Was that the last VMware conference?

I don’t know about you, but for me August was really busy! I attended 4 conferences, spoke at 1, and hosted 1 event. This was on top of client work! Now I’m back in Austin and it’s time to reflect. I just can’t get past thinking we’ve seen our last VMware conference.

A little history

I’ve either supported or attended VMworld from just about the beginning. I was a PMM for storage and backup organizations, including the first cloud-to-cloud SaaS backup company. I was one of the first to speak about how important SaaS was as an architecture. Of course, that was at vBrownbag, they weren’t ready for full sessions on SaaS (even in 2016).

At the last VMworld, I gave a talk breaking down Kubernetes for the admin crowd. It sounded very similar to the storyline we heard during the main keynote this year. Just proves the axiom that no one hears you when you’re in an organization (I was internal to VMware in the core vSphere group, not a famous dev advocate).

I’ve had a full session about vSphere. I’ve also had a session about how AI workloads work (and what resources they require). I’m a vExpert, I’ve launched multiple products from the show, and done hours and hours of booth duty. Oh yeah, and I brought the Cloud Bunnies to v0dgeball.

Why this background? Because I have a reason to bring up this criticism. I’m a community member who has been at many VMware conferences. I’ve spoken on cutting edge topics before VMware was ready to discuss them. And I’ve always shared what I know so I could help others. I’m not disgruntled, I’m not holding on to the past, and I’m definitely not stuck there.

I am just …. sad.

Overall impressions of this VMware conference

I was in San Francisco for TFDx, where we heard some really cool updates from NetApp and Pure Storage (more on that in a bit). There were definitely less people around, although someone pointed it out that could have been because the event had actually shifted a day later than in previous years.

Maybe some of the sadness came from the environment around the Moscone Center. It felt very empty. Lots of stores and places we frequented in the past are closed up now. Also, it didn’t seem as safe as it did pre-pandemic.

I got a pass to visit the exhibits. I decided against a day pass because of the cost and because I had such a bad experience at Black Hat. Events may be back, but they are definitely not back better.

I was shocked at how small the show floor was. If it was 2/3rds the size of the 2019 show I’d be shocked. It reminded me of what Interop looked like once VMworld started to gain traction.

Brian Knudtson said it best: this felt like a graduation. We all came up learning the ways of virtualization, and now that the hypervisor is an infrastructure staple, it’s time to move on. We’ll all go on to public cloud, SaaS apps, AI, whatever is next. Even though we’ll still gather in ops-centric places, we’re probably never going to be together again like we were at VMware conferences.

Did VMware lose its way?

In my opinion, VMware lost track of their core audience. VMware is a core tool for operators/admins, not developers. However, for the last few years the messages have been aimed squarely at developers. Even though VMware sells their technologies to the operator audience, it seemed that they intended this conference to be for developers.

And that’s a shame. VMware dominated the enterprise application space over the last couple of decades; the large majority of those apps were hosted on vSphere. I think there was lots of hope after the Heptio acquisition that there would be a logical transformation from hypervisor-centric to workload-centric. They had the attention of a world-wide community of admins that were ready to learn how architect, build, and manage the infrastructures that are required for a new type of application development.

Unfortunately, VMware over indexed on selling to developers and alienated this audience. Competitors certainly paid attention. They have snapped up internal talent ahead of the upcoming Broadcom acquisition. Will we see VMware/Broadcom shift back to embracing operations after the acquisition closes? Only time will tell.

Operations is more important than ever

VMware is an infrastructure tool. Developers want platforms that make it easy to build, test and operate modern applications. Operators use modern infrastructure tools to build those platforms. Operators are the target customer for infrastructure tools like VMware.

So what’s a platform? I love this definition (via):

Building a curated experience for engineers takes operations work. Of course the operations team constructs and manages the platform, but that’s just table stakes. Modern operations teams must ensure the curated experience is capable of staying compliant. Ops folk must understand cloud economics, ensure data resiliency so there is no degradation of experience, and of course perform the data center hygiene like security and data protection.

However, it will be impossible try and apply old-school operations processes to build platforms. First of all, curating something means you understand your customer. Ops will have to do more than talk to developers, they need to intimately understand their goals and pains. This will mean using public cloud and SaaS services when appropriate. The days of being gatekeepers are over. No one has time for those delays!

Ops needs to be the advocates for developers, even when they are protecting the dev team from themselves. This means understanding what developers are building, and understanding the limitations (and possibilities) of core infrastructure tools.

VMware continues to enhance their core hypervisor product and add services to it. The are still an operations vendor that should be at the top of the list as ops teams build these platforms. Until recently, VMware held that audience captive.

If operators had been the target audience at the VMware conference, the focus would have been more technical. The show could have shown us how the VMware portfolio has everything ops needs to curate any platform. And we would be talking about some of the very cool technical news from the show.

Hidden news for operators from the VMware conference

It’s always been so exciting to watch VMware keep up with innovations in the cloud and hardware. We heard from two really cool tech innovations at TFDx.

NetApp announced NetApp ONTAP and VMware Cloud on AWS. They built an external NFS datastore for VMC on AWS. This lets VMware Cloud on AWS customers grow their storage without having to purchase more cloud servers as an app’s need for storage grows. It’s a very cool tech solution to a very real technical and financial problem.

Pure Storage talked about vVOLs. I joke all the time about vVOLs still being a thing, but there’s a reason for that. If your number one goal was to sell a virtual SAN, would you really pour lots of development effort into vVols?

But vVols are back, giving yet another option of how to manage storage needed by applications. This gives you more choices for building that platform or your engineers.

I’ll publish a more in-depth post on Gestalt IT about this event soon.

What’s next?

Where will operators go to learn? Will there be another VMware conference? I’m not sure. I do know there is a now a huge gap in how people in ops get information about the future of ops.

We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, where is the graduation party?

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