VMware: Was VMworld Barcelona a Swan Song or a Rally to Arms?

VMware’s VMworld conference season is now over. Its Barcelona shindig has just finished and everybody has flown home, is flying home, or is winding down on the beaches of the Catalonian coast pending the upcoming OpenStack summit. I did not attend the Las Vegas event; however, from what I have gathered from speaking to folks who attended and from reading about it, it was not well received. Complaints included a lack of new releases and what at first glance appeared to be muddled messaging and poor keynotes. However, fast-forward to VMworld Barcelona, and you could not have had a more night-and-day moment.

Historically, VMware’s European conference has been lackluster ever since it was moved from its original late-February slot to its current Autumn resting-place, October. The larger US conference had a larger audience, lasted longer, had all the important new releases, and got first shout at the keynotes. Not this time. VMworld Barcelona was extended by an extra day, and more importantly, it got all the major announcements: vSphere 6.5, VSAN 6.5, vRealize Automation and Operations, a new version of Log Insight, and the biggie, vCloud on AWS. Further, rather than being able to sit in the hang space and mouth out the keynote in time with Pat’s speech, Europe got brand-new keynotes.

VMware: Was VMworld Barcelona a swan song or a rally to arms?

On to Pat’s story. It is interesting when you follow his story from his first keynote through to this conference. You can see his vision starting to take shape. Last year’s “Ready for Any” leads seamlessly into this year’s multicloud management messaging.

The vCloud on AWS story is an interesting one. On first viewing, it seems like a suggestion of surrender on VMware’s part. However, even though this is a protectionist move, it is also protectionist on the part of AWS. Both VMware and AWS have their eyes focused on Azure Stack, Azure, and Server 2016. I personally see this as a pets-versus-cattle play for VMware. Put your stateless or endpoint servers and VDI on AWS, and keep your crown jewels in-house. What will be interesting is how it evolves. Will vCloud users on AWS have access to S3 buckets, Glacier, or EBS, for example?

vSphere 6.5 has been announced with a number of enhancements, not the least of which is HA for the vCenter appliance, which incidentally has been re-engineered to run on top of Photon OS. Now, HA is only for the vCSA, not for the Windows-based legacy vCenter (yes, there you go, I’ve said it: legacy). VMware is actively moving to remove dependencies on the Windows-based vCenter Server. The first major VMware product to lose its dependency was Horizon View, with the release of Instant Clones that removed the need for the Composer service. VUM is now baked into vCSA, further loosening the need for Windows-based vCenters. What is interesting is the fact that it runs on PhotonOS. Could this be a forerunner of the next-generation hypervisor?

Another biggie is VM encryption with no in-guest modification. This is managed via a new storage policy. Even better, vMotion works too, as long as both source and destination hosts support it (i.e., vSphere 6.5). One final feature I am going to talk about is the HTML 5.0 web client. It is not fully featured yet, but finally the writing is on the wall for the Flex-based abomination we have had to put up with.

Has VMware done enough? It is difficult to say. Firstly, there is no pricing for 6.5 or vCloud on AWS. Yes, Pat did state that current customers could leverage their current vSphere investment for licenses (I’m not too sure exactly how a CapEx-based licensed purchase can be offset against a subscription-based usage charge, but I am open to further explanation).

There was a buzz around the conference that was missing from last year’s conference. The messaging seemed to resonate with the attendees. Also, VMware is starting to play nicer with the ecosystem again, as evidenced by its relationship with Blue Medora, which now writes all its third-party plugins for vRealize Operations. I am quietly optimistic that this year was VMware’s Nadella moment. The recent exodus of long-term execs has cleared the way for the removal of the ESXi huggers and the NSX cradlers. It was no coincidence that NSX was released to the public for download almost immediately after Casado exited as leader of the Network Business Unit. vSphere is still the fatted cow, but it is no longer its only real message. Personally, I see Photon taking the lead here. Yes, I think that VMware, if it manages to deliver on the message—and that is a key component of this statement—could “Be Tomorrow.”

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