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VMware’s latest acquisitions point to emerging platform war

VMware’s buyout of Carbon Black and Pivotal is a sign of an emerging platform war following the IBM-Red Hat deal

VMware’s planned acquisitions of endpoint detection and response (EDR) specialist Carbon Black and cloud-native platform supplier Pivotal point to an emerging platform war, industry watchers say.

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Simon Piff, vice-president of security practice at IDC Asia-Pacific, noted that the $2.1bn acquisition of Carbon Black, in particular, is part of VMware’s efforts to build out a strong security offering within its own platform.

Piff said, however, that Carbon Black customers that are not using VMware may not be satisfied with this move, especially if they are OpenShift or OpenStack users.

“IBM clearly sees VMware as its primary competition in the virtual platform market, and hence its acquisition of Red Hat,” said Piff. “The deal is good news for VMware customers, but not so good for Carbon Black customers that are not already, or don’t plan to become VMware customers.”

In an analyst call last week, VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger said Carbon Black’s assets were “complementary and synergistic to existing VMware security products, AppDefense, Workspace One, NSX and SecureState”.

Following the acquisition, Gelsinger said VMware would create “deep integrations” on the server workload side and combine endpoint management and security into a unified workspace offering.

It is also planning integrations with VMware NSX and SecureState to reduce the attack surface, prevent sophisticated attacks and automate threat response for VMware customers.

But VMware’s move will not turn it into a security supplier, said Piff, adding that the Carbon Black acquisition would benefit VMware customers the most.

“It will allow them to leverage the range of security technologies and offerings that VMware has been developing over the past few years and improve their overall posture – assuming they subscribe to what will clearly be offered as value-added services.”

Tim Sheedy, principal advisor at Ecosystm, a Singapore-based research firm, noted that while Gelsinger pointed to the fragmented security market as the context for the Carbon Black acquisition, things got this way because traditional security firms could not keep up with innovation and threats.

To stay secure, Sheedy said businesses could no longer rely on one or a few suppliers – they needed many suppliers. “So, the question will be whether VMware can let Carbon Black continue to innovate and evolve at the rate it did as an independent firm.

“Or will the focus on deep integration with VMware take their eye off the ball – meaning the threats get ahead of them and enterprises will still need to look for other security suppliers to stay safe.”

Sheedy said with much of the announcement focusing on Carbon Black’s integration with VMware – and that having standalone security software does not make sense – it is uncertain if Carbon Black will continue to develop independent offerings, and whether its integration with VMware will be its key focus in future.

Separately, VMware said it was buying cloud-native platform provider Pivotal for $2.7bn in a bid to capitalise on the growing popularity of containerised applications.

Noting that Kubernetes, the open source container orchestration platform, was driving the biggest shift in enterprise architecture since Java virtualisation and cloud, Gelsinger said Pivotal had begun a major shift to Kubernetes.

In 2017, VMware, Pivotal and Google announced the Pivotal Container Service (PKS) that makes use of Kubernetes to deploy and manage Kubernetes clusters on any cloud.

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Besides giving mid-sized and large enterprises the ability to deploy containers in VMware vSphere, PKS is also preconfigured for the Google Cloud Platform (GCP), making it easy for developers to take advantage of GCP services such as BigQuery, Spanner and machine learning.

Daphne Chung, research director at IDC Asia-Pacific’s cloud services and software research group, said the Pivotal acquisition was “in line with VMware’s increased focus on developers and its strategic positioning of its multiple forms of support for containerised applications”.

VMware’s Pivotal acquisition, however, may also be construed as a response to the IBM-Red Hat deal, Piff said. “This is drawing the battle lines for the move to hybrid cloud operating systems that can support containerisation.”

Ecosystm’s Sheedy added that VMware’s move to acquire Carbon Black and Pivotal would make its platform more complete and attractive.

“Customers won’t need to go elsewhere for endpoint logging and detection. It will help VMware offer more capabilities to their existing customers, but it is yet to be seen whether it will help attract more developers or customers to the VMware platform,” he said.

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