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Dell and EMC deal, vSphere 6 among biggest VMware takeaways in 2015

The year started off strong with VMware releasing vSphere 6. Now we head into 2016 with plenty of questions following the Dell and EMC deal.

It was a year to remember for VMware, starting with the release of vSphere 6 in March and ending with the big deal between Dell and EMC.

In between, there were a lot of announcements, updates and other releases that had admins and users buzzing. At VMworld 2015 in San Francisco, VMware announced EVO SDDC, Integrated Containers and Photon Platform.

SearchVMware asked its advisory board members for their thoughts on the year that VMware had in 2015. We wanted to know what their biggest takeaway was and how they thought VMware fared this past year.

Anthony Poh

Last year started with a bang with the release of the next iteration of VMware's flagship product -- vSphere 6 -- and ended with momentum building behind the Dell and EMC deal and VMware's rejection of the Virtustream partnership. Along the way we got updates to VSAN and NSX, a new business unit at VMware (Cloud Native Apps) and the release of products focused around continuous delivery and containers.

VSphere 6 was launched with quite a bit of fanfare after an extensive period of beta testing, and apart from a few minor gremlins, like the Changed Block Tracking bug, it has been quite well received, especially the improvements to the Web Client.

Features in VSAN 6.0 and 6.1 have now propelled the product into an enterprise play for Tier 1 Apps: fault domains, stretched cluster and all-flash VSAN are features that were missing at GA, although we're still waiting for deduplication and erasure coding to be released (currently in beta).

NSX has brought the discussion of network virtualization to the forefront with end users, the concept of microsegmentation and also the ability to template network services and allow them to follow the VM around the virtual estate is quite compelling. The improvements to NSX and also the extension of NSX into vCloud Air with the Advanced Networking Services has made the transition to hybrid cloud very appealing. It's just a shame VMware still hasn't got the pricing right for the product. A lot of marketing coming out of VMware is centered on microsegmentation, but NSX can do so much more than that. Trying to get an end user to pay thousands of dollars per CPU for a microsegmentation product doesn't go down well -- especially since there are other products that can do the same thing for a lot less.

As for end-of-the-year news, VMware pulling out of the Virtustream partnership with EMC probably has more to do with pleasing the market and shareholders than a strategic divorce. Shareholders have not been pleased that VMware shares have plummeted since the Dell and EMC merger was announced, and they were not too pleased that the Virtustream financial results would be included in VMware's books for first quarter of 2016.

However, it's clear that the hybrid cloud is the way of the future and that Virtustream will have a significant role to play in its success. VMware already has a vast network of service providers in the VMware vCloud Air Network (vCAN). This large technology ecosystem offers unprecedented choice and flexibility for customers that require cloud services, and Virtustream will be one of these cloud providers, with the added feature of the xStream cloud management software which seems to offer better enterprise application and cloud management than VMware's own offering -- or those within the vCAN program.

Much has been said about the Dell acquisition of EMC. It's common knowledge that Dell will sell some of its shares in VMware to help fund the acquisition, but will this lead to more problems with the increase in shareholders demanding profits? Then there's the situation of how to keep VMware hardware vendor agnostic. There's the prospect of Dell being able to provide hardware for all of VMware's requirements, server, storage and network.

All-in-all, VMware has really taken strides to be a single point of call for the software defined data center (SDDC) , products are in place and the foundations were laid in 2015. This bodes well for 2016, as this will be the year that VMware executes its SDDC go-to-market plan. We will probably see a huge push from within VMware around NSX, VSAN and hybrid cloud.

Stuart Burns

I think 2015 was a very interesting year because VMware started to expand into new areas, such as DevOps aware infrastructure. A lot of people would argue that on-premises virtualization is pretty much complete in terms of features and maturity. DevOps is the natural next step. VMware will be putting all its weight behind this new DevOps future of Docker, Photon and Photon Controller. This means that vSphere as we know it with full-stack VMs is on notice. Containerization, automation and continuous integration are going to be white hot topics within VMware, as well as just about every cloud infrastructure.

With regards to the big question of what VMware will do after the EMC deal, I would expect that VMware will treat Dell the same as any other manufacturer. This is part of why VMware is so popular; being vendor agnostic but providing a well-documented and quality API set to allow vendors to write their own plugins. Favoring Dell would not only endanger that position but also help its direct competitors.

What wouldn't surprise me is a Dell/VMware combination for large-scale service providers similar to HP Moonshot, but with better control over the entire stack.

I believe 2016 will be a very important year for VMware. The move from classic virtualization administrator to a more DevOps culture is underway. The best advice is to make sure you are onboard.

Trevor Pott

My biggest takeaway for VMware in 2015 is the growing realization across the industry that VMware has lost its monopoly. This isn't to say that VMware is irrelevant, however it's control over the market has certainly diminished.

Enterprise adoption of KVM is continuing apace. Attempts to dismiss it out of hand are failing as evidence of widespread trials and even production adoption becomes impossible to dismiss. SMB adoption of KVM is spreading to the midmarket as companies like Scale Computing are expanding their customer base at a remarkable clip. Even Hyper-V, so long stagnant after an initial surge of adoption, is picking up again.

VMware's high prices and refusal to listen to its customer base about issues regarding management software aren't working anymore. If VMware wants to retain its customer base -- let alone grow its market share -- it is going to have to change.

Meanwhile, the ESXi hypervisor and basic management tools are no longer products in and of themselves. They're features. The product is the private cloud, not merely virtualization married to some sort of converged infrastructure. I am talking here about a full self-service offering with a decent administrative user interface and a full API for DevOps. VMware actually has semi-decent software for all of this today, but the company is battered by the stigma of the unmanageable horrors it's shipped as "private cloud" software over the previous generations.

Customers have long memories. Can VMware convince them to give the vCloud suite another look? If they do, will those customers be impressed, or driven further to explore private cloud offerings from competitors? A lot hinges on how VMware handles the transition from purveyor of virtualization software to purveyor of "data center in a can."

The biggest story for VMware this year was easily the Dell and EMC deal. Perhaps it's more accurate to say the real story is the fallout from that purchase.

Dell's competitors aren't happy. Hewlett Packard Enterprise, for example, is now offering an Azure-based hyper-converged offering that almost looks affordable to the midmarket. That's a huge danger to VMware because Azure private cloud offerings are very user friendly and somewhat administrator friendly. VMware can't match this because doing so would mean moving the EVO line out of the pricing nosebleed section and down into something that normal businesses can afford. VMware's history says it is not likely to ever consider doing this.

Whatever the market size, VMware is under continuous assault on both usability and price fronts. Competitors don't have to go far to find promising partners or acquisition targets. Now that it is viewed by many as a mere extension of Dell, these multibillion dollar vendors are going to make it their mission to push alternatives to VMware. Ultimately, they will distance themselves from VMware.

VMware must adapt or it will die. Can it? Will it? VMware's corporate culture relies on the assumption that VMware is untouchable. The best of the best, deployed by everyone and without a need for humility, understanding or compromise. Is this corporate hubris grounded in reality, or the pride that goeth before the fall? I suspect 2016 will be the year the answers to that are revealed.

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