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Sep 05 2016

My thoughts and observations on VMworld 2016

Another year, another VMworld in the books, this is number 9 for me (there have been 13 VMworld events total) and how fast the event flies by never changes. It always seems like you wish you could of done and seen so much more at the event and every year I have regrets and feel like I missed out on seeing things and meeting friends and acquaintances. Overall I thought it was a another well executed and great event and the following are my thoughts and observations on VMworld 2016:

Thanks to the vendors that support the vExpert program

This year the number of vendors doing giveaways for vExperts at VMworld was pretty small. I attribute that to at least 2 factors, the first is shrinking marketing budgets, some companies are tightening their belts and the other is the number of vExperts keeps growing every year and is now over 1,300. I’ve previously written how I feel that there are too many vExperts, companies wanting to reward vExperts with some swag at VMworld face increased costs trying to do it at that larger scale. Back when the vExpert class was much smaller it was more affordable for vendors to purchase swag for vExperts. I would like to suggest to vendors that if the size of the vExpert class scares you away from doing giveaways consider targeting a smaller group such as the Top 50 or Top 100 bloggers instead.

But there were still a few companies that did a vExpert giveaway this year at VMworld and to them you have a warm thank you from me, you certainly don’t have to do this but I definitely appreciate it. Datrium gave away a nice Raspberry Pi 3, Cohesity gave away a very nice VMworld survival kit which included a Timbuk2 backup, phone battery charger, flash drive, water bottle and USB cables. Catalogic gave away a nice Game of Thrones themed vMaestre aluminum mug and Docker gave away a t-shirt and vExpert hat.

One thing I’d like to mention on these giveaways is there isn’t too much ROI on them for vendors, you get some recognition on social channels and let vExperts know you exist but nothing more. Here’s the typical conversation at VMworld, “I’m here to pick up the vExpert gift”, “What is your name?”, “Eric Siebert”, “OK, here you go”, “Thanks”. Docker did something clever this year which I would recommend other vendors do as well to get more ROI out of giveaways. They had several 15 minute sessions were their tech evangelist did a quick 15 min overview and demo of Docker right at the booth. Afterwards they handed out t-shirts and hats, I both learned something useful about Docker and got some cool swag.

Location, location, location…

First off, I heard from an inside source that VMworld will be back in Vegas for the next 2 years. While San Francisco is a nice enough town to visit, it’s not an ideal conference destination and quite frankly I was getting a bit sick of going there year after year. The problem is that VMworld has gotten so big it’s spread out across several blocks and I frequently had to walk from Moscone North to South to West to the Marriott. All that walking wears you down and wastes time that you could of been doing more with. Add to that the ridiculously crazy expensive hotel room gouging, paying double or triple for a room that is half as nice as a Venetian room. San Francisco has a shortage of nearby rooms to Moscone and as a result the pricing typically ranges from $300 (crappy hotel) – $600 (decent hotel) a night.

While some people are not too fond of Vegas, it was like a breath of fresh air to me. Vegas is way better equipped to handle large conventions than San Francisco is. The Mandalay Bay Convention Center dwarfs Moscone as well with over 1.7 million square feet of space available and a 577,000 square foot exhibition hall. Mandalay Bay also contains around 4,700 hotel rooms with the adjacent Four Seasons and Delano hotels. There are also enclosed walkways and trams that connect it to the Luxor (4,400 rooms) and Excalibur (4,000 rooms) hotels along with many other nearby hotels.

I stayed at the Excalibur for a ridiculously cheap rate, $45/night and that was for one of their remodeled Royal rooms, when I booked back in June the rates started at $28/night. It was no Venetian room but it was OK for me, it’s all about location for me and I don’t care about fancy rooms. There was a express tram that connects Excalibur to Mandalay Bay which makes it easy to get there but once you are inside Mandalay Bay the place is so damn huge you still have a lot of walking ahead of you to get to the convention center. All in all between airports and the conference the S-Health app on my phone says I walked 63,000 steps or about 29 miles from Sunday to Wednesday.

The net result  of VMworld being in Vegas is much better food (no more crappy box lunches), easier access for many as it’s more centrally located, more affordable across the board, more hotels and overall just a better conference venue.

How many people attended VMworld?

