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My raw, unedited notes about VMworld 2014

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Below are my raw, unedited notes for VMworld 2014 San Francisco.  These are published mostly as background for the article I wrote on vSphere 6.0 on The Register, which can be found here.

These notes then are mostly of historical interest and serve mostly to contrast what I noted at this event against what people are noting about VMware today.  The notes raw and unedited:

In truth, VMworld 2014 felt like an exercise in hyping the status quo, from all sides. Partners were terrified to talk about anything for fear that – and I quote – “they would get Nutanixed.” (I think I have at least two different CEOs saying that on film, if I dug through the GoPro.) If I wanted to get any information out of people about what was upcoming, I had to sign a half dozen NDAs in blood and agree to talk to them off-site because “they couldn’t risk VMware getting wind of their ideas.”

This probably accounts for the functional lack of any interesting announcements from partners at the event. What was announced was all minor evolutionary stuff. Everything beyond that occurred in closed quarters, and most folks would only talk to me if it was me alone. “We’ll talk to you, Trevor, but we have to ask these other folks to stay outside because we don’t know them or anything about them.” There was absolutely not that level of paranoia last year.

And, to be frank, VMware’s announcements were pretty limp too.

1) EVO was a huge disappointment. Maybe it will evolve with time, but I just felt sad as that unfolded.
2) vSphere failed to show up to the ball. I’d like to think it’s because VMware is actually listening to the community and rethinking its stance on “Web Client Only” for 6.0, but I’m too cynical to really believe that. Still, whatever the reason, VMware felt 6.0 wasn’t ready for prime time and they delayed it. Even knowing that it would get bad press. That’s gutsy and I have a lot of respect for it. (Even if the reasons aren’t likely to be the reasons I want to be the case.)
3) VVOLs are still a pipe dream. Sads.
4) Pointless rebranding exercises designed to make us even more confused, and the incremental evolution of some products (like VCAC, SRM, vCloud Suite, NSX, PowerCLI) to a new subversion number. So far so boring.
5) vRealize was announced which may or may not just be a layer of ease-of-use lipstick on existing technologies. The buzzword bingo was so thick I couldn’t tell and I still haven’t had a chance to sit down and cut through it.
6) Expansion of various public cloud offerings into the PaaS and SaaS arenas, all targeting USians (and mostly US.gov). Pass.
7) Some handwaving about Docker. I still haven’t seen the ability to vMotion something from a Docker container on one system to a Docker container on another, so I’ll yawn until someone can explain to me why I should care. Docker seems great if you want to rearchitect your programs…but if I was going to do that, why wouldn’t I just rearchitect for AWS?
8) New certifications. Yay?
9) Some endpoint stuff; Workspace Suite/Airwatch/Horizon that looked interesting. Vague promises that virtualising GPUs might suck less in the future. When it arrives, I’ll be pumped.
10) VMware bought cloudvolumes and which is nice, but then I started looking at pricing out the full endpoint solutions and went back to Citrix.
11) VMware announced Project Meteor, but I had stopped paying attention because it was in the future and I was pricing out Citrix.
12) “The Web Client will be faster, oh please, oh please stop hating it”. No mention of if all the other issues with the web client will be addressed. Everyone still hates it.
13) VMware vCloud connector now does layer 2 extensibility  I cheered.
14) VMware ROBO licensing announced, but I set up a meeting with Pistoncloud to discuss their offering after I realised the pricing was about 2x what I could sell it to my clients for, and even then would leave no margin for me.
15) vSphere 5.5 U2 comes with a C# client that talks to some of the new features!  I cheered, then almost died from the shock.

So, unless I missed something the only items that I took away from the event were:
A) Why was vSphere 6 delayed
B) If I ever get bored, assign time to figure out what the hell vRealize is supposed to be
C) Find out from someone when VMware will launch their version of Horizon that can compete with Citrix on GPUs. Will it be remotely price competitive?
D) vCloud connector has grown up into something awesome! Figure out how to use this with a Canadian VMware cloud provider that has zero legal US attack surface. Sell to clients.
E) New C# client that postpones need to move to Openstack for another year. Sacrifice goat to $deity in thanks.

There were a handful of partner discussions that were interesting, but I’m not allowed to talk about 95% of them, rendering those somewhat moot.

You know me as being the guy who never pulls punches, so let me be blunt: I am not remotely the only person who feels that VMworld 2014 was a bust. The most popular in-joke is “VMware threw a VMworld and forgot the VMworld”…though I prefer my more pitch #StorageWorld2014.

Storage, storage, storage, as far as the eye can see. What can any of you demonstrate that will differentiate your products for me?

If VMworld 2013 was the year I realised how important Hyper-V and Openstack support were to the ecosystem partners in the virtualisation industry, 2014 was the year I heard systems administrators and CIOs openly discussing adoption of alternative hypervisors. Where 2013 was the year where people looked at you funny if you said you were trailing Openstack, or using Hyper-V in production, 2014 was the year where those who only used one hypervisor vendor were practically ostracised to the edges of the gathering.

VMworld 2013 was about the vendors on the floor seeing demand for heterogenous environments, something that was provably uptaken in by VMworld 2014.

VMworld 2014 was about the vendors living in fear of telling VMware what they were up to, for fear their ideas would be stolen and cloned before they had a chance to build a market presence. It was also a year of some very open – and very bitter – griping by dozens of vendors about the politics – and the cost – of being a VMware partner. What will that mean for VMworld 2015?

Based on that, I have a lot of questions about VMworld 2015. I am talking to about 100 different vendors on their views and thoughts, but I am increasingly getting the feeling that VMworld is about to abruptly cease to be “the conference in the IT industry where the future is revealed and the backroom deals are made.” The real question is; what will be? Where will companies go to instead? Will the 2015 east-side startup ghetto be deserted? Will the 2015 west-side vFavellas choose instead to go to BUILD? Will “FossetCon” minicons expand dramatically?

These are questions I don’t have answers to, but am working on finding out as vendors de-stress and do their VMworld 2015 postmortems.

What is clear to me is that there is a brewing crisis of faith amongst the VMware ecosystem partners. Given that VMware’s greatest strength is its ecosystem – and when combined with the ever increasing reports of VMware’s internal politics being “a thermonuclear wasteland” – I am curious how this will play out and what it means for VMware as a whole.

VMware is clearly a powerful and capable technology company. They were able to birth EVO:RAIL in record time, and have managed to create many of the world’s most notable best-of-breed products over the years. They’re enormous, rich, have all the most important companies as their clients and they are still growing their customers and partners every year.

VMware isn’t going to fall. It isn’t going to collapse or evaporate or suffer some major financial cataclysm. That said, VMware may be on the cusp of stagnation. It has been bleeding its top talent for years, has alienated customers and partners alike (vTax, PEX, Web client, “getting Nutanixed”, difficulty/cost/timeframe for being a partner, time to get drivers certified, etc,) and shows no sign of dropping its prices deal with the reality of very capable competition from both Hyper-V and Openstack.

Something has to give. What will change, and who will profit from that change? Secrecy, fear and stagnation were the currents underneath VMworld 2014. Will they drive the flow of the industry through 2015? Only time will tell.

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