and maintain the sprawling collection of machines that underpin the modern business.
“If you think back to 2002, VMware had a great team of 100 engineers
who could really make server virtualization sing,” Maritz told Wired
this week, during an interview at the company’s massive VMworld trade
show in San Francisco. “Having the services of those 100 engineers
turned out to be incredibly valuable. They did something that really
transformed the industry and they gave rise to an asset that’s worth plus-or-minus $40 billion.
“The same sort of thing is going to happen in the networking industry.”
Pat Gelsinger — the ex-Intel man who will soon replace Maritz as
VMware CEO — was quick to point out that VMware was already developing
its own virtual networking technology.
But it wasn’t as far along as Nicira. Basically, VMware had built a
protocol for building virtual networks, while Nicira had completed a
full-fledged network controller that could make these “software-defined
networks” a reality. Both eBay and Rackspace
recently announced they’re using Nicira’s controller to help run their
live infrastructure, and Google is using a controller based on Nicira
Gelsinger says the technologies developed by VMware and Nicira
complement each other quite nicely. VMware was building virtual
networking technology for use with its own data-center software, he
explains, while Nicira worked with OpenStack, an open source software
platform that serves as an alternative to VMware’s “cloud” platform.
“When you put those two together,” he says, “there’s almost no overlap.”
But more than this, Maritz adds, VMware has built what it sees as a
team of engineers no one else can match. “We saw an opportunity to bring
together these two teams and meld together — unquestionably — the best
software-defined networking team in the industry,” he says. “Having
access to the right 200 to 300 engineers is a huge advantage at this
Dan Mihai Dumitriu — the CTO and co-founder of Midokura, another
startup tackling the virtual networking idea — might disagree with that.
He oversees a team of engineers that include Giuseppe “Pino” de Candia,
one of the lead developers of Dynamo, a data storage technology
developed at Amazon that has been hugely influential across the modern web.
But Dumitriu certainly sees the Nicira acquisition as the right move
for VMware. And even before Maritz’s comments, he saw the buy as a grab
for engineers. “We had heard they had been hemorrhaging talent for a
while,” Dumitriu told us last week, “this may have been a way to build
their team back up.”
The move is analogous to a recent purchase by EMC, VMware’s parent
company. In May, EMC snapped up Extreme I/O, an Israeli company that
builds storage devices based on super-fast flash memory.
In recent months, EMC — which built its massive business on traditional
hard drive storage — has been challenged by a raft of smaller companies
that deal in flash, a very different technology, and in an effort to
compete with these hardware makers of the future, EMC acquired one of
Again, it’s about the engineers. “We did some [flash] technology
ourselves organically,” says Gelsinger, who currently serves as EMC’s
chief operating officer, “but then we acquired Extreme I/O, a very
talented team who knows this stuff.”
Nicira employs about 100 people, and about 70 of those are software
engineers. In bringing them onboard, VMware benefits not only from their
virtual networking expertise but from their ties to the open source
community. Maritz told us there are three data-center platforms poised
to run the next generation of web services and businesses: VMware’s,
Microsoft’s, and the open source OpenStack, which is backed by myriad
big-name companies. After acquiring Nicira, VMWare now has a hand in two
of the three.
Nicira’s controller isn’t just designed to work with OpenStack. The company helped create OpenStack, a platform for building cloud services along the lines of Amazon Web Services.
Traditionally, VMware was seen an enemy of the open source community,
but in recent years, it has worked to change this, acquiring several
open source-minded outfits, and on Monday, it officially joined
OpenStack, which may be the most important open source project of the
VMware paid a hefty price for all this. Gelsinger calls Nicira’s
$1.26 billion price tag “bold” and even “outrageous.” But according to
Maritz — who will soon move to EMC as its chief strategist — this is
what it takes in today’s world. Ten years ago, the talent could be had
for much less, but things have changed. “People have seen the value of
virtual server technology, so they understand the potential value of
virtual networking,” Maritz says. “And that’s why you must pay much,
much bigger sums.”
He also points out that top engineers don’t guarantee success. “You
have to be a little bit humble here and realize you can always screw
things up,” he says. “History provides many examples of that.” But you
can’t succeed without top engineers — at least, not in today’s data
center. And VMware believes it’s now in the pole position. “We now have
the A team,” says Maritz.