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Yellow-bellied journo dons black tie, sees flip side of VMWorld

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Bias and viewpoints

C suite execs were unsurprisingly on board with spending less money

Given the number of anti-megavendor articles I've written in the past, it would be very easy to argue that I am simply seeing what I want to see here, or that I am blowing a small number of malcontents completely out of proportion. It is for this very reason that I didn't rush out the day after VMworld was over with my take on the goings-on I had witnessed.

While at VMworld I discussed this topic at length with innumerable people. I was candid about my findings and sought reactions from VMware employees, fellow vExperts, CxOs and big name analysts alike.

Those who worked for VMware or were enterprise-focused analysts or vExperts working closely with Fortune 500 companies claimed flat out that I was full of shit. They didn't see this in their day-to-day lives, and they quite openly felt that only enterprises – or possibly government IT – mattered.

Quite literally everyone else, however, seemed completely unsurprised by my findings. C suite execs universally agreed with my sentiments. Many of the vExperts affiliated with CSPs, startups, SMBs, or the commercial midmarket nodded along and couldn't wait to jump in and find out whom I'd talked to that could help them achieve these goals.

The more mixed reactions came from community organisations like vBrownBag. Here, membership is diverse; enterprise nerds meet government geeks and everyone mingles with the hoi polloi occupying the other tiers. Over the past two months debates have been fierce with no real winning viewpoints and a clear dichotomy of experience.

In two months of poking and prodding I have been unable to get a true sense of the scale of the demand for heterogeneous or non-VMware environments. Hard metrics are almost impossible to find.

It is clear, however, that the VMware community is not as unified behind VMware as they were only a few years ago. Those startups were definitely on to something; they've seen a trend few even want to acknowledge exists.

Brain drain, licensing and sales growth

VMware saw licence numbers grow during the last quarter. Publicly, at least, it won't acknowledge any of what I've described above. This quarter's demand for VMware products is strong and this is the barometer by which it judges the success of its choices.

What is more telling is talking to those who no longer work there. It is an open secret that VMware has been haemorrhaging AAA brains since Diane Greene was ousted. Some deny it vehemently, however, VMware's brain drain has been going on for long enough that it is making waves in the wider community.

The startups of Silicon Valley are peopled by those who left VMware; it is something of a running joke that if you want to find a VMware executive you need look no further than Craigslist. Of those I've managed to track down, the overwhelming rationale behind their departure was a change in corporate culture.

VMware, it is said, had "lost its startup feel". "Who you know" had come to matter more than results. Red tape chokes innovation and bureaucracy impedes change.

Almost all of the Virtzilla expats I've talked to agree with my findings at VMworld: there is a growing unease among customers. For those who are now running their own startups it's often why they left: a chance to make giant sacks of filthy lucre providing what VMware itself had become incapable of offering.

VMware employees deny that customers are looking for an out. VMware executives deny they have a brain drain problem. VMware representatives get very angry with me when I say that the hypervisor is now a commodity. They immediately launch into an obviously well-rehearsed diatribe about how deeply wrong that statement is.

I can't help but feel the entire company is living in denial.

The new Microsoft?

Putting all the pieces together I see in VMware a company that has not learned the lessons Microsoft is so bitterly living today: desperately protecting your current revenue stream at all costs leads to user disenfranchisement. As Steve Jobs once said: "If you don't cannibalize yourself, someone else will."

Is VMware institutionally capable of learning this lesson?

The magic is gone. In this hack's opinion, VMware is far too heavily invested in the status quo to be nimble, too bureaucratic to encourage internal novelty. This is sad, but it is by no means dire.

VMware as a company will continue. It may even learn once more to innovate unique products instead of duplicating the efforts of their ecosystem partners. It is enormous, has a massively loyal customer base, huge revenues and a diverse portfolio of offerings.

Like Cisco, EMC, Microsoft and Oracle, VMware sells peace of mind and the steady security of slow change. But if I were to sum up VMworld 2013 in a single phrase it would be thus: "We have entered a post-VMware world."

As with other sectors of IT which have each become dominated by an enterprise behemoth, the future of innovation in virtualisation will be defined as much by how products enable you to move beyond VMware as the feature-sets themselves. For better or worse, VMware is one of the Big Boys now. ®

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