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VMworld conference marks time to reflect on VMware's progress

With VMworld 2015 approaching, we asked our experts to look over the past year to see what's next for VMware.

VMware's road from server virtualization vendor to the be-all-end-all IT provider has been bumpy at times as the company tries to find its footing in the rapidly evolving world of IT.

While still a dominant force in server virtualization, VMware has expanded its portfolio in new areas, such as network virtualization and cloud, and has redoubled efforts where it once had a small footprint, such as end-user computing.

Some of these moves, such as the EVO:RAIL hyper-converged appliance, have not been successful. Despite the initial buzz and cloaked secrecy, when the wraps came off EVO:RAIL, it failed to catch on with its intended audience for numerous reasons.

VMware, determined not to let containers slip out of its grasp, has an opportunity to solidify itself as the management platform for this next generation of virtualization that is poised to sweep through data centers over the next several years.

With this year's annual VMworld conference on the horizon, SearchVMware asked its advisory board members to grade the company on its performance since VMworld 2014 and predict what the future may hold for the company.

Michael Stump

Michael Stump

It's easy to pick apart VMware's incremental moves in the last year and find fault in individual pieces, but the company is moving in the right direction. Server virtualization is a solved problem for business. In many cases, it's a non-problem as cloud services have enabled many startups to avoid purchasing even a single server. To forge ahead with a strategy that relied primarily, if not solely, on server virtualization, would have been a mistake.

Network virtualization is deceptively difficult to sell. As with many technologies, what's cool and what's possible is often unrelated to what customers need. We've watched the messaging around NSX evolve to focus on micro-segmentation, which speaks to customer needs of security and isolation.

Supporting the entire stack through virtualization of server, storage, and network, while making a huge push into cloud services, is a smart move on VMware's part.

The subtle pivot on containers is worth noting, too. At VMworld 2014, the focus was clearly on the VM being the best for abstraction. But now we have Project Photon up and running within vSphere which addresses the "containers or VMs?" conundrum.

Competitively, we'll need to see how VMware responds to Microsoft's constant barking of "Hyper-V is free!" and Nutanix's brash assault on vSphere licensing costs, the aging vSphere management tools and bland user experience. The VMworld stage is an ideal platform to address these challenges. I'll be glued to Twitter during the keynotes to see what happens!

Click here for Michael Stump's contributor page.

Stuart Burns

Stuart Burns

Several years ago, VMware openly acknowledged that they couldn't compete on price given the sleight of hand Microsoft can do with the cost of Windows. VMware has to compete on features and technology.

To that end, VMware has acknowledged there is more choice out there and has developed one of the most complete stacks available. The vRealize Suite cloud management platform will work with cloud providers and on-site providers from several vendors. It even supports OpenStack. This makes sense given the way in which elastic compute loads tend to work: easy to build, easy to destroy with no stateful data.

The hypervisor as we know it is pretty much done; there are limited additional features that can be added to the base hypervisor. Can VMware withstand the onslaught of other hypervisors? Hyper-V and, to a lesser case, KVM, will present a significant problem due to the lower cost of purchase even though the features baked in could make VMware much more efficient.

It is a case of wait and see, I think.

Click here for Stuart Burns' contributor page.

Rob Bastiaansen

Rob Bastiaansen

If you have been watching VMware for a few years and you look back at the first half of 2015, then you might think: "Hey, I haven't heard of many acquisitions by VMware."

There was only one from February for Immidio and its user-environment management technology. The year is not over, but compared to 2010 to 2012, this year and the past two years, we saw only a few acquisitions, which is good. Hopefully it means that the company is consolidating efforts to integrate products and streamline the odd-shaped pieces that don't always fit together nicely. Now vSphere 6 has shipped, vCloud Air is in full service and the vRealize range of products have been rebranded, but not yet fully integrated. A lot of work has been done, but there still is a lot of work to do.  With any luck, VMware will use VMworld to show off a solid stack of products for the upcoming year. I don't think most customers and administrators are waiting for another field of play for VMware. 

Click here for Rob Bastiaansen's contributor page.

Brian Suhr

Brian Suhr

I'm not sure how I would grade them; maybe a B- or something neutral. There is very little to get excited about with vSphere/vCenter for some time now. VMware is trying to modernize the management layer, but we are still waiting for this to happen. The hypervisor is boring and with each year there seems to be less of a reason to upgrade to the next. This is not a VMware problem, just that the technology is very mature.

VMware needs to kill it with their other product families. They need to keep working hard in the EUC space and improve and integrate the products they have now. The vRealize cloud management space seems to be getting good penetration since last year that I've seen. There is a lot of work to do in the cloud management family for VMware and others. There needs to be more features added, more public cloud options, increased stability and easier deployments.

While I hope for some surprising news, I have the feeling that VMworld 2015 is going to be a pretty slow news story.

Click here for Brian Suhr's contributor page.

Anthony Poh

Anthony Poh

If I was grading VMware out of 10, I would give them a 7 with the comment: "Good effort, but could do better!"

VMware has ventured into a lot of new areas the past year, and because of that I feel that some areas of development were overlooked. There hasn't been much focus on the core products.

VMware knows the vSphere product line has matured and it is trying to transition customers onto other product "suites" such as vSphere with Operations Manager (vSOM) or the vRealize Suite. VMware is aware the market for server virtualization is saturated, so it is looking elsewhere to generate revenue by placing more focus on DevOps, network virtualization and storage virtualization.

Whilst VMware successfully launched vSphere 6.0 recently, many customers are still annoyed that the vSphere Web Client is Flash-based rather than based on HTML5. The release of VSAN 6.0 introduced an all-flash VSAN and features like fault domains, which was well received. The vRealize Suite 6.0 bundled a load of products under one banner, and while vRealize Operations Manager was re-architected for easy deployment and scalability, vRealize Automation is still quite a beast to deploy and configure. It's also a bit disappointing that none of the products in the vRealize Suite feel fully integrated, but more like a load of different products cobbled together.

