All together at VMware

I’ve come away from the VMware conference in Cannes with somewhat conflicted feelings about the whole trip. I’ll skip over the unpleasantness of catching the nonovirus “winter vomiting bug” halfway through the conference, probably from a somewhat dodgy restaurant we visited, which cast something of a pall over the proceedings for me. Never mind, no doubt it would have caught up with me sometime, and perhaps somewhere less convivial. The conference itself was fascinating, and not at all what I was expecting.

All together at VMware

First, I should make it perfectly clear that VMware had absolutely nothing new to show at this conference, which was a little surprising given that such events are the traditional venue for the grand pulling off of covers, where the audience goes quiet and then everyone applauds. That didn’t happen once at VMware 2009 Europe. However, there were many sessions about deployment, design, scaling, implementation and all the other good stuff that we needed to know about, so it was hardly a washout, and the partner booths were simply heaving with interested punters looking at everything to do with the VMware world, from hardware through to software add-ons and training. It was indeed a busy and vibrant occasion.

That’s all fine and on the basis of that alone one would have to define our trip – the “our” being mine and Steve Cassidy’s – a success, but there was something else afoot too that made it doubly interesting. To understand that we’ll need to go back a while. One of the leading people at Microsoft used to be a chap called Paul Maritz, who was in charge of everything to do with, well, just about everything – OS, development tools and so forth. Indeed, he was regarded as the “third in command” after Gates and Ballmer. Maritz left Microsoft in 2000 to go and do his own thing at a company called Pi Corporation, which was acquired by EMC in February 2008, and Maritz then joined EMC’s board as president and general manager of its Cloud Computing Division.

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, VMware was being run by its CEO and co-founder Diane Greene. I’ve written about her here in past columns, and I felt then as I still do that while she might have been a terrific manager within the organisation, she simply lacked the skills to lift VMware’s operation to a higher level. So not too surprising when in July 2008, EMC (which owns a majority stake in VMware) put Maritz in charge of VMware and Greene was gone. What we had now was someone who’s wholly steeped in the Microsoft way of doing things being put in charge of a hugely important competitor to Microsoft.

Now Maritz knows every Microsoft trick in the book, as indeed he wrote most of the book. That’s not to be taken as a wholly negative matter though, because much of the Microsoft mind-set clearly works well enough for its customers. Bringing that sort of thinking to VMware was going to be pivotal to the future of the company, and that is why Steve and I drove down to Cannes in late February, to see what Maritz had achieved in his scant few months in the top job. The result is, frankly, spectacular.

Again, I need to temper this opinion with the cold reality that VMware isn’t shipping any of this new stuff today, but it will have a complete, across-the-board, release during 2009 of all the key components. It will be possible to do what it promised us in Cannes this year, if its timescales are to be believed (and having spent hours talking to various VMware staffers and others, I think they can deliver it). What’s more, this should all be seen as part of a long-term plan, which is a good thing because be in no doubt that anyone who’s moving into the virtualisation world needs a long-term strategy.

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