In the opening keynote Pat Gelsinger announced that there were 23,000 people attending VMworld this year which puts it right about the same as last year when VMware stated “over 23,000”. For comparison VMworld 2104 was “over 22,000” and VMworld 2013 was 22,500.  We’ve come a long way since the very first VMworld which had only 1,400 attendees. It’s good to see the number of attendees holding steady and I believe it is directly indicative of the success and market dominance that VMware continues to have.

What was announced at VMworld?

Not much really and if you blinked you might have missed it. I was very underwhelmed at the early access blogger briefings VMware did this year before VMworld. I usually do a big what’s new post for VMworld but this year I felt there wasn’t much to say so I skipped it. The announcements were mostly minor and centered around containers, OpenStack and cloud. I’m sure VMware would of loved to announce more around their core products but unfortunately the timing didn’t work out this year and they couldn’t due to revenue recognition concerns. While VMware hasn’t said anything I suspect you might hear some of the bigger announcements at VMworld EMEA this year.

So what was announced was a new cross-cloud architecture called Cloud Foundation which is a VMware only software stack which includes VSAN and NSX and is also available as a service in the public cloud. You can read more about it at the product page and in the datasheet. They also announced vCloud Availability which is essentially a DRaaS offering for vSphere using vCloud Director. You can read more about it at the product page and in the datasheet.

Other announcements included a new version of VMware Intergrated OpenStack (VIO), version 3, some new VDI Endpoint Management and some new stuff with vSphere Integrated Containers including a public beta.

How were the General Sessions?

Pretty un-exciting and to put it bluntly, boring, I heard a lot of people complaining about them. About the most exciting thing was DJ Ravi Drum’s doing his thing on-stage before Pat Gelsinger came out, if you remember back in 2008 DJ Ravi Drum’s played at the VMworld party at the Las Vegas Speedway and was pelted with flying glow rings. Because of the lack of more exciting announcements the keynotes were mostly a re-hash of VMware’s strategy mixed in with a lot of customer success stories. I watched them both remotely, the streaming quality was excellent and but I tuned out about about half way through each of them.

Now to be fair to VMware I bet they felt challenged as well due to the lack of exciting new products and features to announce which makes the keynotes so much more interesting and fun. If you were used to the days when Steven Herrod would talk about cool new technology features in vSphere you were most likely disappointed this year. It’s difficult to put on a good show when you lack the flashy new stuff that everyone wants to hear about. It seems VMware did the best they could to try and make up for it but things like customer conversations, strategic directions and re-packaged products aren’t really all that interesting to many people watching.

If you want to watch the recordings, Day 1 with Pat Gelsinger is available here (Michael Dell made an appearance) and Day 2 which is traditionally more technical as well as VDI focused is available here. Michael Dell made reassurances that the open ecosystem which is a big part of VMware’s success is critical and will not change after the Dell acquisition closes.

How were the Breakout Sessions?

There were all sorts of great breakout sessions this year you can read about my top picks here along with a breakdown of the VVols sessions. Just like every year I carefully build my schedule before the event and then once I’m at the event I’m lucky to have the time to see one or two of them with everything else going on. But that’s OK as they are all recorded, some even with video and available to attendees through the VMworld smartphone app or via VMworld.com. For non-attendees VMware does attend to release some sessions to the public just like last year and has already started trickling a few of them out here, expect that to grow in the next few weeks.

I had two breakout sessions that I spoke at, one was a HPE sponsor session on VVols & Containers and the other was a VVols panel session hosted by Pete Flecha at VMware. Last year I had my VVols session voted in through the content committee, this year it didn’t make it and I was forced to put it through as a sponsor session. Despite it being a sponsor session I kept it very technical and educational and rarely mentioned any HPE products which I sure attendees appreciated and was also indicative of my high registration numbers.

I was very surprised and humbled to watch the pre-event registration on my VVols session keep growing. It seems like it would max out at a certain number and then grow again once it was moved to a larger room when the waiting list size grew. I had just over 900 register for my VVols session with about 600 people actually attend. I was in the largest room available that held 1150 people and they also video recorded the session. It was great to see the interest in VVols really increasing this year and I expect that momentum to carry on going forward.

The VVols partner panel had decent attendance, around 150 registered and the room was fairly full, it was at the end of the day right before the official VMworld party so that may have hurt attendance. Also on the panels were good friends and acquaintances Jason Boche (Dell), Andy Banta (NetApp/SolidFire) and Rajeev Dawar (EMC) along with a few others. There were some good (and tough) questions, Ben Meadowcroft the product manager for VVols was in the audience and we easily filled the whole hour with questions from the room.

