So what does VMware and EMC’s announcement of the new Pivotal Initiative mean for I&O leaders? Put simply, it means the leading virtualization vendor is staying focused on the data center — and that’s good news. As many wise men have said, the best strategy comes from knowing what NOT to do. In this case, that means NOT shifting focus too fast and too far afield to the cloud.

I think this is a great move, and makes all kinds of sense to protect VMware’s relationship with its core buyer, maintain focus on the datacenter, and lay the foundation for the vendor’s software-defined data center strategy. This move helps to end the cloud-washing that’s confused customers for years: There’s a lot of work left to do to virtualize the entire data center stack, from compute to storage and network and apps, and the easy apps, by now, have mostly been virtualized. The remaining workloads enterprises seek to virtualize are much harder: They don’t naturally benefit from consolidation savings, they are highly performance sensitive, and they are much more complex.

Focusing the VMware team on virtualizing this next wave of complex tier 1 apps is essential for the company to remain relevant in the data center. There are too many good-enough hypervisors and too many app vendors with their own virtualization solutions for VMware to take its eye off the data center prize too soon. Whether deployed on shared infrastructure, converged platforms, or customized hardware, many enterprise workloads will stay in the data center for quite a while, and there’s a lot of work to do beyond the server to make these workloads more efficient, protected, agile, and scalable — whether or not they eventually move to the cloud. Going cloud too soon, and adding an open source app platform targeted at a completely different buyer, diluted the core data center message and confused many. If I don’t need a private cloud, why is my management stack called vCloud?

The Pivotal split is all about existing apps versus new apps. Aligning the brand, message, and sales focus around these two diverging use cases is smart and should go a long way to clearing up VMware’s outreach to both I&O and Application Development & Delivery leaders in 2013. The Nicira and DynamicOps acquisitions laid the foundation. Today’s news means that VMware will stay focused on creating a solid (and virtualized) building on top of that foundation. Whether you’re building your own cloud, migrating legacy apps to a more virtualized environment, or building a new generation of big data apps, your platform choice is important. This move carves up the platforms between VMware and Pivotal, and should help both EMC and VMware simplify and target solutions more accurately.

For thoughts on what this means to the developer community, see this excellent coverage on James Staten’s blog. James also inspired several of the ideas above.