Can Pivotal really offer cloud nirvana?

Pivotal boss Paul Maritz knows how to paint a pretty picture that enterprise customers want to hear — Pivotal will launch an infrastructure-independent “operating system” for the cloud. It will enable new applications to help companies make sense of the data explosion expected to come with the internet of things.

He pledged Wednesday that PivotalOne technology will run on Amazon(s amzn) Web Services, and on OpenStack and other infrastructures. And that this effort will be independent of its owners EMC(s emc) and VMware(s vmw) (and now General Electric(s ge) as well).

That is a very, very tall order, which I’ll get back to. But first, the actual news from the official Pivotal launch event:

  • Maritz now has a title: he is Pivotal’s CEO. Up until now he was just sort of the “head” of Pivotal.
  • The first deliverables of PivotalOne will be generally available in “less than 6 months,” according to Pivotal SVP Scott Yara. It was, however, unclear which parts he was referring to.
  • We can now definitively drop the “Initiative” from the Pivotal Initiative name.

To be fair, Pivotal was just spun off four months ago, after six months of leaks. And in February it made its first move, launching Pivotal HD, a re-architected Hadoop implementation that is key to this whole effort.

How independent is independent?

Paul Maritz at Pivotal InitiativeNow, back to positioning.  Maritz, who spent 14 years at Microsoft(s msft), where he helped lead the Windows 95 and then Windows NT server charge, has huge credibility with developers and customers alike. If anyone knows from OSes — and what customers want from them — it’s him.

But the notion that Pivotal will be given free reign to cozy up to Amazon, or Microsoft, or other infrastructure providers as needed when it is still part-and-parcel of EMC and VMware — both of which have their own cloud agenda — strains belief. VMware is launching its own public cloud May 21.

Much of Pivotal’s promise — it will provide an abstraction layer atop third-party infrastructure so that applications will run anywhere — is what VMware promised with Cloud Foundry, the open-source PaaS that is now part of Pivotal. But there’s also the new Pivotal Data Fabric which builds on EMC’s GreenPlum technology and VMware’s Gemfire fast transaction processing capabilities. And then there will be Pivotal Expert Services, including Pivotal Labs’ rapid application deployment capabilities, which can be offered in conjunction with or atop the whole stack.

I don’t doubt the quality of the technologies here or even Pivotal’s ability to integrate them. But customers will wonder just how independent an entity that is 90 percent owned by two technology giants can really be to work with competitors in a scenario that will reassure corporate customers who don’t want lock-in.

The fact that GE is investing $105 million in this effort remains the headline. That news has got to have both Amazon and Microsoft sweating. Amazon is the world’s biggest public cloud provider and is adding more enterprise-class services by the day atop that cloud. Microsoft is pitching Azure now as an AWS infrastructure rival but has also tried to be the PaaS of choice for the millions of Windows businesses out there.

Both of those companies would have given a lot for an endorsement that GE gave Pivotal early today.

Check out Om Malik’s interview with Maritz earlier this year at our Structure:Data conference below: