Is VMware still in the frying pan over VMworld decisions?

So which is it -- is VMworld a VMware conference or an industry-standard virtualization event for all to participate in?

The world's largest virtualization event has been getting a lot of attention in the news over these last few days (as if VMworld needs a lot of press leading up to the show at the end of August to bring in attendees). But is this attention coming at the expense of VMware?

Here's the rub: Members of the media and the virtualization community all piled on when news came out about VMware adding certain legalese language into its exhibitor/sponsorship agreement document specifically targeted at competitors. The two sentences read: "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."

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I thought the matter was over when VMware responded to community outrage with a blog post of its own, answering the fears and questions around what this would mean for VMworld.  VMware assured the community that "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." This new legal statement was after all "standard" across the industry and was not "out of the ordinary." Even better, competitors like Microsoft and Citrix (companies that this new legal statement was probably meant to target) "have already signed up and will of course be participating in the conference this year, as well as hundreds of other companies."

Sounds well enough?  Didn't explain why the language was added, but it seemed to do the trick.  However, that wasn't the end of it.

I was quickly contacted and told that the VMware blog response failed to mention that while Citrix and Microsoft would indeed be "allowed" to participate at the show, they were being limited to the size of their sponsorship. Specifically, these large VMware competitors are being downsized into the smallest booth being made available -- a 10-by-10-foot exhibit space, even though they requested larger booth sizes and larger sponsorships. Denied! Larger booth sizes and sponsorships at the show are being reserved for VMware Technology Alliance Partners (TAP).  They can't even get the slightly larger 10-by-20-foot booth, which still wouldn't be large enough to contain all of the different virtualization products these companies have to offer.

And to make matters worse for these competitor companies, the sponsorship agreement states:

(1) exhibitor employees must remain in the boundaries of their booths, and (2) no crowds watching demos are allowed to spill out of the booth into the common traffic areas, and if they do, VMware reserves the right to "resolve the situation."

Now, if any of you have been to a VMworld event in the past two years, you probably already know that Microsoft is famous for having a crowd around their booth. So the question becomes, how can companies like this effectively showcase their wares in a 10-by-10-foot booth? It sounds like they will have to scale back what they intend to show. And you can all but forget about these companies and others doing a major draw and giveaway. I've been there when an Xbox 360, a motorcycle, a 50-inch plasma TV, and large sums of cash were being given away.  No chance of doing that without people spilling out into the common traffic flow.

But maybe this provision was added to cover VMware from something above and beyond normal circumstances. In which case, I agree with it. You need to cover yourself. And this could indeed be industry-standard event wording. As long as it is enforced evenly and fairly and not used as some strong-arm tactic -- that would of course be bad. I somehow doubt that this would happen, though. VMware has been nothing but fair at these events in the past, as far as I can tell.

But who cares about freebies, right? Not everyone is jumping up and down at these shows just to get toys and prizes to take back home with them. What about being educated? What about finding out new ways to make your IT lives easier? Isn't that what shows like this are all about?

VMware said it 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. And the company "encourages" competing companies to exhibit and participate in the event. So why limit them? If this is the world's largest virtualization event, then let people educate themselves across all platforms, all applications, and all technologies.

And in this economy, how many TAP partners can really afford the high price tag of a platinum or gold sponsorship? I'm curious to see who these vendors are going to be. Microsoft was such a sponsor last year, so why the change?

In the end, the question really boils down to this question: "Is this a VMware event or is this a virtualization event?" Since the beginning of the show's history, it was always billed and thought of as a virtualization event. The fact of the matter is VMware was virtualization.  It didn't have any real competition in the business world. And the company is still the dominant player in the industry, but things are changing a bit.

So if VMware wants to start calling VMworld a VMware virtualization event, more power to it. And yes, I would still love to attend such a show (as would most of you, I am sure) because I also enjoy going to Citrix Synergy (notice its name) to find out about Citrix products and the Citrix ecosystem.

So for me, this isn't a "pro- or anti-VMware" or "pro- or anti-competitor" issue; it's a VMware or an industry event issue. Which one is VMworld?

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