VMworld 2009: It may be VMware's world, but Citrix and Microsoft will still exhibit

The new VMworld show rules may be enforced against competitors, but Citrix and Microsoft still plan to squeeze into the show and into their tiny booth space.

VMworld 2009 will be here before you know it. And even though today's economy is still fighting to turn the corner, many virtualization administrators were able to successfully convince employers that this trade show is a "must-see." With 200 sponsors and exhibitors on deck to showcase their wares to what should be well over 10,000 people in attendance, the show did get a bumpy start in the media and the blogosphere.

When the news started circulating about legal mumbo-jumbo changing in the VMworld sponsor contracts, many of us asked how this would affect competitor companies and products from being displayed, demonstrated, and talked about during the show.

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VMworld's contract reads, "To sponsor or exhibit at VMworld, your company must be a VMware partner in good standing in our TAP, Strategic Global Partner or VIP Partner programs.  Sponsors or exhibitors that are not VMware partners may be allowed under exception."

Legalese and contracts aside, the world's largest virtualization trade show is happening, and rest assured, VMware's two largest competitors will still be in attendance. Although if you're a VMworld alumni member, things will look a bit different if you decide to visit the Microsoft or Citrix booth this year in San Francisco.

At the show, VMware will limit the two companies to a 100-square-foot booth space and restrict the movement of both companies' employees by confining them within the boundaries of their 10-by-10 exhibit areas. Don't expect Microsoft to have a large crowd of people screaming for an Xbox 360 giveaway this year. And don't expect any casino chips to be handed out to people with marketing messages about how you could be saving money by looking at Hyper-V instead of VMware. That would be silly: There aren't any casinos in San Francisco, after all.

Last year, Citrix and Microsoft were gold sponsors of VMworld, and both companies had more than enough space to showcase their wide breadth of virtualization product offerings. With this year's show rules in effect, both companies are limited to the role of exhibitor -- thus, the smaller 10-by-10 booth space. But that isn't going to keep these two companies from participating in the event.

The question becomes, what exactly can these two giants offer or show attendees when confined within 100 square feet when they are used to operating within four times that amount of space?

Citrix vice president of corporate marketing Kim Woodward said, tongue in cheek, that while the company may not be able to fit many people in its booth this year, it encourages all customers to come by and visit -- just not all at once. Despite the booth size, Woodward said that Citrix will still have plenty of exciting things to talk about and plans to show users how to use the company's products -- even with VMware technology.

Microsoft may be taking a different approach. According to Microsoft spokesman Patrick O'Rourke, VMware and Microsoft communicated back and forth a few times over what the new rules and guidelines would mean when talking about demonstrating competing products. O'Rourke said Microsoft doesn't believe it has the right to demo its products in the booth and, therefore, plans on simply staffing the Microsoft booth with virtualization experts to answer any and all questions that attendees may have. I'm sure that plenty of show attendees will take Microsoft up on that offer. Microsoft will have plenty of experts on hand, covering desktop, application, and server virtualization as well as virtualization management, disaster recovery, and the cloud.

History will tell us whether this new VMworld format is welcomed and accepted by exhibitors, sponsors, and attendees. If the mass majority of the 10,000-plus virtualization users are only interested in learning about VMware products and VMware partner products, all of the media discussions around this format change will be moot. If not, perhaps we'll see changes in the way VMware handles VMworld 2010. Or perhaps we'll see a vendor-neutral, open format virtualization show take center stage, and VMworld remain a proprietary VMware conference.

One thing, however, is certain. I haven't missed a VMworld conference in the United States yet, and I don't plan on doing it this year either. Competitor differences aside, I can't wait to hear what VMware and its partner ecosystem are offering. And if I can't get my fill of what Citrix or Microsoft have to offer during the show -- well, I can always hope to find out more if I am able to attend the next Citrix Synergy event or the Microsoft TechEd conference.

Enjoy the show! I hope to see you many of you there.

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