VMware Acquires Heptio: Have the Classic Giants Woken Up?

Written by: Sacha Labourey
4 min read

VMware just announced that they had acquired Heptio, a company started only a couple of years ago by some of the key minds behind the Kubernetes project: Craig McLuckie and Joe Beda, CEO and CTO of Heptio, respectively.

Kubernetes vs. Kubernetes vs. Kubernetes

What is Heptio doing? First of all, through their founding team, Heptio has immense Kubernetes credibility. But the way Heptio has put that credibility at work is very different from what most Kubernetes-centric startups have done. Instead of creating yet another sanctified Kubernetes distribution, Heptio decided to focus on the upstream Kubernetes distribution, the mother of them all. They built the expertise, credibility and, more specifically, the tools to validate (on-premises) customers' Kubernetes environments and make sure they’ll perform as expected. And this is a big deal!

A Kubernetes deployment is the result of two things: the IT environment x the _K ubernetes distribution_ . When using Kubernetes on AWS, Azure or Google, the environment is a very well-known quantity and so Kubernetes behaves in a well-understood fashion. However, every on-premises IT environment is different from compute to storage and networking. The reasons why things could go sideways are plenty. And when multiplying those environments by the sheer number of possible Kubernetes distributions, you are potentially facing a superb combinatorial explosion. (The current Kubernetes documentation lists no less than 44 distributions at this point!).

And so Heptio took a very disruptive approach to this problem. Instead of trying to lock and certify specific sets of environments on a given distribution, they are analyzing and validating a resulting Kubernetes environment in situ , giving clear guidance on what needs to be improved.

Onto owning the data centers for the next decade

Consequently, it is not surprising that VMware, a vendor that is going all in on Kubernetes, wants to make sure their customer deployments are as rock-solid and standardized as possible. This buys them (and their customers) immense peace of mind, as well as great Kubernetes credibility .

VMware has owned the world's last-gen datacenters for more than a decade now, and this acquisition fits into VMware’s desire to remain the king of on-premise data centers for another decade. This is a good move.

Furthermore, I really hope that VMware keeps the very open attitude that Heptio has shown (open as in both open source and as in open to any distribution), as this will only expand their opportunity funnel.

Stepping back…

But if we step back, this acquisition is also interesting because of what it tells us about the market. In the last few months, Microsoft has spent $7.5 billion to acquire GitHub , IBM has spent $34 billion to acquire Red Hat and now VMware is acquiring Heptio (obviously, for a quite lower price, but still). The giants of the previous compute era, with plenty of cash and amazing installed bases, all seem to have woken up and are aggressively grabbing – at any cost – the assets that will give them a chance to thrive in the next era.

But where are Google and Amazon in that M&A frenzy? They’ve been absent to date. Granted, by virtue of being in the “public cloud oligopoly club” (peacock!), they probably feel less pressured to make bold moves (at least for AWS). But I would challenge this some. It is now clear that owning a clear on-premise strategy (if only as a gateway to building up public cloud revenues), is a must-have as part of this transition to the cloud. And both AWS and Google are barely starting on that front.

My bet is that the M&A dominos are going to keep falling at an increased rate…


Sacha Labourey CEO and co-founder of CloudBees

A native of Switzerland, Sacha graduated from EPFL in 1999. At EPFL, he started Cogito Informatique, an IT consulting business. In 2001, he joined Marc Fleury’s JBoss project as a core contributor, implementing JBoss’ original clustering features. He went on to become general manager for JBoss Europe, leading strategy and helping to recruit partners that fueled JBoss’ growth. In 2005, he became CTO, overseeing all of JBoss engineering. When Red Hat acquired JBoss in 2006, Sacha played a crucial role in integrating and productizing the JBoss software with Red Hat offerings. Sacha went on to become co-general manager of Red Hat’s middleware division. He left Red Hat in 2009 and founded CloudBees in March 2010. Follow Sacha on Twitter .

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