VMworld 2017 Las Vegas: Days Two and Three

Are your feet sore still? Did you remember to bring the good shoes? Well, day one was a blinder. Let’s see what happened on days two and three at VMworld. Traditionally, day one is about strategy and vision, and Pat scored well with a cogent keynote. Day two’s keynote started with VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger and his boss, Michael Dell, sitting on two chairs on the stage answering questions from attendees.

Just two old buddies having a fireside chat at VMworld

Questions ranging from ones about AI and machine learning (to which Gelsinger responded that AI is nothing new and that he was working on it when he worked at Intel on the 486 processor over thirty years ago) to VMware’s commitment to customer service (he mentioned VMware’s proactive customer support product Skyline) all made for a lively opening. What was interesting, though, was that both CEOs stated that they would attack the SMB market. Traditionally, VMware has been very blasé about the SMB space, effectively leaving it to Hyper-V. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, considering vSphere’s enterprise-level price tag. The two also mentioned how tech-driven models are restricting both the way we work and the way we live. All in all, it was a convivial fireside chat.

I cannot help but feel that after a long period of being lost in the dark about what to do, VMware has finally exited the forest to emerge in sunlight. It finally appears to have a cogent strategy on how to remain relevant in the modern data center. Further, even though it could have rested on its laurels and continued to milk the cash cow that vSphere is, it has embraced change, including former competitors in the form of AWS and even Microsoft, with its VMware on AWS and Horizon on Azure partnerships. It is true that there have been a few wrong turns in VMware’s journey—Zimbra, anyone? But VMware has proven dogged in its willingness to invest in its future to stay not only dominant in the data center but relevant in the public cloud, even after divesting its vCloud Air division to OVH.

Its confidence is showing. Nutanix is back officially at the show, even though it is a direct competitor in the hypervisor market space—but also remember that Nutanix is a Dell partner.

Day two was an adding of meat to the bones of the announcements of day one. There were many sessions on VMware on AWS, as well as on Pivotal Container Service. Much has already been said about VMware on AWS, so I will concentrate a little on Pivotal Container Service. (Bizarrely, this is abbreviated as PKS, not PCS. The K stands for Kubernetes, not container.)

PKS encompasses not just Pivotal containers running on a vSphere infrastructure, but integration with both Kubernetes as the orchestration layer and NSX, too. Further, as an aside, it comes with complete compatibility with Google Container Engine. As part of the talk about PKS, the speakers were joined onstage by Sam Ramji, VP Product Management for Google Cloud Platform at Google.

Later, they introduced VMware’s CTO, Ray O’Farrell, to wrap up the keynote with a slightly convoluted scenario about a fictitious company called Electric Sky Pizza. The highlight was the funny videos.

There was some discussion about VMware’s Wavefront, the real-time analytics and alerting platform which baselines application activity and applies root cause analysis on any deviation from the norm. Paying special attention to the bubbling IoT market, Pat made note of VMware’s Pulse IoT Center, intended to better monitor interconnected sensors and objects and bring them under the VMware Wavefront umbrella.

Day three is when calm starts to descend upon the conference. The major announcements have happened, and we know about all the new releases and the direction in which VMware is moving as it goes forward. Day three is usually memorable for two things: the VMware party and the Best of Show award winners announcement. This year was no different. A panel of judges walked the floor on Monday, speaking to over ninety product teams to decide the winners in seven categories and a single Best of Show.

So, in no particular order:

Workload Management and Migration: This category is aimed at those products that are designed to monitor, track, or manage workloads, either on-site or in the cloud, or to enable seamless cross-platform migrations. The three finalists were Densify by Densify, SIOS‘s SIOS iQ v3.12, and Uila’s Uila Application-Centric Infrastructure Monitoring & Analytics. This is a broad-brush category and in reality could have been split. The category winner was Densify, the company formerly known as Cirba, with its Densify cloud optimization product.

Agility and Automation: This category recognizes the tools, platforms, and services that enable organizations to deliver and manage their IT in an agile and (although I hate to say it) DevOps-y manner. The finalists were Quali CloudShell, HyperGrid HyperCloud, and Puppet with Puppet Enterprise 2017.2. The winner was Puppet Enterprise 2017.2. This is quite understandable, as this Puppet release has had significant changes.

The Virtualization and Cloud Infrastructure category recognizes products designed to help build virtual infrastructure. The finalists in the category were Loom Systems with Loom Unified Cloud Intelligence and Stratoscale with Stratoscale Symphony 3.0, with Stratoscale winning. I fancied Loom, but the great and the good voted the other way, as they preferred the ability to develop against AWS APIs without being on their infrastructure. Sounds quite funky.

Next up is the Networking and Virtualization category. It seems that only a single vendor made the cut in this category: Forward Networks, with its Forward Platform. Personally, I hate it when this happens. Surely there were other vendors in this category that could have entered their product. What about Big Switch Networks, ADARA Networks, or even VMware with its NSX product or Cisco with ACI? I really think that this takes something away from the winner.

Data Protection: The winner was Rubrik. Now, although this is a worthy winner, again, it was the only finalist. What about Vembu, Veeam, or NAKIVO? There are plenty of capable vendors in this section.

In the Security category, the finalists were CSPi’s Myricom nVoy Series and Skycure’s Skycure Mobile Threat Defense product, the latter being the winner.

In a category that is near and dear to my heart, End-User Computing, Mobility, and Desktop Virtualization, the finalists were Lakeside with SysTrack, ControlUp with ControlUp Insights, and Liquidware with ProfileUnity with FlexApp. This is another of those categories that are, in my opinion, too broad. The winner was SysTrack, but all three finalists submitted very capable but completely different products. As it is every year, this must have been a very difficult category to judge.

The Judges’ Choice: Disruptive Technology award is a open category that allows the judges to select an innovative product. This could include any product on display at the show, not just ones from vendors that submitted a product. Candidates may include products that have not yet reached general availability. The winner in this category was NVIDIA’s Pascal GPU. The work that NVIDIA has done with this GPU release is very impressive, with a 5x performance increase over today’s generation’s GPUs.

The Judges’ Choice: Startup Spotlight award once again threw up a zero from the submitted vendors, so instead of not being awarded, there was a change of scope. The judges made the decision to award the category to Appdome, a product that allows mobile app ISVs and enterprise developers to easily automate management, security, and other SDKs from multiple EMM vendors.

The final award is the biggie, Best of Show. This is judged by the winners of the previous categories. It is a product that has to have impressed on multiple levels. This year’s winner was Rubrik Alta.

As the conference drew to a close, I could not help but think that VMware has weathered the storm. It is a much more mature company than it was in previous years. I think that the marriage between its papa and Mama Dell has calmed the waters, and it is more comfortable in its position in the world. It knows that it cannot be all things to all people, but it also knows its strengths and is working well to show them off. Its partnerships with what only eighteen months ago were its number-one enemies not only make sense but give it new meaning. They say, “VMware is strong, strong enough to work with AWS and Azure as equal partners.” The dropping of products means that VMware can concentrate on its core product sets and not stomp on its ecosystem quite as harshly as it did in previous years. Nutanix has been welcomed back into the fold, which is also a good thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a requirement from Mama Dell.

VMware is really doubling down on its martini message: any place, any device, any time. As the old saying goes, may you live in interesting times.