What was going on in the Solutions Exchange?

I thought the Solutions Exchange really benefited from the increased room available compared to the cramped Moscone space. The meals were right next to the Solutions Exchange and they still had tons of open space available. There were some pretty creative vendor exhibits and some cool interactive displays that made things fun. I particularly liked Mellanox’s carnival like swing the hammer game, Lenovo’s magician, the Primary Data American Ninja like obstacle course and the HPE Oculus Rift Racing Game. I was in the Solutions Exchange a good amount of time and overall I saw constant and good traffic with peak times occurring during the Welcome Reception and Hall Crawl.

Party Time, Excellent!

All learn and no play makes Jack a dull boy so the evening parties add a fun element after a long day of learning, walking and networking. On Sunday I attended the VMunderground party at the Nine Fine Irishmen bar in New York New York, it was definitely smaller then in San Francisco but I actually liked that as it was more intimate and easier to talk with people. I missed the VMUG party that was going on at the same time, I heard that it was a great party as well. On Monday I went to a HPE partner event at the RX BoilerRoom which is a steam punk themed venue, that was fun, Calvin and I hung out and I got to meet the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas, Hall of Famer for the Chicago White Sox. He signed my old Comiskey Park ticket stub from 1993 and also a ball that they were handing out and even cooler we just hung out at the bar and were able to have a conversation with him and ask him all sorts of questions. I wanted to go see Zerto’s ThunDRstruck party at the House of Blues with the female AC/DShe band but ended up just going back to the hotel and chill at the bar and do some video poker. I heard that party was pretty awesome and saw lots of pics being tweeted from it.

Tuesday is always packed with parties and it’s hard to choose which ones to attend. I did 3 in a row starting with the HPE customer party at the House of Blues for a little bit and then off in an Uber to the Mob Museum for the vExpert Party. It was a nice venue and good event and I appreciate VMware doing this each year to reward the vExpert crowd. Pat Gelsinger didn’t show up until later so I missed my annual pic with him. Afterwards it was off to the Veeam party which was epic as usual, this year’s was a bit more fun as they had a night club venue (The Light) which was fairly big and had girls play fiddle to songs and doing acrobatics. The venue was definitely smaller than the Metreon last year and it was very crowded inside and wall to wall people. I was lucky enough to snag a VIP wrist band so I was able to go the the VIP section which had bottle service at each table. I left early as I couldn’t handle the crowds and ended up meeting good friends Jason Boche and Todd Scalzott for some stogies outside by the pool area.

Wednesday was the official VMworld party being held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I was flying out Wednesday night so I missed that one, I had already been to the 2008 party there and had a lot of fun and didn’t have any regrets missing it. One thing that I am glad I missed was the insane bus line to get to the party. I was coming out of our VVols panels after 5:00pm and the line was huge and went all the way down the long hallway at the Mandalay Bay. I’m sure it was a great time but I just wanted to head home that night.

Some final thoughts

Overall I thought it was an excellent show despite the lackluster announcements and keynotes. The event execution was excellent and seemingly flawless, the venue was awesome and well laid out and there is not much that I would really complain about. Every VMworld can’t have super exciting announcements but that’s OK, VMworld is a chance for me to network in-person with peers, customers, friends, co-workers and VMware employees. In reality that’s probably about 75% of what I do at VMworld as it’s the one thing you can’t do after the event is over with. After the event I go through sessions at my leisure and can explore everything that gets posted online about the event. I had published my top 25 people I want to meet at VMworld list and I think I had about a 70% success rate in meeting those people. I was very happy that the event was in Vegas this year and look forward to it being there next year as well.

Next VMworld will be under Dell’s watch as VMware is assimilated into the Dell family. I don’t expect that to change things too much as Dell seems committed to maintaining VMware’s independence but I suspect we will see subtle influences. Next year will be VMworld #10 for me and it has been great watching both the event and the community evolve over a decade and I think the excitement and intensity has stayed at a high level. My only regrets at these events is not having the time to do more and there are always things that I felt I missed out on. But overall I leave the event both energized and highly satisfied with a renewed drive to stay committed to the technology that I love and I can’t wait until next year when we get to do it again. Thanks VMware for another great event!

And now a few pics from VMworld…

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