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A VMware 2010 report card

This year, VMware receives high marks for its certification line up, product innovation and general future vision but could improve on pricing, quality assurance, and public communication.

In May 2009, my first Virtualization Viewpoints column gave a VMware progress report on various criteria .

At that time, VMware needed to improve on pricing, its Q&A process and its certification offerings but had a good track record on steadily releasing products and customer understanding of product changes.

A lot can happen in a year, so now it's time for an updated VMware 2010 report card. Let's evaluate VMware on the basis of seven criteria, including pricing and value, quality, and overall vision.

VMware's current 2010 report card

VMware (NYSE: VMW) has to continually improve and stay ahead of its competitors, although the gap has closed somewhat. But that's the beauty of a free-market economy: company 1 delivers product successful A; company 2 produces a similar product; company 1 rethinks its strategy. I believe that VMware has responded well to competitive pressure, making key acquisitions and partnerships to ensure that add-ons are available for VMware ESX and ESXi.

Satisfying customers is central to any formula for company success, and VMware has made responding to customers many a big part of its strategy. This year, I'll grade VMware in the following seven areas:

  1. Pricing and value. How does VMware's pricing compare with the competition, and how much value do you get for your money?
  2. Quality. How polished and bug-free are VMware's products?
  3. Innovation. Do VMware's product's still demonstrate innovation?
  4. Certification. How is VMware doing with its certification process?
  5. Public communication. How open is VMware about new features, versions and general information?
  6. Manageability and integration. Are VMware's products easy to manage? How well do they integrate with other products?
  7. Future vision. What is VMware's roadmap?

VMware pricing and value: B

Many complain that VMware's products cost too much, which is true for the top-tier Enterprise Plus and vCenter Server licenses. In my view, though, vSphere has many solid features and such a mature code base that it is worth the cost.

For years, VMware's primary demographic was large Fortune 1,000 companies that could afford expensive licenses. But recently, VMware changed this policy to include the small and medium business (SMB) market by offering several relatively low-cost Essentials editions, whose VMware licenses are more affordable for smaller companies. VMware has not strayed from its original per-socket licensing, which offers value for customers given that today's CPUs consist of up to 12 cores.

But some of VMware's vCenter automation and management products are fairly expensive, and only larger companies can afford them. It would be nice if VMware changed its pricing structure to offer reduced-cost versions of these tools or as add-ons to its Essentials license.

VMware product quality: C

Generally speaking, VMware offers quality products that have few major bugs, although the ESX 3.5 Update 2 time-bomb bug was an exception. Fortunately, VMware handled it quickly and delivered a fix to customers, in addition to promising that it would fix its QA and release process.

For some time, VMware lived up to its promise -- until June 2010 and the release of vSphere 4.0 Update 2. The upgrade created failed connections for anyone using the PC-over-IP (PCoIP) protocol with VMware View.

VMware's QA testing among product families varies and isn't always as polished as it could be. VMware's portfolio now includes different products that integrate with one another, so I'd advise VMware to focus more on testing for this kind of interoperability. It would also be a win-win: customers get to test new versions and preview upcoming features, and VMware gets free product testing in diverse settings.

VMware product innovation: A

Thus far, VMware's innovation has enabled the company to stay ahead of the competition. Other virtualization software vendors simply don't innovate so much as they copy features from VMware's product lineup. I don't foresee VMware changing on this front; it has set the bar high. Even a company with a jet pack will have a hard time reaching VMware.

VMware certification: A

VMware has made several changes concerning certification. Previously it offered only one certification: the VMware Certified Professional (VCP, which didn't differentiate among the varying levels of talent of VCP earners. VMware introduced the VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP) and the VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX) in 2010, establishing multi-tiered certification levels and allowing those with advanced knowledge to distinguish themselves.

I used to gripe about VMware's requirement that you take a class before you can take the VCP exam.

I still don't like it, but today at least VMware offers more classes and methods to satisfy the requirement. In the past, a candidate had to take the basic Install, Configure and Manage class, which was the only one available. Today, you can enroll in more advanced classes, as well as VMware's Web-based eLearning program .

Now in its second year, VMware's vExpert program is not a certification, but awards VMware users and experts who contribute to the online community and share their knowledge with others.

VMware public communication: C+

Historically, VMware has been a tight-lipped company. It doesn't offer information on future releases or divulge detailed release dates, feature information, or product roadmaps.

Microsoft freely discloses its roadmap and discloses details on future releases of Windows Server and Hyper-V. VMware should drop the cloak-and-dagger act and provide more elaborate information on product roadmaps and release dates.

At minimum, VMware should provide information on upcoming maintenance releases. If Lotus can do a good job, why can't VMware? To protect itself, VMware can easily include a forward-looking disclaimer and still let us know what's happening.

VMware manageability and product integration: B

VMware has done well on product manageability. It offers many advanced programming interfaces (APIs) and software development kits (SDKs) that allow developers to write applications and scripts to integrate with VMware's products. The availability of APIs and SDKs allows vendors to develop products that address needs and pain points in VMware's products and improve some of VMware's basic features and functionality. The result is a rich vendor ecosystem that includes hundreds of products to enhance VMware's products.

VMware could improve on its client. VMware has traditionally used a Windows-only client to manage its ESX and ESXi hypervisors, which is difficult for customers with predominantly Linux-based environments. VMware should strongly consider releasing a Web-based OS-independent client that any OS or platform can use. This ensures that VMware products cater to all environments.

VMware's future vision: B+

VMware stopped focusing exclusively on its ESX and ESXi hypervisors and shifted to improving automation and manageability. Now that the vCenter has been built out, VMware has once again focused on vSphere as a cloud computing platform to support private and public clouds. One glance at VMware's website or the upcoming VMworld 2010 session catalogue makes it obvious where VMware's current focus is. But for some customers, that road is a bit foggy – while the idea may be clear, the details are not.


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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