Top 6 Takeaways from VMworld 2014

The virtualized curtains have closed on another VMworld, and many attendees, vendors, and VMware employees are making their way home. While I wasn’t able to attend the show this year personally, I followed news from the show closely, watched the keynote live streams, and heard from a few Petri readers about what they thought about the show. I’ve always liked writing show recaps for readers, and VMworld 2014 is no exception. So in the interest of sharing some thoughts about what the key news and trends were from VMworld this year, I’ve assembled a collection of what I think are key takeaways from the show.

1. It goes to 11: Hyper-convergence is here

Arguably the biggest news from VMworld was the launch of EVO: RAIL, a new “hyper-converged” infrastructure appliance (HCIA) that VMware will be selling with some key hardware partners. Building on the converged infrastructure trend that revolves around selling integrated solutions that pool computer, networking, and storage into one box — think VCE VBlock and Cisco USC — EVO: RAIL is indented to essentially be a software-defined data center (SDDC) in a box, allowing IT managers to quickly expand datacenter resources while simultaneously improving efficiency.

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger introducing the EVO product family at VMworld 2014

VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger introducing the EVO product family at VMworld 2014. (Image: VMware)

Many mid- to large enterprises love the converged infrastructure approach, and VMware seems to be hearing them loud and clear. If you liked the idea of converged infrastructure, you’re going to love hyper-converged infrastructure. You might even be tempted to tell management that hyper-converged infrastructure is like converged infrastructure but it goes to 11.

2. Long live on-premise IT

One noteworthy theme of this year’s VMworld was the obvious focus on bringing new products and services to on-premise data centers. While VMware talked a lot about their cloud efforts with vCloud Air and their partnerships with OpenStack and Docker, a good chunk of the VMware messaging coming out of the show was about getting even more value and efficiency from on-premise hardware. That approach is in stark contrast to Microsoft’s “All Cloud, All the time” approach at Microsoft TechEd 2014, which seemed to focus almost exclusively on promoting cloud-based services like Microsoft Azure, Windows Intune, and Office 365.

VMware software-defined data center (SDCC)

VMware’s software-defined data center (SDCC) is music to the ears of on-premise datacenter administrators. (Image: VMware).

In contrast to Microsoft’s Azure-focused approach at Microsoft TechEd, VMware execs sprinkled SDCC news throughout their keynotes and presentations, namely highlighting some of the new features in VMware vSphere 6.0, which is in beta now but will likely be released sometime in early 2015.

3. Branding bewilderment

Another common theme at VMworld was the collective head-scratching by attendees of all the branding changes and product renaming of existing VMware products, primarily the rebranding of VMware vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS) to VMware vCloud Air, and a number of vCloud automation and operations products have been renamed and incorporated into the new VMware vRealize Suite.

The jaded cynic in me (and undoubtedly some Microsoft aficionados) might think some of these branding changes for VMware cloud and hybrid products and services are relying on a bit of marketing misdirection in an effort to distract attention from the fact that VMware is far behind Amazon, Google, and Microsoft in the cloud infrastructure space. You can’t blame VMware for trying to mix things up: Gartner Analyst Lydia Leong has classified VMware — up to now — as a niche player in the cloud IaaS race. Gartner analyst Kyle Hilgendorf went a step further by saying that “…in many ways, [VMware] vCloud Air is still far behind.

Don’t get me wrong: VMware has made massive strides in building out their technology, platform, and partner network for vCloud Air and the vCloud Air Network, but when you’re competing again cloud titans like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft — who are literally funneling several billions of dollars into their cloud development and marketing efforts — fighting for fourth place at the cloud IaaS/SaaS table isn’t as bad as it sounds.

4. Partnerships Galore: OpenStack and Docker

Speaking of trailing competitors in established areas, VMware was also keen on entering into partnerships with other companies that could give them a boost in other segments. VMware’s partnership with OpenStack will help VMware compete more effectively with the aforementioned cloud providers.

The partnership with Docker is an even more forward-looking move on VMware’s part. Some analysts have suggested that the container virtualization technology used in Docker could eventually replace virtual machines, and VMware execs may have thought that it was wise to embrace a “better together” approach than try to face off against Docker, which is obviously one of the hottest and fastest-growing new technology platforms to hit the IT space in years.

5. VMware is here to stay

There’s been a steady drumbeat of news that Hyper-V has been gaining ground against VMware, and there’s definitely some truth to that. But let’s get a reality check: Anytime a dominant provider in a given market finally gets some real competition, you’re bound to see the more dominant player begin losing share.

So while it’s true that Hyper-V is gaining ground in some areas, it seems that VMware still has an impressive lock on  the IT departments of most mid- to large enterprises. VMworld’s robust attendance figures — 22,000 attendees from 85 countries — is an indicator of strong support in IT data centers across the world. Sure, the cloud is getting a lot of attention these days, but there’s still a massive, multi-billion dollar business to be tended to in the care and feeding of on-premise IT workloads that aren’t ready to move to the cloud, or perhaps never will. Virtualization is still a huge business, and many IT professionals I’ve spoken with over the years like a two-vendor solution, with VMware running the virtualization layer and Microsoft (and other vendors) providing their OSes, server apps, and cloud resources.

VMworld also showed the vibrant strength of the VMware user community, bolstered by impressive efforts like the VMunderground, the VMware User Group (VMUG), and the hundreds of other VMware Meetups, user groups, and other community organizations around the globe.

In the context of user communities, Microsoft’s relentless drive to get virtualization accepted as simply a feature of the Windows Server OS may have backfired, as the Hyper-V community — as outlined by David Davis in an opinion post that focuses on why you should choose VMware over Hyper-V — pales in size, scope, and passion to the VMware user community.

6. Buzzword Bingo: Docker, Hyper-Convergence, and Hybridity

One of the more entertaining — or frustrating, depending on your point of view — aspects of any tech conference is the proliferation of buzzwords and marketing monikers used to describe (and hype) new products and services. Virtualization and cloud computing served their time in the hype-filled sun, and both have now moved along the hype-cycle from being new and buzz-worthy to settling into a respectable, deployed, and usable status, akin to moving out of the house and attaining IT adulthood.

At VMworld 2014, the three biggest buzzwords — in ascending order of ephemeral buzziness — were Docker, hyper-convergence, and hybridity. Docker may be a buzzword, but it’s also a white-hot technology firm and a technology platform with loads of real-world potential. Hyper-convergence earns demerits simply for having “hyper” in the title, but I personally think that ‘hybridity’ takes the cake as the most irritating new buzzword. Yet what earns hybridity the most sustained eye-rolling is a VMware blog post that cautions IT managers to Beware of False Hybridity, an exhortation that sounds more at home in a 1950’s science fiction flick featuring bug-eyed, brain-sucking communists from Venus. Or is that Hyper-Venus?

So did you attend VMworld 2014, either in person or by following along remotely? If so, please drop me an email with what you thought of the conference, or you can also contact me on Twitter or Google+. You can also catch up on my posts in the Petri IT Knowledgebase forums.