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Ex-VMware ops chief floats over to Salesforce rival

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VMware’s former chief operating officer Tod Nielsen has jumped ship to join Heroku, Salesforce.com’s Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) cloud operation.

Nielsen has been named chief executive of Heroku, assuming the role vacated by Byron Sebastian who left the company in September 2012. Sebastian had been both CEO and executive vice president of platforms for Salesforce, and is now – according to his LinkedIn profile as well as several other sources - farming olives.

Oren Teich, Heroku's chief operating officer, praised Nielsen's experience with "top" application developer businesses and teams. This would help take Heroku to new levels of growth, he said.

"Tod brings proven leadership to Heroku along with a strong track record of success in leading developer-facing businesses and building developer communities that will take Heroku products and services to an even larger scale in the market," Teich said.

Heroku started life hosting Ruby apps on top of the base Amazon cloud service. It now hosts Java, Python, Clojure, Scala and Node.js. The idea behind Heroku is to provide the management interface and tools lacking in the vanilla Amazon while also providing an elastic infrastructure for apps to scale.

Heroku was bought by Salesforce.com for $212m at the end of 2010. Salesforce's headline-friendly CEO Marc Benioff, meanwhile, has positioned the whole camp as the champions of public clouds and antithesis of private clouds running behind firewalls, the kinds of clouds built using VMware.

However, even at the time, Salesforce didn’t seem to really know why it had bought Heroku. Not only did Salesforce already have its own app Software as a Service (SaaS) that it has re-positioned as a platform, but it had actually tied it up with VMware to deliver something called VMforce to host Java apps. VMforce has since come to nothing.

Nielsen would seem to have been brought on by Salesforce to grow Heroku, in terms of customer numbers, developers and operations.

Nielsen joined VMware in 2009 in the newly crafted role of COO. Prior to this he served in a number of executive roles. He’d been CEO of Borland Software, was senior vice president of marketing and global sales support for Oracle, and had been chief of BEA Systems worldwide marketing strategy and operations, research and development.

His biggest distinction was 12 years at Microsoft in various positions as general manager of database and developer tools and as vice president of the Microsoft platform group. He was the individual who set up and ran MSDN, cementing millions of developers into the then-new Windows platform.

But he appeared to have been sidelined lately at VMware. He was brought to VMware by fellow former Microsoftie and VMware chief Paul Maritz. At the time, Nielsen complimented VMware, saying he admired its strong track record of software innovation.

Both student and patron, though, were moved over to VMware’s Pivotal One, a PaaS spin-out for the enterprise after Nielsen was made co-president of the VMware application platform group. At the application platform group he ran Cloud Foundry, which is now part of Pivotal One. ®

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