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Structure Speaker VMware CEO Paul Maritz: Cloud Is a Big Dilemma for Microsoft

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Computing is finally transitioning from a long-in-the-tooth, client-server paradigm to a network-centric one, and in the process opening up opportunities for companies that want to duke it out with incumbents such as Microsoft (s msft) and Oracle (s orcl). Among them is Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware (S VMW), which has made a fortune selling virtualization products under the leadership of CEO Paul Maritz.

Maritz will be participating in a fireside chat with me at our annual Structure conference, which will be held June 23rd & 24th in San Francisco. In addition to hearing about his vision for the cloud, we’re going to discuss his company’s competitors, including Amazon and the disruptive impact of its model, and most importantly, his strategy to beat all of them. As part of our pre-conference preparations, I spent some time chatting with Maritz. He is refreshingly candid, cerebral and incredibly enthusiastic about the possibilities that cloud computing brings. You don’t want to miss our fireside chat…I’m just sayin’! (Get your tickets here)

“You can think of [VMware] as the final beneficiary of client-server computing,” Maritz said during our conversation. He described VMware as a company created to help fix the sins of the past — in other words, to run internal data centers more efficiently. “The big shift is a new way, a new era,” he said.

Indeed, one doesn’t need to look too far to see that a whole new class of applications are emerging in the form of mobile and web apps created solely for the Internet that live entirely on the cloud. “We are straddling between two eras,” Maritz said, a position that has put the company in the crosshairs of both Microsoft and Oracle. And what about Big Blue? “IBM (s ibm) doesn’t think we have to fail for them to win,” Maritz said. He views the world’s two largest software companies as his two top competitors.

Despite having their feet firmly entrenched in the old world, Maritz is smart enough to know that he can’t take the threat of either Microsoft or Oracle lightly. With billions of dollars in free cash, they have the ability to lose a lot of money to get it right. “Oracle wants you to use Oracle apps and Oracle infrastructure and cut them a bigger check,” he said. “It’s a legit view, just not necessarily one I agree with.”

Unlike Oracle, Maritz said the cloud presents a major dilemma for his former employer, Microsoft, in that it presents both a huge opportunity and a huge challenge for the company, which arguably reaped the most rewards from client-server computing era. As Maritz pointed out, the cloud threatens Microsoft’s biggest monopoly, the operating system. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s productivity suite is facing deflationary pressure from web-based offerings, not to mention the saturation in that market. “They have lusted after the idea of turning the Office into a rental business, and the cloud gives them an opportunity,” Maritz said.

VMware, on the other hand is trying to take advantage of this new world by being more open than the incumbents, working with a broader ecosystem. Maritz believes the opportunity for VMware is to provide the platform (vCloud) and the frameworks (SpringSource) for new applications, and is doing so in partnership with data center providers such as Terramark and others such as Salesforce (s crm) and Google (s goog). “What is more important in the new world is frameworks,” he said.

Maritz and I will continue our conversation onstage at Structure 2010 on June 23rd. Join us.

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