EMC Creates Cloud Computing Division, Hires Former Microsoft Exec to Lead It; Oh, They Bought His Startup, Too

2/21/08Follow @wroush

There’s a term of art in journalism called “burying the lede.” It means taking the reader on a pleasant, diverting stroll for a few paragraphs before getting to the real news. That’s what Hopkinton, MA-based EMC (NYSE: EMC) did in spades in a late-afternoon press release today.

The announcement is ostensibly about EMC’s all-cash acquisition of a strange little Seattle company called Pi, which is working on an as-yet-unreleased software environment for creating, storing, and sharing personal information. The announcement goes on for a while about Pi and its 100 engineers in the United States, Canada, and India. Then, in the third paragraph, comes this little bombshell: “Upon completion of the acquisition, Pi founder and CEO Paul Maritz will join EMC’s executive management team as President and General Manager of the newly formed Cloud Infrastructure and Services Division.”

Well, as Bob told all of you just last week, the question was when, not if, EMC would soar into cloud computing. Cloud computing is a relatively new term that means offloading the software we’re accustomed to running locally and the data we’re used to storing locally to a collection of shared, indistinct, Internet-accessible computing resources. EMC executives have been dropping hints about the company’s interest in this area for months. We just didn’t expect that a formal move would come quite so soon.

And make no mistake: while EMC chose for some reason to dress up today’s developments as an acquisition announcement (and the Associated Press and other outlets have fallen for it), the real news is that EMC is bringing on Maritz to set the agenda for the company’s cloud entire cloud computing business. That includes not just the EMC Fortress SaaS infrastructure (see my story “EMC Gets Serious About Software-as-a-Service“) and the Mozy online backup service (see Bob’s story “Why EMC Bought Mozy: A Leading Exec Provides More Insight“), but also “other upcoming EMC cloud infrastructure systems and software offerings under development,” in the words of the release. Maritz will report directly to EMC CEO Joe Tucci.

It’s an interesting piece of executive recruiting. Maritz, who is approximately 53, was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and spent fourteen years at Microsoft—rising to the position of vice president of the Platforms Strategy and Developer Group—before departing in 2000. While building Pi, which he started in late 2003, he’s also stayed involved in projects to assist the developing world; he’s chairman of the board of the Grameen Foundation, famous for its microloans to help poor women in places like Haiti and Indonesia set up small businesses.

The Pi website lacks the typical marketing mumbo-jumbo. Instead, its home page consists of an earnest essay by Maritz on “moving from personal computing to personal information.” The conventional tools for dealing with the digital detritus of our lives—from documents to e-mails to photographs to calendar appointments to tax returns—”are no longer up to the task,” Maritz writes. He envisions a future information system where familiar Web metaphors such as searching, subscribing, aggregating, sharing, and publishing are applied to all of our personal information, and where we have full access to and control over that data on any device, with the information automatically organized according to the task at hand.

Maritz is hardly the first high-profile IT executive to confront the challenge of personal information overload. Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus, has spent the better part of a decade on the Chandler Project, an open-source personal information manager built around e-mail and small group collaboration. But Maritz’s solution at Pi, which was funded by New York private equity firm Warburg Pincus, has a uniquely “cloudy” spin. Pi’s software and services—which will be available for pre-release testing “soon,” according to the company website—will provide … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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