VMware pros abuzz over CTO Steve Herrod’s departure

VMware CTO Steve Herrod’s departure has customers, partners and analysts wondering what will come next for the company.

FOXBORO, Mass. – Yet another major VMware executive has exited the company, leaving customers to wonder how all of the recent leadership changes will impact the virtualization giant’s technology strategy.

VMware CTO Steve Herrod announced this week that he is leaving the company. Herrod had been with VMware for 11 years and oversaw research and development before becoming CTO. He was a consistent public voice for VMware amid executive upheaval last year that included the departure of CEO Paul Maritz, who was replaced by former EMC executive Pat Gelsinger in July, as well as the departure of CFO Mark Peek in April and CIO Mark Egan in December.

VMware customers attending the Virtualization Technology User Group (VTUG) at Gillette Stadium this week were surprised by VMware’s latest loss.

“They’re kind of screwed for a while,” said one VTUG attendee, who requested anonymity. “They have to figure out what to do.”

VMware’s image as a hip up-and-comer is long gone, and Herrod leaving put a seal on that for some customers and analysts.

“It could be that VMware at this point is stable, and where [Herrod] feels it needs to be,” said Leonor Martins, systems and networks manager for Wellesley College. “It seems like he is a creative person and I’m guessing he needs something new at this point.”

With all of last year’s intrigue surrounding EMC and VMware executive changes, which led to the Pivotal Initiative, a spinoff focused on cloud computing and application development, one channel partner at the VTUG wondered if Herrod’s departure wasn’t “EMC pushing people around.”

With so many of VMware’s A-players out the door, it is up to Gelsinger to stop the VMware brain drain, VMware customers say.

 The engineers who are left looked up to Herrod and it will be interesting to see what they do now that he’s gone, said Mark Bowker, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group based in Milford, Mass.

In addition, Herrod was a strong voice working with VMware’s largest accounts at a time when VMware’s vSphere faced its most heated competition yet from Microsoft’s Windows Server 2012, analysts say.

“It’s a tough time for him to leave,” said Chris Wolf, research VP at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner, Inc. “Pat Gelsinger will do a good job, but the CTO role is very important at VMware.”

In the short term, this won’t have much of an effect on the company, but long term, the company must act decisively to replace Herrod.

“They need a strong voice to counteract Microsoft,” Wolf said.

Herrod announced via a VMware blog post Wednesday afternoon that he will become managing director at General Catalyst Partners, a venture capital firm jointly based in Cambridge, Mass. and Palo Alto, Calif. He will continue to serve as a “technical advisor” to VMware.

Meanwhile, several startups have  popped up in recent years with former VMware execs at the helm, such as HotLink Corp. and CloudPhysics.

“These guys are all engineers who love to innovate,” said Chris Harney, a virtualization consultant and the organizer of the VTUG. “VMware needs to start focusing again on users and products.”

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for SearchCloudComputing.com and SearchServerVirtualization.com. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

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