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VMware's year-to-date progress report

In January, we posted an open letter to VMware that asked for what many would consider improvements in various areas of its operations. Did VMware take note? Yes, and no.

Virtualization Viewpoints is a new, semi-monthly column that discusses current VMware- and virtualization-related trends, news and topics. Here we offer opinions and viewpoints on the competitive, quickly growing and ever-changing virtualization industry with a focus on VMware, the current virtualization market leader, which is in an ongoing battle to remain on top and distance itself from its competitors.

Eric Siebert

 At the beginning of the year, I posted a blog that offered several suggestions to VMware about how it could change its operations over 2009 to make its customers happier. My suggestions were based on my own experience with VMware and on what I hear from other users and colleagues.

There were six areas of contention, from the requirement to take a class before taking the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) exam to asking VMware to up its commitment to quality control. It has been five months since I composed the blog entry, and I thought it would be interesting to see whether VMware was paying attention. Let's find out.

SUBJECT: Creating quality code and fixing code bugs
Even after the time-bomb ESX 3.5 Update 2 bug was discovered in August 2008, serious bugs and inadvertent behavior changes remain. One example of this is the Remote CLI in ESXi, which will inadvertently allow read/write access instead of read-only. This was recently fixed in Update 4.

The issues is that when it comes to virtual servers, even seemingly minor bugs can have a major impact in virtual environments because of the many virtual machines (VMs) potentially running on a single host. One particularly nasty bug that recurs in later releases, even after VMware releases various patches, involves restarting the hostd (mgmt-vmware) service on an ESX host. This bug causes virtual machines to restart, as noted in the following VMware KnowledgeBase articles:

I still cringe and hope for the best anytime I have to restart this service.

I used to install new updates within a month of their release, but now I find myself waiting at least three months to see the problems users encounter with a new update.

SUBJECT: Releasing major products when they're ready
VMware vSphere 4.0 is almost here, and everyone I know is excited about it. But we have yet to see how high the quality of the final general-availability build is. I have to give VMware credit, as it could have chosen to launch vSphere 4.0 at VMworld Europe or the Partner Exchange, but instead it chose to wait -- presumably to ensure that vSphere 4.0 is truly ready.

I am a part of the beta program, and I've found vSphere 4.0 pretty polished and stable. VMware has also conducted many surveys to get maximum feedback from beta users. I still think that a public beta would greatly benefit VMware, as it would allow even more people to test the product and catch additional issues and bugs before the final release.

SUBJECT: Keeping product names the same: Avoiding customer confusion
So far ESX is still ESX, but we'll have to wait and see if VMware can go the whole year without changing another product name. VMware did, however, change the name of the upcoming release from VI4 to vSphere 4.0, which will take some getting used to for beta testers. But at least VMware made the name change before vSphere 4.0 was released to the general public.

I would like to see VMware focus its marketing efforts in areas other than product names, as mentioned in VMware needs stronger marketing. The VirtualCenter name change to vCenter Server was confusing because although VMware changed the name on its website, it didn't change the name in the vCenter documentation. Also, the vCenter name change could have been postponed until the vSphere release.

SUBJECT: Competitive product pricing
My fourth suggestion in the blog post was about pricing.

More competitive pricing. You have lots of competition now and the hypervisor is becoming commoditized. Giving away ESXi for free was a good start. Why not give ESX away for free also and sell all the advanced features as add-ons? You also have plenty of automation and management products that you can sell to complement the hypervsor. Also, please reduce the price of Workstation. It's too expensive for many. You'd probably sell a lot more if you reduced the price so it was close to the price of Fusion.

From what I've seen so far, VMware's pricing model has not changed that much. Some of the pricing on its management products is far too high for smaller companies to afford. For example, Site Recovery Manager and vCenter Server Heartbeat are very expensive products that only larger enterprise customers can afford.

Offering a Foundation version of vCenter Server was a good idea. It will help make vCenter more affordable for smaller companies that have only two to three ESX hosts. The new Essentials editions for vSphere continues what VMware started with the Foundation editions of VMware Infrastructure 3, which will benefit the small and medium-sized business, or SMB, market. But licensing has become far more complicated with vSphere, and there are too many editions. Why not simplify it a bit and offer more features à la carte? Many customers want some high-end features but cannot afford the more expensive editions as a whole.

Additionally, many current Enterprise customers are not happy about the new Enterprise Plus edition. Phasing out the Enterprise edition at the end of the year will force many customers to pay more, because at some point they will likely be forced to upgrade their Enterprise licenses to match Enterprise Plus licenses that they would have to buy if they opt to stay with the ESX hypervisor. The special discounted upgrade price that VMware is offering until the end of the year is nice, but most customers have budgets that are set for the year and may not be able to afford to upgrade their Enterprise licenses to Enterprise plus this year. It would wise for VMware to extend the upgrade offer for existing customers indefinitely.

As far as desktop products, the price of Workstation has not changed and is still too expensive for many desktop users that would like to experience virtualization. VMware Fusion for the Mac is $79. Why does Workstation start at $189? If the price were reduced, I bet VMware would see increased sales.

SUBJECT: Offering archived event presentations for free
While VMware offered a paid subscription to its archived presentations for $699 this year, it is still cost-prohibitive for some. What I'd like to see is an à-la-carte offering. Think iTunes. Some people are interested in only certain sessions and may not be able to afford $699. How about offering individual sessions for $4.99 and complete session tracks for $99 to $199 depending on size? Not everyone who loves music buys entire albums; likewise, not everyone will want to see all the VMworld sessions available. I'm glad to see that you are releasing some sessions for free again this year, although the free offerings are quite limited compared with last year.

SUBJECT: Offering appropriate certification levels
Here are my previous comments about the VMware Certified Professional (VCP) exam:

Relax the VCP certification requirements. I shouldn't have to take a class to become a VCP. If I have the knowledge and experience to pass the VCP exam, that should be enough. Many qualified people can't afford to take a class just so they can take the test.

The classic line from Animal Farm, "All animals are equal, some animals are more equal than others," applies to the VCP certification. There are definitely some VCPs that stand out from the others and the new VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) will help recognize them. Additionally, it is rumored that VMware will offer a Master VCP certification, which will further help identify the best VCPs.

While I applaud these efforts I still feel that I shouldn't have to take a class to take the VCP test. I understand that the class requirement helps prevent just anyone from taking the test and also helps to ensure that VCPs are qualified VMware users, but now that VMware offers multiple certification levels why not drop the class requirement for the basic VCP certification? Alternatively, why not offer an option to take the VCP exam without the class for an additional fee?

Finally, the vExpert program was a nice touch that helped bring recognition to hardworking VMware administrators that help other users and constantly promote your product with their blogs and day-to-day interactions.

FINAL COMMENTS: Overall I'd say that VMware hasn't done too badly with my previous recommendations, although I'd love to see VMware receive higher grades in these areas.

That said, if my child came home with these types of grades, I'd be satisfied. Keep up the good work, VMware, and I hope the rest of the year goes well for you.


Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran with experience in programming, networking, telecom and systems administration. He is a guru-status moderator on the VMware community VMTN forums and maintains, a VI3 information site.

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