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Outgoing VMware User Group head talks about influencing VMware

VMUG Executive Director Victor Bohnert talks about the moves the group's leadership made to develop itself into one of the top IT user communities.

At VMworld 2014, the VMware User Group announced it had recently crossed the 100,000-user threshold and had grown to nearly 200 chapters. The group is a vibrant example of the power of community in the high-tech industry. It holds dozens of conferences worldwide for VMware professionals who want to further their knowledge in specific products and develop ties -- or trade war stories -- with fellow users.

Four years ago, the state of the VMUG was quite different. While VMware was dominating the server virtualization market, the VMUG community lagged behind, paling in comparison to other IT user communities. VMUG had been around for several years, but membership was relatively low, hovering around 20,000. There was little consistency in the level of conference offerings and no solid ties between the VMUG chapters. In 2010, a collection of VMware users banded together to form a steering committee that developed a long-term strategy to recruit more VMware users, produce better sessions at VMUG conferences and improve communication between the VMUG leadership and its chapters.

VMUG Executive Director Victor Bohnert was there for the start of this renaissance. After four years with VMUG, he will be leaving for a leadership position with another organization. SearchVMware spoke with Bohnert about the growth VMUG has made since its inception.

How did you get involved with VMUG?

Back in 2010, there was group of VMware customers who got together and saw the potential for creating a global network of these smaller user communities. That's why I got engaged, through that group. It was the original steering committee. From that effort, there were about 10 people that signed on as the board of directors. That year we announced at VMworld we had about 20,000 members and 170 chapters. Since undergoing this effort, the organization has grown to nearly 200 chapters. We're doing 45 events in more than 11 countries around the world and continuing to expand.

The one thing that's important about the 100,000 [VMUG] members is that is a real number. …  The reason I stress so heavily that the VMUG members are active members is if you've not [contributed to] some activity or not participated in some VMUG offering in the past 12 months, [then] we don't even count you as a member.

What were some of your duties as executive director?

We have a board of directors that are comprised of VMware customers -- that's who I ultimately serve as a nonvoting member to assist with strategic development. … The past four years our focus has been in several key areas. One, just building a sustainable model; the mission here is not build something to be around for two to three years. We have a 30-year vision for this organization. We're executing on that long-term vision of sustainability.

We've got a vision to ensure we're reaching as many VMware customers as we can. [We look for] all of our delivery mechanisms … to be multi-modal deliveries. Whether it's live with a webinar or real-time in person, we're able to deliver that benefit.

Can you cite examples when VMUG influenced a VMware initiative or product?

A couple years ago when [VMware] announced the pricing change to vRAM, there was an almost immediate reaction from the customer base. … VRAM was announced in the morning and by that afternoon we were on the phone with senior executives from VMware. We had been able to capture -- in a very measurable way -- feedback from our members to present a productive discussion. … Within short order, maybe a week or two, [VMware] completely reworked that program.

We are developing a very close relation with all the business units within VMware, whether it's on compute or mobility or networking or storage. We're working closely to be laser-focused on the value of interaction. … This year VMware worked with VMUG to host a series of road shows on NSX. This allowed them to introduce networking professionals to this new strategy for virtualizing the whole network but also let networking professionals give feedback on NSX and its strategy.

As the product suite grows, we've got to make [sure] we're interfacing with VMware at more levels directly. You'll see more of that in 2015 with VMUG.

Is it challenging to find speakers who are both proficient at using a particular product and giving a compelling presentation in front of a group?

We're always looking to not only develop the quality of our content but also get new names and faces into the speaking stable. … To do that, VMUG launched a program called FeedForward. We've engaged some of the more notable speakers in the VMware community, both in VMware but also bloggers and analysts who seem to be very prominent at VMUG events. We've engaged them in sort of a mentoring program. 

[We're] working with some notable speakers to capture tricks and tips we can post on our site. These will be anything from short snippets on how to make a more effective PowerPoint presentation to more in-depth 20-minute presentations on how to structure your session to ensure audience engagement. … I believe we're giving our members a skill set that is not only applicable within VMUG but also in their careers.

With the extension of virtualization in networking and storage and the lines of responsibility between departments starting to blur, do you think people will stall some of these newer technologies to protect their jobs?

No, I don't. People have questions about the impact it's going to have. It is a new disruptive solution … for any organization. … Any job protection is a short-term strategy. From the VMUG perspective, we see a tremendous opportunity to have folks reinvent themselves.

I came from the telecom industry. We've seen this before with the move from analog to digital to voice over IP. … The industry is changing in every facet, from a less physical presence to a more virtual one. How many folks still have these huge PBX boxes sitting in the office? [Those boxes have] become servers. It's a similar transition.

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