Customers seem to like the idea of offloading their disaster-recovery site to the cloud in vCloud Air, but the pricing structure is still a bit on the high side, which does put people off. This also puts VMware in an interesting position where, if they push vCloud Air, they could be shifting the customer base away from perpetual multi-year licenses and onto subscription-based models, which will obviously erode their vSphere license revenue.

There has been quite a flurry of activity to the EVO:RAIL product with updates and re-packaging almost every quarter to try to placate end-users and gain a foothold in the hyper-converged infrastructure market. However, the uptake of EVO:RAIL seems to be quite slow. It's a technically sound solution, but the sticking point is probably down to the cost and how it scales out. VMware targeted SMBs and ROBO sites for the appliance, but it's priced too high for the midmarket. Enterprises would prefer to purchase servers and a SAN as it gives them more scalability. It's also not clear why vSphere Enterprise Plus is packaged with the EVO:RAIL -- hardly any of the features in that edition are used. VMware is now offering deeper discounts, but that has backfired as customers are wondering why the discount wasn't there in the beginning.

VMware has made a big push into the DevOps market with tools for developers and IT admins to happily go about their business inside a VMware environment. We've seen the release of Project Photon and Lightwave, a new VMware DevOps group dubbed the Cloud-Native Apps team, the launch of vRealize Code Stream and integration of Docker within vSphere. Most of these products are still in their infancy. I'm expecting more announcements at VMworld 2015 given that there's a dedicated 3-day DevOps program.

As for NSX? This has slowly trundled along since launch. NSX 6.1 introduced the world to micro-segmentation -- or at least enhanced its capabilities for it -- something end-users are lapping up as this has been one of the key features for NSX sales -- or at least to my customers.

In the EUC space, AirWatch continues to gain good traction with customers looking for a MDM/EMM solution, and the acquisition of Immidio will improve user profile management, which View Persona was a bit lacking in. Immidio will provide user environment management, which helps to ensure a consistent and dynamic desktop experience is presented across difference devices: physical, virtual and cloud.

Click here for Anthony Poh's contributor page.

Trevor Pott

Trevor Pott

The vSphere 6 release was significant. The features included should not be downplayed. Long-distance vMotion is a huge, huge thing. Cross vCenter vMotion and Cross vSwitch vMotion are equally important. Now Fault Tolerance supports four vCPUs and is actually useful to the mainstream and allows it be used for more than extreme niche workloads.

The vCenter appliance got an overhaul. It takes more resources, but what we get in exchange is a more robust and capable offering than its predecessors. It is now a viable alternative to the Windows-installed legacy vCenter. VSAN and NSX got small bumps in capability, and the new content libraries are very promising -- especially when you consider that you can link to an external library maintained by a third party.

The majority of the "wow" enhancements occurred to VMware's core virtualization offering.  NSX and VSAN got some love, but the changes feel very much like VMware is just keeping up with the Joneses. We're still waiting for the evolutionary leap that takes VMware beyond competing SDN and HCI offerings.

VMware has also acquired Immidio and appears to make a concerted push into the VDI space. Whether or not VMware succeeds is yet to be seen, and may well be determined more by Citrix's internal issues with Elliott Management than any efforts on VMware's part.

Of course, the gains on the technology side are offset by failures on the business side. EVO:RAIL isn't doing well at all, in large part due to the stratospheric pricing and VMware's fumbling of the licensing issues.  (Why does VMware keep foot-bulleting with licensing, I have to wonder.) 

HP has dropped EVO:RAIL entirely. Other partners are selling paltry amounts, and even EMC is struggling to shift enough appliances for anyone to care about. Large customers seem more interested in EVO:RACK than EVO:RAIL. Unfortunately, EVO:RACK isn't out yet.

The ongoing spat with Nutanix hasn't done VMware any favors. VMware got caught screwing the U.S. government on contracts and this triggered all sorts of brouhaha amongst purchasing departments large and small.  In addition, complaints are emerging from the community that VMware is starting to pull back from engagement with the community. Though that is a highly subjective complaint, the community can be fickle.

Big Daddy EMC's problems with the aforementioned Elliott Management have led to any number of acquisition and reverse acquisition rumors. These have occupied significant mindshare amongst the VMware rank and file with the result being that half a year's worth of free time has been spent talking about acquisition possibilities instead of nerding out over new tech. The resulting effect is subtle, but several sources assure me that it is noticeable -- and detrimental.

Ultimately, VMware seems like a company in waiting. It is waiting to decide what it is going to do, who it is going to be, how it is going to behave and what the ultimate technical, financial and political relationship between it, its partners and its customers will look like. This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

For right now, today, VMware is on top. It dominates the virtualization market in general, is making a dent in the storage and networking markets, and has real prospects in several adjacent markets.  VMware can afford to sit pretty for a short time, because the technology that it has coming out over the next few months is of high enough quality that the economic and political questions can be politely ignored.

That won't last forever. More to the point, VMware's competitors are gaining momentum, resources, mindshare and political power rather rapidly. VMware's position of market dominance is under direct and credible threat from multiple sources, and it must find a way to answer these threats without invoking ire or enmity amongst its ecosystem partners or its customers.

The task ahead of VMware is exceptionally challenging, but VMware's measured pace can be interpreted to mean that they are taking the time to carefully weigh all options. VMworld 2015 won't tell the tale, but VMware probably doesn't have until VMworld 2016 to sort this all out.

Do they have the focus and the will to retain their position? Only time will tell.

Click here for Trevor Pott's contributor page.

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