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I dived deep into the VMware community. Here's what I found...

Our man Trevor Pott discovers who's vWho and what's vWhat

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What do you need to be a vVendor. We'll tell you

Some vendors are absolutely stellar at community engagement, earning the title "vVendor" from the community. This represents the deep integration with and understanding of the community that these vendors have managed, often due to charismatic "rockstars" employed by the company.

First to mind would be companies like Veeam and their front-and-center personality Rick Vanover. SimpliVity have Gabriel Chapman while Nutanix just seem to have hired half the people on Twitter (as well as an ever-increasing number of VCDXs.)

CloudPhysics* are an example of a company who have integrated the community deeply into their business model and their marketing. The community is core to their Cardbuilder feature, something that has earned them attention and ultimately awards at the second VMworld in a row.

Its product is designed so that members of the community can combine elements in novel ways to create data views and analytics that have real-world importance to virtualization practitioners. They can then share that creation with the rest of the community.

The integration of community so deeply into a product is increasingly common amongst VMware ecosphere startups. A Cloudphysics-like community integration isn't quite a social network, but isn't community-driven development, either. It's a different class of community engagement, but one that's increasingly discussed as necessary by VMware ecosystem startups.

vExperts

vExperts are diverse. They range from the top-50 most influential vBloggers in the VMware community all the way to significantly less imposing individuals, such as myself. As a group we are best described by VMware's inimitable John Troyer:

Each year, we bring together in the vExpert Program the people who have made some of the most important contributions to the VMware community. These are the bloggers, book authors, VMUG leaders, speakers, tool builders, community leaders and general enthusiasts. They work as IT admins and architects for VMware customers, they act as trusted advisors and implementors for VMware partners or as independent consultants, and some work for VMware itself. All of them have the passion and enthusiasm for technology and applying technology to solve problems. They have contributed to the success of us all by sharing their knowledge and expertise over their days, nights, and weekends. They are, quite frankly, the most interesting and talented group of people I’ve ever been in a room with.

There were 581 vExperts named in 2013. While the title "vExpert" might seem like it should indicate an industry certification, it does not.

The crème de la crème of VMware technical knowledge belongs to the VCDXs. VCDXs are the elite data center architects who live in the stratosphere of technology.

vExperts are far more varied. vExperts can better be thought of as experts in VMware itself; the community as much as the technology. I would expect any vExpert to be familiar enough with the software to be able to work out how to do most tasks, but not to have it memorized cold. A vExpert may be a hard-boiled data center architect, a member of the VMware press, or an SMB sysadmin like myself.

A VCDX can design for you a data center to go toe-to-toe with Rackspace on the back of a pub napkin, and have half the configs in mind before the conversation is over. Though there is some overlap – many VCDXs are vExperts – the vExpert is far more likely to be someone helping to integrate VMware partner technologies or working with companies of all sizes to make heterogenous networks work.

There is a dark side, and there are no cookies

Diverse yet conformist, supportive yet cliquish, the VMware community disburses knowledge and entertainment with a lavish hand. Unfortunately, the price of inclusion in some aspects of the community is an unswerving loyalty and an acceptance of your position within the hierarchy.

"Why" is an increasingly dangerous question to ask. An attempt at open, honest discussion of the pros and cons of technical design decisions or the details of real-world implementations can sometimes lead to sustained vitriol and outright attacks from some individuals.

Challenge someone on technical grounds and instead of a reasoned response you may get snarky comments about your irrelevance. I've even seen a company pointlessly attacked for using the "wrong" font size in a Power Point slide.

Sadly, for some, the very concept of "community" is merely a thin veneer disguising anything from arrogance to blatant commercial interest and the naked avarice of personal greed. This, however, is no different than any other community.

Good tech, better people

There are always those who revert to the social dynamics of high school to achieve their aims. As damning a portrayal as that may seem, the diversity of the community and its supportive roots far outweigh any negatives encountered.

For all the damage that the self-interested inflict, their antics do not go unnoticed. The harder they push the more respect they lose. Offending individuals are subject to having their objectivity reevaluated and their position within the social hierarchy adjusted. Awareness takes time to spread, but spread it does.

The bad apples do not spoil the bunch, and after a lifetime of personal and professional immersion in IT I do feel that the VMware community is the most powerful professional resource any of us are likely to find.

Beyond that, however, the VMware community is full of amazing human beings. Over the past two months 65 individuals and 5 companies - Puppet Labs, Nutanix, Zerto, SimpliVity and Proximal Data – raised more than $10,000 for fighting cancer.

The community podcasts vSoup and vBrownbag rallied behind this effort and they are already planning to turn the fundraiser into a yearly event, this time with better planning. Individuals from all corners of the community have pledged their support personally and professionally, offering advertising space on their blogs, their time to participate in podcasts, webexes and anything else we can dream up.

There aren't that many technical communities where someone can send a tweet into the ether and arrange to meet with a bunch of fellow IT professionals to discuss a new data center design over beers the same night. Fewer still where a sad tweet from a friend has dozens of folks in pubs around the world collaborate to cheer him up by raising money for cancer.

If you've a yen to grow your professional contacts, I encourage you to check out your local VMUG and follow the 2013 vExperts on Twitter. The best place to get started, however, is to simply see who in your area is up for some #vBeers. Who knows, maybe we'll see you applying for vExpert in 2014. ®

* Disclosure: Cloudphysics is a client of the company I work for.

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