Future Tech & Innovation4 min read

Disruptive Innovation at the Heart of VMware

VMware Staff

“Deliver the trusted foundation to accelerate innovation.” That VMware mission statement has remained untouched for years largely because it’s more than just marketing for us. It’s our mantra. It’s what guides our resources, fuels our culture, and builds a path toward what’s next. For more than 25 years, the company has delivered disruptive innovation, delivering value that customers didn’t anticipate they needed and so significant that it interrupted entire value chains.

“Just in the past couple of years, the Office of the CTO and Research and Innovation organization has moved over 30 innovation projects into product, service, or strategic open source communities,” says Kit Colbert, VMware’s chief technology officer.

Since 2021, R&I inventors have filed a total of 240 disclosures and been awarded a total of 216 patents.              

Innovation Is a Strategic Driver of VMware’s Success

VMware innovation has been bolstered by attracting top engineering talent and adding processes that support inquiry and collaboration as the company broadens its concept of innovation and drives platform-thinking further.  

“This has always been a technology-driven company, hiring the best and the brightest technologists who want to solve really hard problems,” explains Betsy Sutter, VMware’s chief people officer.  

“The innovation process is basically built into the culture,” says Richard Munro, director of evangelism for the Office of the CTO. “It's in the fabric of everything we do as an organization, and it starts with very simple things, like everyone's entitled to ask the question ‘why’ to prompt for, is there a better way for us to do this? Anyone from the business can ask those questions and has the agency to challenge the way we are thinking about things.”

Over the years, the company has built structures to support disruptive innovation, including a nurture system where ideas “become more and more mature and programmatic until we can engage with our customers and partners,” he adds. 

VMware cultivates research and innovation within its Office of the CTO organization. “Our research team is small but mighty,” says Sujata Banerjee, vice president of research, “We work on a lot of the topics that are front and center for VMware — systems and algorithms, networking, ML, storage systems, all of that.”  

The team’s effort — focused on high-risk, high-reward kinds of projects — has two equally important goals: 

  • Work within the external and internal research community to advance the state of the art, which includes inventing things that are new but also meeting current and future customers’ needs. 
  • Take those innovations and bake them into VMware products and services and get them out to customers who need them to solve business needs. 

“To work on the right ideas and get them out, we have to work with all of VMware and bring in the customer viewpoint,” Banerjee adds. That means collaboration, understanding the real problems, getting core technology developed in conjunction with the engineering community inside of VMware, getting details vetted across the research ecosystem and then building a targeted product or service that makes a difference.  

It's a multi-step, multi-year collaboration focused on success. 

Annual RADIO Event Catalyzes VMware Invention

For more than 21 years, VMware has gathered its engineering talent worldwide for a three-day Research and Development Innovation Offsite. The event, abbreviated as RADIO, is a cultural mainstay at VMware focused squarely on our vibrant innovation engine: our people, ideas, processes, and collaboration. This marquee innovation event brings together some of the brightest minds at VMware to share ideas that will shape our future and serve our customers better. 

“Each year, the content changes, but the spirit of RADIO stays the same,” says CEO Raghuram. “A lot of our innovation is developed bottom up. It's original, fresh ideas, from team members thinking about the possibilities, and going out and developing those ideas, or in many cases, crafting a paper that outlines it.” 

VMware’s not just a “doing” culture, it's also a “thinking” culture where it’s safe to ask why and question whether there is a better approach, explains Chief People Officer Sutter. 

At RADIO, a community of “really smart, hardcore software engineers come and identify problems, and then talk about really breakthrough and brilliant solutions to those problems,” according to Sutter. “Early on at VMware, we realized that we didn't care about who got the right answer, or who had the best answer, we just cared about, as a collective, getting the right or the best answer for our customers. That lives on today.” 

VMware Leadership in the Future of Technology

Today, VMware is pioneering disruptive innovation in the areas of quantum computing and AI. These technologies which perform very complex mathematics modeling and inform decisions have massive potential to benefit customers but also raise risk.  

VMware recently demonstrated the first quantum-safe application but didn't build it new. “We took an existing application, modified it with our crypto agility solutions and made it quantum-safe,” explains Strategy Director Munro. “That's core to our ethos around innovation.” 

Generative AI, too, promises big returns. Raghuram views AI as having all of the elements of being a programming platform, noting the biggest computing advances have happened when a new platform has emerged: 

  • Personal computers (PCs).
  • The Web.
  • iPhones (with applications and cloud-enabled app creation).
  • Now generative AI language models.

“When I saw the rise of these models and people doing things with them, like ChatGPT, it was pretty clear it was much more than just another AI product,” Raghuram says. “It’s a platform that has wide applicability and is widely programmable.” A core benefit: it significantly reduces the need for skilled developers. 

As CTO Colbert described the ideas of product-led growth, platform thinking, and broadening VMware’s concepts of innovation last year at RADIO, he wasn’t thinking specifically about generative AI. Today, he is.  

Generative AI and LLM has, potentially, a very large societal impact. VMware wants to make the best use of this technology.  

“There are a tremendous number of folks here, and we can actually do a tremendous amount,” says Colbert. “I think it's incumbent upon each of us to fully understand what it is that we need to do to help further this overall objective.” Moreover, “Even though there are challenges, if we all put our heads together, we can absolutely get it done.” 

For 25 years, VMware has been the glue that pulls the computing world together — eliminating silos and isolated systems — making everything work without compromising flexibility and agility.   

VMware is here for today and for what comes next, delivering on its promise to build a trusted foundation, enabling our customers to accelerate innovation and drive possibilities.