The real story behind VMworld 2011

VMware's shindig has become the industry's next-gen data center show -- and this year's event was more revealing than ever

As I joined the Tokyo-subway crush of identically backpacked conference attendees at VMworld 2011 last week, I calculated that this year's population -- in excess of 19,000 -- represented a fivefold increase over the first VMware event in 2005. The crowds clearly indicated that VMware has become the center of a thriving partner ecosystem from which the next-generation data center is emerging.

The list of partners is a who's-who leading players -- with a heavy focus on storage tech. Four of the five "diamond" partners are among the largest storage vendors (Dell, EMC, HP, and NetApp) while the fifth, Cisco, is far and away the biggest converged data center player.

As you might expect, VMware itself promoted a raft of new product revisions, including vSphere 5.0, View 5.0, Site Recovery Manager 5.0, and vCloud Director 1.5. Taken together, the enhancements in this spate of product releases is nothing short of amazing -- with substantial improvements across the board, especially in storage. (I'll dive into some of these features over the next few weeks, so stay tuned.)

Grumbling in the VMware ranks
Everyone understands that VMware's technology leadership comes at a premium price, but how long the company can resist competitive pricing pressures is an open question. The much-publicized customer push-back over the new vRAM-based licensing scheme used for vSphere 5.0 is an early indicator of trouble on the horizon. It was top of mind for many of the attendees I spoke with.

If you ask me, VMware's pricing shift mainly intends to level the field between its public cloud VSPP pricing model and its standard retail model. But customers feel the sting, and undoubtedly some will be driven into the waiting arms of Citrix, Red Hat, and Microsoft.

Another hidden theme was the assimilation of functionality developed by VMware software partners into mainline VMware products. As I noted in my roundup of last year's VMworld, VMware's ongoing nibbling of features previously available only from partners does not exactly inspire trust. No doubt that's one reason so many of them are starting to support other hypervisor platforms.

Two examples of this include VMware's new vSphere Storage Appliance and the new host-based replication functionality in vCenter Site Recovery Manager 5.0. The VSA is very similar to a product LeftHand Networks began offering a number years ago based on its SAN/iQ platform. VMware's VSA uses a federated set of virtual appliances that run software-based network RAID replication over the direct-attached storage present in individual hosts; the result is a fault-tolerant virtual SAN (using NFS in this case rather than the LeftHand's iSCSI). This is a great way for small businesses without the need or budget for a full SAN to take advantage of vSphere features that require shared storage (vMotion, HA, and so on).

VMware's VSA also competes with products like Veeam Backup and Replication and Quest vReplicator. Both products are often used to perform host-to-host replication of virtual machines in small-business environments lacking centralized storage. Now that vCenter Site Recovery Manager has that capability, that's one fewer reason to buy those products.

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