Tom Gillis is running late to our interview. Unsurprising, really, considering it took nearly a month to snag an hour on his calendar. The new leader of the high-growth VMware Networking and Security Business Unit (NSBU) has been on tour, introducing himself to customers, analysts and media. And he’s had a lot to catch up on.
Gillis joined VMware just as the company announced its new vision: the Virtual Cloud Network. The industry took
notice—and for good reason. Over half a decade ago, VMware acquired a startup called Nicira on its mission to change the networking game from hardware to software. The move was brilliant. The acquisition launched the global software giant, known at that time for creating modern virtualization technology, into a new tech category. And once VMware NSX hit the market, software-defined networking brought in significant double-digit growth. Gillis certainly has some big shoes to fill as he takes NSBU into the future.
Despite his hectic last few months, Gillis is calm and welcoming when he joins me for our interview, apologizing that his team meeting ran late. It strikes me then that Gillis fits right into the VMware leadership mold, a philosophy that runs deep in the company’s culture: humble, innovative and brilliant.
New Chief, New Focus: Q&A with Tom Gillis, New Head of VMware Networking and Security
RADIUS: You have an incredible background in technology and especially in the networking industry, including a leadership role at Cisco and at the head of your own company. Why did you choose to join VMware?
Gillis: I’ve been working on infrastructure and security technologies for most of my career. I think this is a really interesting time for the industry. As the enterprise truly embraces a move from private to public cloud, there’s an opportunity for someone to create a single infrastructure layer. VMware is uniquely poised to make this digital foundation possible for a couple of reasons.
The first and most obvious is that it must be done in software. The days of bespoke proprietary hardware are over. Abstracting complexity out of server infrastructure is what VMware does very, very well. Now, we’re doing it for the whole data center.
RADIUS: And the second?
Gillis: The second thing is really interesting, and that’s enforcing policies to manage security. The infrastructure is just a means to an end, and the means is designed to support applications. You need to understand how the application behaves, and VMware is uniquely positioned to help companies see the bigger picture. We’re very intimate with what the application is and how the application behaves. And that gives us an intrinsic advantage.
RADIUS: As you speak to customers, what are some of the biggest challenges leaders face when it comes to networking and security, specifically?
Gillis: Marc Andreessen always says software is eating the world. Every company will be a software business, if they’re not already. Look at General Electric. They make refrigerators and aircraft engines, but they describe themselves as a software company.
To be a software company, a digital-first company, you need a virtualized infrastructure that gives the experience of the public cloud. But, you need it to work on-prem, on multiple hybrid clouds and on multiple public clouds. So, it’s automation. It’s efficiency. It’s security. And it’s all built on cloud.
And yet the burdens of security and efficiency haven’t been reduced. So, how does the enterprise customer ensure that they provide sufficient controls, sufficient governance and oversight on a self-service infrastructure? That’s the problem VMware solves.
The Next Big Innovation Step: Virtual Cloud Network
RADIUS: Five years ago, software-defined networking (SDN) was basically science fiction. Now, it’s a science fact thanks to products like NSX. When you look at that history and you look forward into the networking future, what do you see as the next big innovation step?
Gillis: The Virtual Cloud Network feels like kind of a no brainer. What customers are looking for is that single plane of infrastructure that provides consistent controls, consistent metrics, and consistent security across a heterogenous cloud environment. And the Virtual Cloud Network isn’t just a vision or a future innovation—it’s ready today. With NSX SD-WAN by VeloCloud, we extend from the branch to the core data center, all the way up to the cloud.
RADIUS: How do you see business leaders using virtual cloud networking to create value for their companies?
Gillis: There are two big drivers. The first, and I think the most pressing for many customers, is they’re asked to do more with less. Every single year. And if we can go in and say that for every million dollars they spend, they get a two-million dollar return on investment this year—not in the future—that’s compelling. That’s hard to say no to.
The second thing is simply that security threats never end. Security used to be kind of a nuisance. Remember the Melissa virusand “I love you” virus? They didn’t do anything other than annoy people and maybe make you chuckle. Then, they started stealing credit card numbers. They started sending tons of spam, and it became a form of fraud. But what we’ve seen lately is information loss on such a massive scale. It even impacts the direction of nations.
Today’s threats require a new approach to how networking and security are done. CEOs lose their jobs as the core business is compromised by security. Violating security protocols and cyber-threats are increasingly a board-level topic. Having the ability to do unique security, like we can with micro-segmentation, is extremely relevant to customers.
“Great People Make Great Products”
RADIUS: Changing the industry, like with SDN and the Virtual Cloud Network, seems to be in VMware’s blood. How do you build and nurture a team that continues to innovate over and over again?
Gillis: Innovation and excellence is what we stand for. NSBU created a whole new industry, which resulted in a multibillion-dollar business with unprecedented growth rates. Today, 82% of the Fortune 100 chose VMware NSX for their SDN. The way you sustain and fuel an organization like that is by focusing on people. It’s great people that make great products, and great products make great companies.
Diversity and inclusion also are incredibly powerful. Ask yourself, “Where do good ideas come from?” And oftentimes, it’s one simple idea that you want to build a whole business around, like, “Gee, I think we could virtualize networking.” And so, the more diversity you bring to bear, the higher your probability of creating the next fascinating and great idea.
Hear more from Gillis and his team at VMworld U.S during the VMware networking and security showcase keynotes.