Are we finally seeing VMware 2.0?

I’ve been keeping a close eye on some of the news coming out of VMware Partner Exchange (PEX) this week and it left a bit of an impression on me. So much so I decided to write about it, in a change from our usual programming of study guides for VCAP. We’ll get back to that, don’t worry, but I wanted to impart my opinion on this topic because I think it’s important and wonder what other people think.

VMware as a company grew exponentially in the 2000s by introducing x86 virtualisation to the market, something which was a game changer as it meant we could put dozens of servers on one physical piece of tin, saving a lot of time and money and making admin’s lives a lot easier. I remember the first time I saw vMotion at a demo and my instinct was to be cynical and say it was all smoke and mirrors, but no, it was the real deal and so was the company and the technology.

Fast forward a few more years and as the company grew and got acquired by EMC, it started to look to broaden it’s solution stack to become a much richer software company. In 2009 they acquired SpringSource, 2010 Zimbra and 2011 SlideRocket. This was back in the day when I was still working for a VMware Partner. I did wonder at the time what the value was to VMware from acquiring these companies and their technologies. In the case of Zimbra for example, it seemed like a solution looking for a problem. Let’s be frank, the on premise e-mail platform war was won years ago by Microsoft Exchange, and even if you try and “cloudify” Zimbra, you’re still facing stiff competition from the likes of Google Apps and Office 365.

For me in many ways they made the classic business mistake – forgetting what you’re good at. If you look at the technology business, the ones that do the best have a fairly narrow focus, know what they do best and stick to it. There’s no harm in spreading yourself across different technologies or industries, but you must remain true to what you originally put you where you are. Look at Apple and Oracle as example of companies that may have dabbled in a couple of additional technologies, but in the end they’ve remained strong and successful by focusing on a couple of product lines and executing them really well to become market leaders.

Take Microsoft as an example of a company that tried to spread itself too thinly. They’ve made highly successful desktop operating systems and productivity suites for years, but that wasn’t enough and the problems and eye watering costs accrued from the likes of XBox, Windows Phone, Surface and Bing are well documented. In many ways, Microsoft still doesn’t know what it wants to be, but continues to execute on the Windows platform (including Hyper-V) and Office year on year. If Microsoft had not had so much cash in the bank to fund these failures, they’d have gone under years ago. Windows and Office still provide the financial engine that drives Microsoft.

Which brings me neatly to my point about VMware. In 2013, Zimbra was sold to Telligent Systems, SlideRocket was sold to ClearSlide and SpringSource was hived off to Pivotal (source – Wikipedia). The Zimbra announcement at least was done relatively quietly in my view and represented the epiphany VMware must have had that they were carrying too much baggage which was non strategic to the core business. Is it co-incidence that these activities have occurred since Pat Gelsinger became CEO? I’ll let you decide that.

So at PEX, a lot of focus was put on two emerging technologies – NSX and VSAN. The first one for those that don’t know is network virtualisation. This is big news and will again see VMware disrupting this market too. Cisco have already made sounds about the impact network virtualisation will have on their hiterto successful core business of network tin. If that moves into the software stack, they’ve got troubles.

VSAN is a new product which basically accumulates and aggregates local storage on ESXi hosts and presents it as shared storage. There are more features than that, but this is the basic premise – lower cost, simpler deployments and one vendor less to deal with if proprietary storage platforms are in use. Again, it’s very early days and the storage market is highly competitive right now (Nutanix being the obvious example).

I’ve seen and heard a lot of criticism about VMware in recent years, some of justified and some not. I’ve heard remarks that they’re a busted flush and Hyper-V will take over. For me, putting the focus back to core virtualisation products is entirely the right move to make and will fundamentally keep VMware relevant and market leaders in the industry for the next decade. Now that “vanity” projects have been spun off and sold, the company can keep a narrower focus and keep doing what it does best – virtualisation.

As always, your views are welcomed.



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