Fears of a VMware-only VMworld event

VMworld's sponsor agreement seems designed to keep VMware competitors out of the trade show, causing panic in the streets and outrage from the blogosphere and Twitter nation

When it started, VMworld was a small trade show hosted in San Diego that focused on VMware's technology.  It was attended by 1,000 or so of our closest virtualization friends, and if memory serves me correctly, the exhibit floor had about 30 booths showcasing the company's technologies and services -- and that was pretty good back then for a technology that only had a few strong-minded people willing to kick the tires.  VMworld focusing on VMware technology made sense; VMware really didn't have a lot of competition back in 2004.

Fast-forward to 2009 and virtualization is no longer a mystery wrapped up in an enigma. VMware is no longer the lone player. Competition continues to heat up from larger software companies such as Citrix, Microsoft, Oracle, Red Hat, Novell, and others.  Choices are beginning to emerge as viable alternatives based on Xen, KVM, and Hyper-V. And VMworld has evolved for the most part into a premiere virtualization event, billing itself as an independent industry conference about all virtualization technologies, where all are welcomed. (OK, maybe I went a wee bit too far with that one, but you get the point.)

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VMworld 2008 saw more than 14,000 attendees hitting the show floor in Las Vegas, and they were able to secure more than 200 sponsors and exhibitors -- which as you probably know included VMware competitor technologies. And this year? The conference will be held in San Francisco, and some are anticipating even larger crowds than last year. Can a virtualization provider really afford to miss this conference, with so many people coming to see what's hot and what's available? Even with the rumblings about competitors not getting speaker or session time, or getting placed in non-strategic exhibit show floor locations, or in some cases, being told your parent company already had too many booths to get another one, companies like Citrix and Microsoft are still quick to spend large amounts of marketing dollars at this event.

But in a weird twist of fate, virtualization experts and evangelists actually went after VMware on Twitter and in the blogosphere yesterday for a legal statement that was added into this year's VMworld exhibit agreement. Brian Madden broke the news and suggested that VMware competitors may find themselves in a tight spot if they want to sponsor and exhibit at VMworld 2009. The additional legalese in the agreement stated:

Sponsors and exhibitors must market or demonstrate products on the exhibition floor and in the sessions which are complementary to VMware products and technologies. Complementary products and services are defined as products/services that do not overlap/substitute with VMware's products/capabilities, and help expand the reach and solution scope of VMware's capabilities solely as deemed by VMware.

These two sentences created a shot heard around the virtual world.  Bloggers from around the world immediately jumped all over this announcement with frustration and extreme disappointment.

The problem with this newly added legal wording is that it is hard to find a company in the virtualization market who doesn't in some way compete with VMware. Companies that create their own hypervisor platform immediately come to mind. These are typically VMworld's largest sponsors -- companies like Microsoft and itrix. And what about other companies that create their own desktop virtualization or VDI solution? What about application virtualization? With VMware vSphere 4 now for sale, how many VMware partners in the ISV ecosystem have a product that has some overlap or competitive nature about it? VMware just invested $20 million and owns a 5 percent stake in Terremark as a service provider, so would that keep other hosting companies from being able to sponsor and exhibit as well?

They're all valid questions and fears. After all, a very large percentage of VMworld attendees actually go to the conference to see what other companies are offering in the way of virtualization solutions -- it isn't only about the sessions being offered. So if you were actually able to hear conversations taking place on the exhibitor showroom floor because only VMware and five other companies were exhibiting their non-competitive wares, how many people would stay home and skip the virtualization event of the year?

VMware quickly responded to this outrage and posted an official response on the VMworld community Web site to let people know this anti-competitive issue will not be a problem.  Competitor products are welcome and will be in the exhibit hall.  The response stated:

Let us set the record straight on any vendor exhibit issue.

VMware is totally committed to continuing to make VMworld the leading virtualization conference in the world, highlighting the rich, diverse ecosystem that is the virtualization marketplace. Just to be clear, the exhibitor sponsorship contract we are using is standard across the industry. Nothing out of the ordinary or meant to limit the value of VMworld.

As you'd expect, Microsoft and Citrix have already signed up and will of course be participating in the conference this year, as well as hundreds of other companies.

We encourage companies to exhibit and participate that compete with us in one fashion, but complement us in others. It’s all about customers and community!

The VMworld team is hard at work putting together final touches on the show. We are expecting a great turnout and look forward to seeing you in San Francisco on August 31!

Even though this explanation doesn't really address the "why" of why this new text was added into the agreement, stating that Microsoft and Citrix were already signed up and that hundreds of other companies were on board as well seemed to do the trick for most people. So it sounds like everything is back to normal. And with that simple statement, all became right with the world. Bloggers and the folks who Twitter were once again satisifed with the virtualization giant and the coming trade show, and the VMware and Microsoft bashing could continue for another day. See you at VMworld 2009!