Having been named a vExpert for 2012, I’ve been trying to find ways to get myself invovled with the virtualization community. Besides joining my local VMware Users Group (VMUG), there wasn’t much success. That is, until the end of February. John Mark Troyer (@jtroyer), the godfather of the vExperts, put out a call for people interested in attending the VMware Partner Exchange in Las Vegas. This would be an all-expenses paid trip from a vendor. Besides going to a presentation and having a one-on-one engagement with them, there were no other restrictions about what could or couldn’t be said. I figured I might as well take the chance to join in the festivites. I threw my name into the hat and was lucky enough to get selected!
Most vendors have two distinctly different conferences througout the year. One is focused on end-users and customers and usually carries much more technical content. For Cisco, this is Cisco Live. For VMware, this is VMWorld. The other conference revolves around existing partners and resellers. Instead of going over the gory details of vMotions or EIGRP, it instead focuses on market strategies and feature sets. That is what VMware Partner Exchange (VMwarePEX) was all about for me. Rather than seeing CLI and step-by-step config guides to advanced features, I was treated to a lot of talk about differentiation and product placement. This fit right in with my new-ish role at my VAR that is focused toward architecture and less on post-sales technical work.
The sponsoring vendor for my trip was tried-and-true Hewlett Packard. Now, I know I’ve said some things about HP in the past that might not have been taken as glowing endoresements. Still, I wanted to look at what HP had to offer with an open mind. The Converged Application Systems (CAS) team specifically wanted to engage me, along with Damian Karlson (@sixfootdad), Brian Knudtson (@bknudtson), and Chris Wahl (@chriswahl) to observe and comment on what they had to offer. I had never heard of this group inside of HP, which we’ll get into a bit more here in a second.
My first real day at VMwarePEX was a day-long bootcamp from HP that served as an introduction to their product lines and how the place themselves in the market alongside Cisco, Dell, and IBM. I must admit that this was much more focused on sales and marketing than my usual presentation lineup. I found it tough to concentrate on certain pieces as we went along. I’m not knocking the presenters, as they did a great job of keeping the people in the room as focused as possible. The material was…a bit dry. I don’t think there was much that could have helped it. We covered servers, networking, storage, applications, and even management in the six hours we were in the session. I learned a lot about what HP had to offer. Based on my previous experiences, this was a very good thing. Once you feel like someone has missed on your expectations you tend to regard them with a wary eye. HP did a lot to fix my perception problem by showing they were a lot more than some wireless or switching product issues.
I attended the VMwarePEX keynote on Tuesday to hear all about the “software defined datacenter.” To be honest, I’m really beginning to take umberage with all this “software defined <something>” terminology being bandied about by every vendor under the sun. I think of it as the Web 2.0 hype of the 2010s. Since VMware doesn’t manufacture a single piece of hardware to my knowledge, of course their view is that software is the real differentiator in the data center. Their message no longer has anything to do with convincing people that cramming twenty servers into one box is a good idea. Instead, they now find themsevles in a dog fight with Amazon, Citrix, and Microsoft on all fronts. They may have pioneered the idea of x86 virtualization, but the rest of the contenders are catching up fast (and surpassing them in some cases).
VMware has to spend a lot of their time now showing the vision for where they want to take their software suites. Note that I said “suite,” because VMware’s message at PEX was loud and clear – don’t just sell the hypervisor any more. VMware wants you to go out and sell the operations managment and the vCloud suite instead. Gone are the days when someone could just buy a single license for ESX or download ESXi and put in on a lab system to begin a hypervisor build-out. Instead, we now see VMware pushing the whole package from soup to nuts. They want their user base to get comfortable using the ops management tools and various add-ons to the base hypervisor. While the trend may be to stay hypervisor agnostic for the most part, VMware and their competitors realize that if you feel cozy using one set of tools to run your environment, you’ll be more likely to keep going back to them as you expand.
Another piece that VMware is really driving home is the idea of the hybrid cloud. This makes sense when you consider that the biggest public cloud provider out there isn’t exactly VMware-friendly. Amazon has a huge marketshare among public cloud providers. They offer the ability to convert your VMware workloads to their format. But, there’s no easy way back. According to VMware’s top execs, “When a customer moves a workload to Amazon, they lose. And we lose them forever.” The first part of that statement may be a bit of a stretch, but the second is not. Once a customer moves their data and operations to Amazon, they have no real incentive to bring it back. That’s what VMware is trying to change. They have put out a model that allows a customer to build a private cloud inside their own datacenter and have all the features and functionality that they would have in Reston, VA or any other large data center. However, through the use of magic software, they can “cloudburst” their data to a VMware provider/partner in a public cloud data center to take advantage of processing surplus when needed, such as at tax time or when the NCAA tournement is taxing your servers. That message is also clear to me: Spend your money on in-house clouds first, and burst only if you must. Then, bring it all back until you need to burst again. It’s difficult to say whether or not VMware is going to have a lot of success with this model as the drive toward moving workloads into the public cloud gains momentum.
I also got the chance to sit down with the HP CAS group for about an hour with the other bloggers and talk about some of the things they are doing. The CAS group seems to be focused on taking all the pieces of the puzzle and putting them together for customers. That’s similar to what I do in the VAR space, but HP is trying to do that for their own solutions instead of forcing the customer to pay an integrator to do it. While part of me does worry that other companies doing something similar will eventually lead to the demise of the VAR I think HP is taking the right tactic in their specific case. HP knows better than anyone else how their systems should play together. By creating a group that can give customers and integrators good reference designs and help us get past the sticky points in installation and configuration, they add a significant amount of value to the equation. I plan to dig into the CAS group a bit more to find out what kind of goodies they have that might make be a better engineer overall.
Overall, I think that VMwarePEX is well suited for the market that it’s trying to address. This is an excellent place for solution focused people to get information and roadmaps for all kinds of products. That being said, I don’t think it’s the place for me. I’m still an old CLI jockey. I don’t feel comfortable in a presentation that has almost no code, no live demos, or even a glory shot of a GUI tool. It’s a bit like watching a rugby game. Sure, the action is somewhat familiar and I understand the majority of what’s going on. It still feels like something’s just a bit out of place, though. I think the next VMware event that I attend will be VMWorld. With the focus on technical solutions and “nuts and bolts” detail, I think I’ll end up getting more out of it in the long run. I appreciate HP and VMware for taking the time to let me experience Partner Exchange.
My attendance at VMware Parter Exchange was a result of a all expenses paid sponsored trip provided by Hewlett Packard and VMware. My conference attendance, hotel room, meals and incidentals were paid in full. At no time did HP or VMware propose or restrict content to be written on this blog. All opinions and analysis provided herein and on any VMwarePEX-related posts is mine and mine alone.