VMworld 2013: Is VMware The Mumford And Sons Of The Cloud?

Peter Judge

VMware bestrides the IT industry like a colossus, but Peter Judge finds some people who think it’s not so cool any more

The stadiums are full – there is no argument there. There are 8,500 IT people and VMware partners in Barcelona, celebrating the firm’s fifteen year ascent to greatness.

VMworld EMEA is backed by indie rock, branded “Defy Convention”, and plastered with images of heroic IT people who have defied convention by growing beards, wearing glasses or being female.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger’s first day keynote told the IT people in the audience they are rewiring the world, and on the second day, COO Carl Eschenbach cleverly posed as a clueless business manager so VMware CTO Kit Colbert could show how an IT guy can use VMware’s automation tools to triumph over management.

Sigh no more, VMware

IDC hypervisor pie chartBut around the edges of the show, there is an ecosystem, and that make its living by being critical of VMware. The big partners, like EMC and Cisco, don’t have anything bad to say. But there are people here offering products that compete with parts of VMware’s empire, or challenge its whole business model.

VMware is used to owning virtualisation and the private cloud. Ask a VMware person and you will be told the company has 70 to 80 pecent market share of virtualised servers. Dell is a strong VMware partner, but vice president of product management John Maxwell thinks it’s not the only game in town.

“VMware’s growth has slowed down,” he tells me. He quotes IDC figures that give VMware only a 54 percent share of the virtualised servers of the world. “A lot of customers are moving to Microsoft’s Hyper-V,” he adds. IDC’s Andy Buss isn’t aware of those specific figures, but he agrees that Hyper-V is doing well in smaller organisations: “If you already have Windows Server and System Center, it can be free,” he says.

Maxwell is pushing Foglight, the virtualisation manager which Dell acquired along with Maxwell’s previous company Quest. Foglight can manage different hypervisors along with VMware, but still people who only use VMware are adopting it, he says, because they find VMware’s management products confusing and inadequate. VMware’s tools are a collation of acquisitions that have been only partially integrated, he adds.

VMware is aware of this. Gelsinger has been simplifying things, and a large part of VMworld is given over to explanations and demonstrations of the latest automation and operation tools. It seems to me that Foglight is actually covering only a small part of what the VMware panoply provides. And Buss assures me the firm is getting its tools connected in pretty swift order.

But it is s work in progress, and VMware has a tendency to reshuffle and “simplify” functions by grouping them under increasingly opaque headings.

Mumford and SonsOne example: VMware has replaced its vCloud Director with something called VCAC. Everyone I speak to calls it “v-cack” – affectionately, as it is a good tool from all accounts – but VMware people are forbidden to call it that. And one of them is unable to recall what it stands for.

Winter winds

Meanwhile Red Hat is here too, damning VMware with faint praise. Red Hat’s Radhesh Balakrishnan tells me that open source approaches are gaining ground.

While VMware more or less owns the enterprise private cloud, open source rules the public cloud – which is currently a smaller market. That’s why the hybrid vCloud announced here is important – it helps Red Hat persuade those private clouds to expand to the public cloud, without leaving VMware in the on-premises network.

Balakrishnan wants things to go the other way. He says enterprises on VMware are moving to Red Hat, and a demo shows that Red Hat’s CloudForms is moving in the same direction as VMware’s VCAC and other products.

So is VMware cool? Maybe not, but it can pack a stadium and IT managers – like rock fans – win both ways, because they can dance to whichever tune they want.

How well do you know VMware? Take our quiz!