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Unanswered questions lingering after VMworld 2013

About a week after VMworld 2013 has wrapped up, it's time to examine the unanswered questions that are still lingering.

It’s been about a week since VMworld ended and we’ve all had time to digest the event and the implications for the IT industry. This was VMware’s 10th VMworld conference, and the milestone show certainly didn’t disappoint as the almost 25,000 attendees were treated to many new products and themes from VMware and its partners. I thought the show contained many subthemes to the high-level theme of “virtualization,” but many questions still linger. From my perspective, these were the main themes and the questions still left unanswered:

  • Networking. The show was highlighted by the launch of VMware’s network virtualization platform, NSX. During his keynote, CEO Pat Gelsinger discussed how the network was the next area of IT to be transformed by virtualization. While I think Gelsinger is right and virtualization will have significant impact on networking, I think it’s not a fait accompli that VMware is the game-changing vendor. First, I thought the reaction to NSX was somewhat muted at the show compared to the media coverage. Part of the issue is that VMware has been talking about this product since it bought Nicira, so many might not have considered it news. The second issue is that most of the audience was made up of server managers, people who really don’t have much interest in or knowledge about networking. In fact, when, during the opening keynote, when Gelsinger was au pining about the joining of network and compute technology, Twitter was lit up with comments like “I can’t even get my network and server teams to talk to one another.” So this raises two questions: Are enterprises set up correctly to take advantage of NSX? And if not, will network managers embrace NSX or will they prefer using technology from a network vendor?
  • Another issue arose with this launch, and that’s VMware’s ability to actually be a network vendor. Networking is hard to do, harder than most non-network vendors realize. Many of the NSX partners expressed frustration to me when I talked to them about the relationship with VMware. They know they need to work with VMware, but found VMware almost dismissive of the challenges of building a reliable, resilient, secure network. This brings up a third questions with regards to networking. Does VMware have the necessary network knowledge to enable its customers to build large-scale, enterprise-grade networks?
  • The cloud. The cloud has been a significant theme at VMworld for the past four or five years. However, this year I thought theme was distinctly “hybrid cloud,” which makes sense since the majority of large enterprises have chosen to build a private cloud in conjunction with any public cloud strategy that it may have. To support its cloud initiative, VMware announced the vCloud hybrid service putting VMware in competition with services like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. These services allow the customer’s internal environment to interface with the cloud. There’s a catch, though - it only works when ESX is the hypervisor. While VMware still holds the majority of share when it comes to hypervisors, it’s not unlikely that any large enterprise will also be running ESX plus some combination of KVM, Xen and Hyper-V. So the question that I pose is will VMware’s vCloud service eventually support virtualization platforms other than VMware? If not, it could be putting its partners in a position where they have to go with a competitive service. Which raises another question - will VMware eventually offer a service that competes with its partners? VMware says no way, but we’ll see as time marches on.
  • The Cisco relationship. There’s been no relationship in tech that is less clear than Cisco/VMware. The on-again-off-again status reminds me of what Audrina Patridge and Justin Bobby went through on “The Hills,” or A-Rod and normalcy. Both sides say the right things - they love each other, customers want us to work together, etc. - but the two companies appear to be on a collision course with one another. Considering the share the two companies enjoy in their respective markets, there’s a lot to be gained if both vendors could reach peace and harmony, but both vendors want the same thing – to control the data center - and there can only be one chief. So, I ask, does the launch of NSX signal the beginning of the rapid erosion of what’s left of Cisco/VMware?
  • End-user computing. While VMware dominates server virtualization, it certainly does not have the same kind of market share or even mind share with desktop virtualization. Citrix has a significant technology lead on VMware and a better mobile strategy. Likewise for mobile management where Horizon has yet to make a dent in the market. Prior to VMworld, the company announced the hiring of Silicon Valley heavyweight Sanjay Poonen to run the entire end-user computing group. One of the weaknesses of VMware is its tendency to think data center-first, where the role of virtualization is to standardize things. End-user computing is to enable customized environments (users hate standard desktops), so I ask, does VMware have the in-house knowledge and strong enough products to be a significant end-user computing company?

VMworld 2013 certainly pointed to many market transitions, and great companies are built on taking advantages of these market transitions. VMware appears to be heading in the right direction, but over the next five years we’ll find out of if VMware can be one of the few great IT companies, or if it’s just one of many good ones.

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